It happened decades ago but it remains one of my favorite moments on television ever.
The guests on the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson were the young comedian Richard Pryor and an amazing 80-plus year old news personality, Dorothy Fuldheim, who will still going strong as a commentator on Cleveland TV.
This night, in the '70's, she was lamenting the old days when, as she reminisced, "There was music, dancing..."
That's when Pryor interrupted: "And lynching."
I'm thinking of that delicious exchange as I read the Washington Post story about its own poll about the attitudes of the most adamant opponents of health care reform...the Tea Partiers and their ilk.
They believe the just passed legislation is symptomatic of an overall decline in the United States. They are convinced we are in a free fall, losing our freedoms to government control.
They mourn the glories of the nation's past. The Post quotes one poll respondent talking about the happy days of his youth: "I grew up in the 50's", he said, "That was a wonderful time. Nobody was getting rich, nobody was doing everything big. But it was 'Ozzie and Harriet', 'Leave it to Beaver'-type stuff"
All I can think of is Richard Pryor interrupting with "...and lynching".
It is no accident that the overwhelming majority of the arch conservatives in this country are white (full disclosure, so am I). Frankly, they/we have lost some of the automatic advantage we had a generation ago before the wars for equality and fairness had begun.
Speaking of fairness, it should be noted that Pryor is useful to this conversation. because he literally went up in the flames of drug abuse. So, he also symbolizes the excesses that accompanied the progress we've made.
That there here has been progress is indisputable, as much as that riles those who cling to their faulty memories. We have made obvious huge strides in overcoming racial bigotry, at least many of us have. No longer are women kept prisoner in the home. They work, are expected to. And maybe soon they can also expect equal pay as we finally shatter that damnable glass ceiling.
The positive change is obvious and it scares the daylights of those who are overwhelmed by it and scared out of their half wits.
To be sure, they have good reason to be angry, we all do, but it's important to direct our fury at the right targets. Most of us, whatever color, gender, lifestyle...MOST of us have the same enemies.
That would be the unscrupulous bandits who have been able to take the money and resources that are rightfully our own and slip it away from us. Then they use a little of it to hold power over their junior partners in politics and government to make sure there's no protection against them.
They get away with preventing common sense regulation and true reform...as in health care, by sowing confusion and pushing word buttons like "socialism" and "bureaucrat" that send the gullible millions scurrying to their ramparts. By doing so, they succeed in dividing us natural allies against each other.
That's how they get to keep their ill gotten gains, our ill-taken losses. We are confused into fighting among ourselves about the "Good Old Days" that were, in many ways, really "Bad" old days.
If we are going to finally do something about the bad NEW days, we will need to overcome the insidious distractions of those who benefit if we stay divided. It's time focus on what we have in common.
Benjamin Franklin's words from the really old days still hold true: "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
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