America’s season of rage and fear

By Bernd Debusmann
April 1, 2010

Freedom in America will soon be a fading memory. American exceptionalism died on March 23, 2010. On that day, the United States started becoming just like any other country. Worse still, like a West European country. Socialism in the land of the free and the home of the brave!

In a nutshell, that’s how many conservatives see the health reform bill President Barack Obama signed into law on March 23, after a year of acrimonious debate. The language has been shrill and the superheated political temperature is reflected by worried headlines such as “The heat is on. We may get burned” (Wall Street Journal) or “Putting out the flames” (Washington Post).

Verbal venom is not restricted to radio talk shows or Internet rants that draw parallels between Obama and Hitler or Stalin. John Boehner, the leader of the Republican party in the House of Representatives, described the reform as Armageddon and a Republican congresswoman, Michelle Bachmann, voiced fears on national television for her country’s future because of the president’s “anti-American views.”

Today’s end-of-freedom arguments sound very much like the ideas set out in a 1961 speech by the late Ronald Reagan, then an actor working as a corporate spokesman, now venerated as a secular saint by many Republicans. “One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people,” he said, “has been by way of medicine.”

Reagan was raising the alarm against an early version of what became Medicare, the government-run health care programme for people over 65 which now has 45 million beneficiaries, most of whom rate it more highly than private health insurance, according to surveys. If the program were passed, Reagan warned, “behind it will come other federal programmes that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country. Until one day… we will awake to find that we have socialism.”

Medicare was passed in 1965. Dark warnings notwithstanding, the United States remained the engine of global capitalism. It is also the world’s only advanced industrial country without universal health care (except for the elderly), with more than 40 million uninsured for whom illness can mean financial ruin or early death.

In the hubbub, which is growing rather than subsiding, it’s worth noting that people arguing from opposite ends are coming to the same conclusion — health care reform is not the underlying reason for the anger vented against the government.


Example from the right, from radio host Monica Crowley: “Health care ‘reform’ was never about health care. It was about expanding government into every part of your life as an excuse to confiscate more and more of your private property, strip you of your constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and remake America into a two-bit, second-rate, debt-laden European socialist backwater.”

Example from the left, from New York Times columnist Frank Rich: “The… health care debate is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled American in 1964.”

That’s when the Civil Rights Bill ended segregation and black Americans were no longer required to sit in the back of the bus, drink from separate water fountains, or go to separate schools. It was, said Rich,”an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance”.

Another inexorable and immutable change has been underway for decades: demographics. Because of immigration, both legal and illegal, and the higher birth rate of immigrants, white Americans are projected to be a minority in the United States by 2042. According to the 2000 census (the 2010 count is under way now), white Americans have shrunk to a minority in 52 of the 100 biggest cities, including Los Angeles and Washington.

That demographic shift was paralleled by a rise in extremist groups on the right. Their number rose by more than 50 percent from 2000, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks radicals. Most groups on the lunatic fringe are small in number and big on conspiracy theories but then, how many people does it take to blow up a building?

Late in March, FBI agents arrested nine members of a far-right group in raids in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio to scotch what a government indictment called a plot to kill a police officer and then bomb his funeral. In the words of Attorney General Eric Holder, they stand accused of conspiring to “levy war against the United States.”

The appeal of such groups is limited but some of their anti-government rhetoric is echoed at rallies of the fast-growing Tea Party movement. Named after the 1773 act of anti-British sabotage in Boston that hastened the American revolution, it is a diffuse, predominantly white grassroots movement whose followers range from fiscal conservatives and libertarians to people hoisting posters depicting Obama as Hitler.

The star speaker at the movement’s first convention, in February, was Sarah Palin, the darling of the Republican right. The movement hopes to draw a million followers to a protest rally in Washington on April 15, the day Americans have to file tax returns.

Outlook for the political temperature: high and rising.


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There, you said it, the US is run by actors and pharmacists.

