On Nov. 22, 1963, just as we learned President Kennedy had been murdered down in Dallas, half the kids in my high-school English class in suburban Oklahoma City stood up and cheered. A few cried.
When I tell people this now, often and understandably, they think I'm making it up. I'm not. I've asked fellow Army brats whose families were also stationed in Oklahoma and Texas if they had the same experience in their Southwestern schools. All of them said yes. JFK was hated by many people in that part of the country, and probably still is.
So, I've seen this kind of ugliness and viciousness before. Just not outside Oklahoma/Texas politics.
Beauty, someone once joked, is only skin deep, but ugly is forever. That's one of many things today's venomous right-wing extremists don't get. The Fox News crowd has gone well beyond the bounds of common decency recently, and we shouldn't let any of these merchants of hate forget that they've left a permanent stain on our democracy after their disgraceful tactics and countless lies during the health-care debate.
Does anyone else remember George Bush's Karl Rove-inspired vicious attacks on the classy Ann Richards in the 1994 Texas governor's race? In Texas and Oklahoma, I learned from living there, it's a football mentality -- winning is all that matters, no matter how ugly you win. I've seen this poisonous mentality spread throughout the country, largely abetted by the ugliness that is Fox Noise.
Spitting on black Congressmen and spewing homophobia at Barney Frank? Hey, why not? Yelling "Baby Killer!" at pro-life Bart Stupak? It just feels right to the poisonous right.
San Francisco Chronicle blogger Mark Morford noted this about the behavior of the far-right loudmouths who are the darlings of Fox News during the past few days of the health-care debate. The bottom of the barrel just got a whole lot deeper.
"Like millions, I was fairly convinced it simply could not get much worse or more acrimonious than when Dubya ran the nation into the ground, embarrassing and humiliating us planetwide a thousand times over as the rogue idiot pseudo-cowboy laughingstock war-hungry prick of the civilized world. I was wrong."
Many of us lefties said plenty of unkind and unflattering things about Bush, but it was mostly out of disgust. Viciousness of the kind I experienced in my high-school days in Dubya's Southwest is something I hadn't experienced much since then -- until the health-care debate's shameless, nonstop litany of lies and fear-mongering.
Morford again, on the not-so-grand Old Party's disgraceful behavior :
"The Republicans have been pure venom. Theirs was a systematic fearmongering, a nonstop bombardment of misguidings and untruths, an acid bath of panic overlaid with a fine sheen of racism and rage. This is turning out to be easily the nastiest, meanest GOP organization in ages, the house that Karl Rove built, a group shaming their own party's once-noble legacy. Even Reagan, who claimed Medicare would destroy the country, would be stunned at this gang's level of savagery."
I'm dismayed that the level of nastiness and venom I saw in high school has made it out of Oklahoma and Texas politics into the national arena.
Being a Republican is in my DNA. I was a registered Republican until 2006. Both my parents were rock-ribbed Republicans when they were alive. But they'd never recognize this current bunch of oleaginous hypocrites and fearmongers. I didn't leave the Republican Party. It left me.
The party of moderates/conservatives I grew up in and once loved has become a rallying point for far-right extremists. It's truly a national disgrace.
Follow Bill Mann on Twitter: www.twitter.com/newsmann