Friday, September 16, 2011

Will America Shrink FROM Or INTO Crowds Clamoring For Death?

The braying of the crowds is frightful, the reflexive clamoring for death . . . .
. . . First it was the crowd at the September 7th Reagan Library Republican candidate debate cheering Texas Governor Rick Perry’s record of executing “234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times” even though, as National Notice pointed out* Perry went out of his way to execute Todd Willingham, an innocent man for the sake of earning such cheers**.

. . . Then it was the boisterous crowd at the September 12th Tea Party debate calling for the hypothetical death of a 30-year-old working man in a coma and needing six months of intensive care, on the principle that the man had not purchased adequate healthcare in advance of falling into this condition. Paul Krugman points out that had the crowd given it a little thought it was, by the same principle, condemning to die children, the poor and the chronically ill, noting that: “very few of those who die from lack of medical care look like Mr. Blitzer’s hypothetical [hypothetical?- not really] individual . . . . most uninsured Americans either have low incomes and cannot afford insurance, or are rejected by insurers because they have chronic conditions” and that George W. Bush, to the accompaniment of similar right-wing cheering, blocked more extensive health coverage for children so that “one in six children in Texas lacks health insurance, the second-highest rate in the nation.”

Jon Stewart’s Daily Show (at 9:11 and 11:49) made humor out of the fact that the Tea Party that had started out as the party “fearing” death panels had become the death panel. That observation also transfers exceedingly well to the Republican plan to replace programs like Medicaid and Medicare with fixed payments to individuals that could then be readily whittled down to inadequacy by inflation or other forms of cutbacks, leaving those program recipients essentially at the mercy of the private insurance companies’ death panels.
(* The central theme of the September 3, 2011 National Notice post, how startling it was to see Rick Perry belittling the reality of global-warming/weather-weirding even as his state is being reduced to cinders by temperatures and drought of unprecedented severity and duration seemed so self-evident that I didn’t know why others were not busy writing about it. Since then, Tom Friedman’s September 13, 2011 column, Is It Weird Enough Yet?, picked up on the same point but doesn’t get into the extra weirdness of Texas oil companies trading their U.S. oil fields to an undependable Russia.)

(** As of September 15, the Todd Willingham miscarriage of justice is being elevated by e-mails designed to spotlight it as a campaign issue with a petition asking that the press ask Perry about it.)

It might be hoped that the crowds cheering for death are not reflective of the American public at large. Indeed they are not really. The crowd at the Reagan Library debate (like the backdrop of the questionably accurate Reagan Library itself) was cherry-picked by Republican party leaders to be what they wanted the responding public to be, while the crowd for the Tea Party debate was similarly hand-picked by the powerful higher-ups steering that movement.

Still, the cheering for death, reminiscent of the thumbs down audiences of the Roman Coliseum, seems to evince a discouraging pettiness of spirit that is hard to explain except for the fact that these hand-picked audience members feel very small themselves and that the only way that they can feel bigger these days is by calling for unfortunate others to be further cut down in size.* There is in such Coliseum audience conduct an implicit faith (or a desperately clung-to hope) that they themselves will never be the ones in the arena awaiting the crowd’s thumbs -up or -down verdict.

(* They say that every era gets horror films reflective of the particular anxieties of the times. A report on the Toronto film festival mentions an upcoming “gorefest `The Incident,' about workers locked in an asylum for the criminally insane, many with impressive knife skills”: The film may be onto something important.)

In another report on this survival-of-the-fittest culture-of-death, the Times today editorialized about a new Florida state law passed by the state's Republican-controlled legislature that will now prevent Florida localities from retaining or enforcing their local gun control laws so that, per one town council member: “We’re not allowed to have bows and arrows or slingshots in a park, but we can have a gun.” (See: Pandering to the Gun Lobby, September 15, 2011.)

Without debating the value of having a gun in areas of Montana where a cougar might stalk you, whether one could be safer in communities where citizen-vigilantes can out-draw their local version of a massacre-intending, arsenal-equipped Columbine student, the merits of shooting a coyote on your morning jog, or how fast on the draw the average senior citizen from St. Petersburg is, the vision of everyone carrying a gun to the public park sounds like a Streets-of-Laredo version of life where it's up to everyone to be quick on the draw and trigger irrespective of whose “done wrong.”

I was once pretty OK with a BB gun when I was a kid but I really don’t know where I’d come out in a world where winding up as the one alive means always being quicker on the draw. Did I already suggest the bravado of death-wishing audiences who are sure that they are never going to be down on their own luck (awaiting in the arena the audience’s thumbs down), may have something to do with these poor souls not feeling very big to begin with? Sure I did. . . .

. . . And here’s a probable irony: Maybe there is a reason all of us may be feeling rather small right now and it has to do with why so much of the Tea Party anger is misplaced. Maybe what’s happened is that all of us have already been out-drawn by the ubiquitous big corporations and monopolies that are leaving little space in the world for the rest of us. Is the government really to blame for that? Maybe it is when it fails to intervene and cut these monopolies down to size or when the government actively aids and abets the establishment and/or perpetuation of such monopolies. But is big government really where the anger should it be directed or should it be directed at the corporate power players themselves, those influencing the government in these respects? And aren’t those powerful insiders the very same ones who, behind the scenes, were hand-picking those frightful, vengeance-hungry audience members? No wonder those guys in the audience might feel uncomfortably small.

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