“The… health care debate is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. ”

A first world nation needs a health care debate as an excuse for a source of anger ? Grow up America, the source of your anger is guilt and consumption that has caught up with you.

By the same token, the problem with being PC is that it is PC. When the quality of your music goes, your culture goes.

Posted by Ghandiolfini | Report as abusive

As usual, all the goodness comes from the left and all the nastiness comes from the right. If you want to bring up the ’60s, then what about the Weathermen or the SDS, or the Black Panthers? Radical, murderous lefties all but apparently it’s only the right which produces such groups. Typical media prejudice. And hands off Ronald Reagan. The last Democrat of his stature was FDR, and that was some time ago, wasn’t it?

Posted by Gotthardbahn | Report as abusive

Tell you what, Gotthardbahn–


A progressive walks into a church and opens fire on the congregation because they’re all a bunch of conservatives and he wants to kill as many right-wingers as he can…

A progressive walks into another church and shoots a doctor in the head…

A progressive shoots three police officers who come to his door because he fears the president is going to take his guns away…

A progressive walks into the Holocaust Museum and shoots a guard because he hates Jews and believes it’s time to start a race war…

A progressive walks into the Pentagon and opens fire because he believes the government is plotting against its citizens…

A pack of gun-loving progressives forms a plot to kill law-enforcement officers and start a revolution…

Progressives plan an armed march on Washington to celebrate the Oklahoma City bombing…

…THEN you can march out your false equivalency between today’s radical violence on the right vs a few groups of “lefties” from the 1960′s.

Posted by Yellow105 | Report as abusive

Hands off Ronnie! I think not. Ronnie was a racist! He gave his first post-convention speech after being officially chosen as the Republican nominee for President of the United States at the Neshoba County Fair on August 3, 1980. The speech was noted because he used the phrase “states’ rights” at a place just a few miles from a town associated with the 1964 murders of civil rights workers. The racist stated: “I believe in states’ rights … I believe we have distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended to be given in the Constitution to that federal establishment.” (hmmm…remind you of anything said recently?) He went on to promise to “restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them”.[2] This speech was definitely understood by many Southern white voters as a tacit appeal to and a continuation of Richard (DICK) Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

Yes, all nastiness comes from the right. Always has, always will. That’s just the sort of people they are. They really can’t help it. The SDS, Weathermen, and Black Panthers were fighting for survival against the racist repression of the white majority.

Posted by jborrow | Report as abusive

“American exceptionalism” … that is where much of the problem stems. The people are brought up on the line that there is something utterly unique about the US. What was unique about it was the collection of mostly men in the period of 1770 to 1800 who came up with the initial justification for opposing the British roots from whence they came. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights being the very enlightened base for all that followed.

But, the history of the country has often been that of many Americans trying to pick this bit or that bit of the foundational documents and discarding the rest.

Except for those foundational documents, the U.S. is a country like any other. With people in it both good and bad. It has no direct line to a supreme being passing down pearls of wisdom for the country’s edification. It has beautiful natural areas. It has portions of its history to be proud of, and many that it doesn’t want to look at too closely.

That idea of “exceptionalism” really harms the country in the long run. Leading to the idea that what pertains to other countries does not apply in the case of the U.S. In that way it means that the U.S. always makes its way harder than necessary as it often doesn’t learn from the mistakes of other countries. “How can the French experience in Vietnam in 1945 – 1954 apply to the U.S.? It doesn’t … for we are the U.S.!” Hence the debacle in Vietnam for the U.S. from 1960 to 1973. “What does the British experience in Baghdad from 1917 to 1934 mean to the U.S.? It doesn’t, for the U.S. is the U.S.!” Hence the draining and bloody ongoing tangle of the U.S. with Iraq from 2003 to now.

The same with health care. Nothing to be learned from other countries who have had such systems for fifty years and more.

In many ways the American habit of considering itself so “exceptional” lead it to be in that same small group of countries who isolate themselves from others, and ultimately cause many problems for the world: Israel, Saudi Arabia, China … and the U.S. Countries who consider themselves “above”, “different” from other peoples and other countries due mainly to religious, historical or racial conditions held to be “exceptional” in their cases.

