Joe Klein, the Time magazine columnist who ghosted the best-selling novel on the Clinton presidential campaign 15 years ago, drifted down to Russellville one night last week to catch Sen. Blanche Lincoln's forum on health care. What he saw and heard so unnerved him that he wrote on his blog the next morning that he feared that the country was rushing toward a tragedy of biblical proportions.
He didn't supply an image for his fear but you could not mistake an alarm that the maniacal hatred for President Obama that much of the crowd evinced that evening could produce another martyred president, this time with far worse reverberations than the assassination of President Kennedy.
Why Arkansans should trigger such foreboding is not clear. Sure, we gave the country a horrible calamity in 1957, but haven't we striven a few steps forward in the 52 years since the governor caved in to the bigots to salvage his political career? Maybe we shouldn't contemplate that question.
I have only followed these town-hall gabfests on the news and the Internet, except for attending a rather subdued one at Little Rock, but the quotient of ignorance and hatred seemed to be spread about the country rather evenly. The teabaggers who get their wisdom from Glenn Beck show up here and yonder from Boston to Seattle to raise the same nutty arguments about socialism, health-care rationing and Obama death czars.
But maybe the screams about communists and socialists running the White House were louder, more virulent in Arkansas. Maybe that is the basis for Klein's fear. If many people with access to the airwaves and newsprint think the president of the United States is an evil man bent on leading the country into a communist tyranny, men like Timothy McVeigh begin to imagine that killing the president would be an act of patriotism. Not in Arkansas, thank goodness, but at rallies and other forums around the country people have openly wished for the president's hasty death by violent or natural causes. We have never heard such things before in America, or at least we never printed or broadcast them.
Klein talked to some of the people who were yelling that the president was a communist and got some crazy answers. The same as at other forums, they complained about Obama surrounding himself with “czars,” a sure sign of Russian communist influence. Unike Ronald Reagan, who named a “drug czar,” Obama has not designated a single czar. That is the term the media has taken to applying to single-issue advisers.
But the most alarming thing about the shouts against the Obama czars is what it says about Arkansas's educational system, and other states' too. If you fear or hate the commies you should be cheering the czars. The communists overthrew the czarist government in the Russian revolution, imprisoning and eventually slaying Czar Nicholas II and his entire family, which led to the czar's canonization by the Orthodox Church outside Russia.
If Klein's horror is realized, God forbid, or if there is even a stab at it, the blame will not be settled on the incendiary remarks of Arkansas racists. The strategy that is played out at rallies, town-hall meetings, television and radio talk shows and the glib statements from Republican congressional leaders was hatched before Obama took the oath of office. Whatever Democrat was elected president was to be pacing the nation into socialism. That has been the refrain since before the election.
Obama has said or done nothing to suggest that he believes in a socialist utopia. If all the corporate bailouts and temporary nationalizations are evidence of socialist tendencies, the essential Marxist of our time is George W. Bush. He nationalized the secondary mortgage giants, bailed out the banks and the insurance giant AIG to the tune of $700 billion and handed General Motors and Chrysler their first $17 billion in taxpayer grants. He accounts for about 80 percent of that mammoth deficit this year, which teabaggers claim is a sign of socialism.
The ironies in the campaign against Democratic socialists are endless. Nearly all the Republican candidates for the U. S. Senate in Arkansas rail about the creeping socialism they want to go to Washington to stop. The closest thing to a socialist any of them has known is Mike Huckabee, their standard-bearer and hero for 15 years.
If government-financed medical care is socialized medicine, Huckabee was among its foremost champions. He expanded the government medical services to cover children in families up to 200 percent of the poverty line and won a waiver from President Bush to have the American taxpayers pay three-fourths of the cost of health care for low-wage workers and their families through Medicaid, the government health plan for the poor. He bragged that Medicaid expansion was his greatest achievement as governor. Most of us, including Republicans, thought he was right.
Now Huckabee has joined the chants about socialism. Some cheek.
You never heard them call Ronald Reagan a socialist when he raised the earned income tax credit, a reverse income tax that conservatives called socialism when Bill Clinton did it a decade later. Richard Nixon, a Republican, was the father of this little collectivist scheme.
“We are heading toward a cliff and the usual brakes of civil discourse are not working,” Klein wrote. If we get there, the blame can be spread around amply.