09/10/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's the People Who Got Small

The organized intimidation and minor violence at health care town halls around the country is cause for concern. Sara Robinson asks the question, Is it fascism yet?

But so far, the "shock troops" who have shown up here (Americans for Prosperity) got off their tour bus armed only with signs, beer guts and Ban Lon. Others protesting socialized medicine at town halls around the country are pensioners already on "socialized medicine," i.e., Medicare. TBogg calls them the "Creamed Corn Mafia."

The upside of last November's election is that young people supported Obama overwhelmingly and overwhelmingly support health care reform. When town hall protests begin attracting large numbers of foot soldiers youthful enough and fit enough to engage in organized violence, be afraid.

That's not to say that there will be no violence from these protests until then. The line between a personal responsibility crowd and a diffused responsibility mob is a thin one. A mob of any age can do serious harm before even its members realize what they've done.

Some recent town hall protesters were inspired by Glenn Beck's 9/12 Project. One of his 9 Principles is a threat against "you", as in "If you break the law you pay the penalty." The remainder are "self" centered, built around me and mine. Per Beck's folksy-kitsch, that's probably because there's a me in America, but not a we.

Principle #7 is important to health care protesters: "I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable."

My point exactly. Protesters are inflamed by the idea that a black president might use their tax dollars to help people not of their tribe. Or, as Frank Schaeffer wrote last week:

"They can't reconcile their idea of themselves with the fact that white men like them don't run the country any more -- and never will again. To them the black president is leading a column of the "other" into their promised land. Gays, immigrants, blacks, progressives, even a female Hispanic appointed to the Supreme Court... for them this is the Apocalypse."

"E pluribus unum" has been on our money and national seals dating from the founding of the republic. "Out of Many, One." Yet, for all the patriotic chest-thumping and flag-waving, protesters seem to have missed that spirit behind the whole America thing. E pluribus unum is Greek to them.

Thankfully, wiser men created the republic they merely inherited.

During World War II, Americans sacrificed for it at home and died for it abroad. They pulled together. They defended the world from tyranny, sure, but in the fog of war many died, not for abstracts like freedom or democracy, but for the guy beside them.

People thought better of the general welfare then, before Cold War paranoia confused promoting community with promoting communism.

Moral forces, not market ones, broadened individual rights and made American democracy more perfect. New Deal and post-war programs served public goals and produced broad prosperity. They improved infrastructure, promoted small businesses and allowed millions of veterans to attend college and own homes. They spurred technological innovation, conquered disease, and created a military and economic superpower -- all while allowing our parents and grandparents to enjoy healthier retirements with security and dignity.

Bent on tearing that down, conservatives have made America an abstraction they pledge to support with their lives and their sacred honor, just not with their fortunes. It's every man for himself -- hardly the spirit that led this country to the greatness they don't have the stomach for. Their time is past.

With apologies to Billy Wilder:

"You're the United States of America. You used to be a world leader. You used to be big."

"I am big. It's the people who got small."

Crossposted at

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