Perhaps we can all advance when such countries really come to see themselves as intrinsically and unavoidably part of the rest of the world.

Posted by WBGriffin | Report as abusive


If you have read the 10th Amendment in that thing called the Constitution. That would be what Reagan was referring to and NOT racism. He was also supporting what the founding fathers believed in, states rights and a limited federal government. Remember, it was the GOP who supported and advocated civil rights movements in the 60′s.

Yellow 105:

Were do you get even half of those stories? If I can sit here and research all the left wing classless events, you would not even be able to compare it to the right-wingers.


Guilt and consumption? From what? Did you know that 70% of the US economy is consumer consumption? The PEOPLE control the economy. Why would we want power to be allocated anywhere else? Government? No…move to Cuba, North Korea, or China if you desire such things.

Posted by Surfrider0701 | Report as abusive

Hey Yellow105 -

The Pentagon shooter was a progressive, John Bedell was a registered democrat that often littered the internet with his anti-Bush comments. He also claimed that the Bush administration had orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.

Posted by Hickok | Report as abusive

Too many labels, too much fear, too much ignorance…

You want to start the blame game? Try this one on for size…

I believe part of this whole problem started when school districts were allowed to let physical education coaches teach American History and Civics classes instead of requiring “dedicated” teachers for those areas of study. Started in the late ’60′s I think…

Most of those same coaches had no interest, and inspired no interest, in the students who attended those classes to explore and really, really LEARN about how our form of government works. It was more important to beat the other local schools’ football and basketball teams…

The result, a now large group of adults who, for the most part couldn’t list the three major parts of our Federal government let alone explain how a bill gets to be enacted into law.

Heck, I think most of them don’t even understand what true “socialism” is.

Politics is now what they read or see in the media with the left or right “slant” by whatever media source they favor…

Posted by The_Traveler | Report as abusive

I do think we wast a lot of time on talking about how bad government is rather than getting it fixed. The tea party group could have a place in government without appealing to radical groups. If they stood for fair government without lobby control they would get all the votes they need. The GOP is dead but not buried yet. Sorry, but when you get sick someone has to stand the cost.

Posted by fred5407 | Report as abusive

I do think we waste a lot of time on talking about how bad government is rather than getting it fixed. The tea party group could have a place in government without appealing to radical groups. If they stood for fair government without lobby control they would get all the votes they need. The GOP is dead but not buried yet. Sorry, but when you get sick someone has to stand the cost.

Posted by fred5407 | Report as abusive

But who does express this rage? It is minority of society, as a rule they are not educated well, quite
ignorant, still captured by McCarthysm’mentality.
They use to behave by instinct …

Majority of people voted for policy President Obama
and widely support him.

Posted by Madam | Report as abusive

Maybe record Wall Street bonuses have something to do with it

Posted by Story_Burn | Report as abusive

Healthcare done, Jobs and Financial regulation next, then education and immigration. American could be a good place, if these were accomplished

Posted by MarkRB | Report as abusive

Reagan was a racist. Don’t pretend he wasn’t. He was a very good liar too, but America loves him because he made Americans feel good about themselves, with stories about great moments and people from American history. Even though if most people truly knew their history they would know what he said was not always accurate and at time totally opposite. Not saying there are no special moments or inspiring people in American history, there are plenty. Just like every other country. There are plenty of moments of American history that are not talked about in class rooms, the same amount as in every other country. So the US isn’t exceptional, or at least not exceptionally better, but it is different.

Also, don’t get so defensive about the fact that Reagan was a racist; FDR was a racist and a sexiest. But America loves him too cause he got us out of the Depression and gave women the right to vote. (Yah, that second part is ironic.)

Reality is that most of this, pretty idiotic and miss informed, outrage stems from the fact that our president’s skin color doesn’t match the color of the house he lives in.

