Apocalyptic views hinder constructive political debate
Let's dispense right away with the fiction, promoted by Glenn Beck himself, that his rally on Saturday wasn't a political event.
Let's also set aside the caricature, promoted by some critics on the left, that the demonstration was primarily a gathering of racists designed to dishonor the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the same spot and on the same date as his "I Have a Dream" speech.
Instead, let's focus on this: A sizable chunk of the conservative movement is convinced that the nation is headed toward a kind of Marxist dictatorship. It doesn't just think the government was wrong to bail out Wall Street, or that the health-care program is too costly and unwieldy, or that schools should include more religious instruction.
Instead, these people think our morals have sunk so low and our political leaders have become so unresponsive that the rule of law is breaking down in America. In interviews with members of the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial, I found that many shared such an apocalyptic view of a country on the wrong track.
But when pressed for evidence of such severe deterioration, they didn't offer very compelling examples. Basically, the "tea party" thinks the moderately liberal social agenda pushed by the Obama administration is just a short step away from, say, Communist East Germany.
This kind of exaggerated thinking, encouraged by Beck, contributes to the toxic tone of contemporary political debate. It's hard to have a reasonable discussion about the proper size and role of government in a modern society with people who think 234 years of democracy is ending.
Consider the following:
-- Ryan Townsend, 35, of Parkersburg, W.Va., said he came Saturday because, "I'm not going to sit idly by while tyranny and socialism replace our Constitution."
Why did he think that was happening? Townsend said he was unhappy that the Environmental Protection Agency sometimes issued rulings that hadn't received explicit congressional approval, such as to protect forests. He also was worried that the EPA might rule that "lead is a toxic substance, so you can't defend yourself with lead ammunition."
-- Ronald Stone, 66, of El Paso said people were here "because they're tired of watching the rule of law disintegrate." As evidence, he said that health reform was unconstitutional and that the immigration laws aren't being enforced.
The courts will decide about health care -- that's how democracy works. He's right that the immigration laws aren't being enforced, but that's been the case for decades, and the country hasn't collapsed.
-- Greg Orth, 70, of Charlotte said the country seemed to be on the road to becoming "a Marxist state" and cited Beck as his source: "Our president is surrounded by advisers who are Marxist, who are socialist. If you listen to Beck, he talks a lot about that."