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Miller: Justified anger, misplaced

Alex Miller

Watching Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” program on “The New Right” this week is a scary proposition for anyone not already encamped in deep fringe territory. The specter of rising militia groups and homegrown terrorism a la Oklahoma City is an ominous backdrop to the mainstream stars of the movement like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Matthews makes an excellent point when he notes that words do matter, and that when you use overheated rhetoric and extremist misinformation, you empower the “Don’t Tread on Me” gang ready to turn violent.

Mainstream Tea Party members may claim they have nothing in common with the weekend warriors running around in the woods with rifles or throwing rocks through the windows of members of Congress they don’t like, but they kid themselves: The more that rhetoric paints our government as an outsider, almost foreign entity (led by a “foreign” usurper, no less); the more they use terms like “un-American” and images of government “death panels” or concentration camps, the more they feed the lunatic fringe ready to buy up fertilizer and head to a federal building.

It amazes me to see an American on camera say he or she is afraid “the government” is going to come in and “take over.” What does that mean? Do they truly believe the black helicopters are on the way, that foreign troops will be billeted in their homes, etc.? It’s one thing to disagree with President Obama about his policies; it’s quite another to look into the camera and say that this man – an honorable, well-educated and thoughtful American citizen duly elected to office – is an evil force working 24/7 to end “our way of life.”

What I do understand is the anger, although I believe it’s seriously misguided. Americans on either side of the political spectrum are justifiably angry and frightened by large events seemingly beyond anyone’s control: 9/11, the economic meltdown, the Gulf oil spill, never-ending wars, to name a few. It seems pretty clear to me, though, that these mega-disasters rise from systems put in place over many decades by industry and both parties – not by any one president or Congress. If folks like the Tea Partiers or the birthers really wanted to effect change, I can think of several ways for them to do so rather than waving signs featuring Hitler-ized Obama caricatures:

1. Rail against military spending. We have no discernible large enemy like the Soviet Union anymore; our most recent aggressors used box cutters and underwear bombs – hardly something you can throw an aircraft carrier at. Halving the Pentagon’s budget would still put us a good deal ahead of the next biggest-spending military. Here’s a good talking point: Since 2001, Dept. of Defense annual spending has increased $377 billion – up to a stunning $693 billion in 2010. That represents 65 percent of the increase in overall discretionary spending by the federal government in that span of time. After we passed the $1 trillion mark in spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars last month, can anyone point to either of these efforts and say “we won” or that the threat from that part of the worlds has decreased much? Just think of all the tax breaks the government could afford with a military that “only” costs us $300 billion a year.

2. Take up the new energy cause. A nationwide, World War II-like effort toward energy independence would create jobs, get us off foreign oil and related entanglements and create a better, cleaner planet. It will take some time and some shared sacrifice, but isn’t that World War II ideal something most Americans can point to with pride?

3. Tackle the money behind the politics. When the Supreme Court ruled that businesses could throw as much money as they wanted at elections, the protests should have been loud and furious. They weren’t – the most energized protesters were too busy scrutinizing Obama’s birth certificate. Holding politicians to their promises to clean house and reduce the influence of lobbyists in Washington is something worth doing; pay attention to the new crop in November and hold them to a higher standard. Note, however, that Tea Partiers thinking salvation will come from GOP candidates may be sadly disillusioned.

All of this is rather difficult, though, and it’s ever so much simpler to promulgate bizarre conspiracy theories or to demonize those in power. No doubt they hold their share of the blame, but as citizens of a representative democracy, we may have the power to assemble and air grievances, but we also have the responsibility to pick our fights wisely, employing some modicum of reality and logic. It’s not at all clear that’s the case with “the new right,” but I’ve got to hand it to them: They’re out there, vocal and energized while such grassroots fervor seems largely absent from those on either side willing to dwell in the land of facts.

Summit Daily editor Alex Miller can be reached at amiller@summitdaily.com or (970) 668-4618.


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