And no, not all good comes from the left and all bad from the right. There is simply a lot more bad coming out of the right currently. When the Republicans become a political party again, and not just a bunch of Christian fundamentalist drawing support from scaring the crap out of uninformed people, they might start producing some good again. They can start by finding new people to represent them, meaning not a former Miss Alaska.

“Sarah Palin, the darling of the Republican right.”

- Knocked up teenager daughter
- Messy Divorce
- Abuse of power
- Probably didn’t get a good grade in History and Civics class.

Yah, she’s a real good chose to represent the religious conservatives. Oh by the way, I got no personal problem with the first two… but I think the people she represents (and is the leader of) have some issues with them.

Posted by Davidfd | Report as abusive

Whenever I see the Tea Party folks, I feel like buying the stocks of drug companies. Tea party folks will definitely be buying a lot of antidepressants. Each party needs to disassociate itself from the extremist.The future of this country does not lie with the far left nor the far right. Tolerate other races, other religions, other cultures, other sexual orientations and learn some Spanish – it’s the future.

Posted by Tical | Report as abusive

“Hands off Ronnie! I think not. Ronnie was a racist! He gave his first post-convention speech after being officially chosen as the Republican nominee for President of the United States at the Neshoba County Fair on August 3, 1980. The speech was noted because he used the phrase “states’ rights” at a place just a few miles from a town associated with the 1964 murders of civil rights workers. ”

Wow. Continue to assume that support for State’s Rights makes you racists. Also continue to assume that ALL nasty-ness comes from one side of the isle. Also assume that the left never has a bad idea. Always assume your ideas are the best and everyone else is wrong. I thought US lefties were supposed to be more open-minded.

I find it very ignorant to make such assumptions. Your politics are dangerous. Giving the State a voice to help mold the power of the Federal government is an important tool in keeping a balance of power for our country (yet allow for a supreme council of judges to oversee such decisions). Not giving the state an option would be about as good as a federal governemnt without a legislative branch. It’s an integral part of how our country makes laws and allows us the freedoms we have as a people. Go freshen up on your political science, Sir…

This comes from a Liberal, white Mississippian that has attended this assumed racists county fair my whole life. There are plenty of us that attend and there were plenty of us there when Regan gave that speech. And there were plenty of liberal Democrats that voted for the guy…

Posted by bmweeks | Report as abusive

it seems to me that s l o w l y a lot of people get a better idea why the cuban people have not risen up against their oppressor. it is an insidious ,bit by bit eliminations of :choice, freedom , rights, and means of defense that leaves the population at the mercy of few.
“brothers , there is still time”

Posted by chrisvb | Report as abusive

Is the author even a US citizen? I think all of these matters should be decided at the ballot box. This issue was not and I think that is what upsets people most. People see our representative ideals turned upside down when they watch their representatives vote against the will of their constituents. It is easier to do the will of the people at the state level since there are fewer people for the state representative to do the will of. I see this more and more as a states rights issue with the federal government trying to impose an issue on a public that had no say in the issue. They should have put this to a vote and let the voice of the people decide the outcome.

Posted by Bdy2010 | Report as abusive

And before someone jumps on me regarding the number of representatives in congress being closely equal to state reps let me clarify. State reps spend plenty or time at home and are closer to understanding the will of the people. They meet and legislate closer to the people. Once a representative goes to DC they have to deal with federal issues as well as state issues. They also have to deal with issue on the foreign stage. They are a bit more distracted than their state counterparts.

Posted by Bdy2010 | Report as abusive

Is anyone remembering that I will never see a dime of all my contributions to social security? That the funds run out just about the time that I would be eligble? So, what are the options? Raise taxes? Push off the age at which people are able to collect? Aren’t all the predicted problems with social security actually coming to fruition?

OK., then on to medicare. That’s not a cancerous growth of social security? Aren’t there supposed to be huge problems with that, somewhere…? No? It’s great?

None so blind as those who will not see.
None so deaf as those who refuse to listen.
None so mute as those who hold their tongues.

Posted by Jambow | Report as abusive