11/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Conservative Protesters Show Their Liberal Side on the Streets of D.C.

You know something is upside-down in the world when conservatives are marching on Washington.

I mean, say what you will about the birthers, the nativists, the death panelers, the 9-12ers, and the John Birch Tea-Party guys; conservatives are not by nature a marching people -- the cardiovascular side of their civil disobedience generally involves rising from seats at town hall meetings and shouting -- so to see them gathered on the Mall this past weekend like a bunch of liberals at an anti-IMF rally was to witness evidence of a world gone completely loopy.

What was really fascinating about Saturday's Freedom Works Glenn Beck Never Forget 9-12 March on Washington for Continued Prosperity was the variety of beliefs being touted. I thought message discipline was supposed to be the hallmark of the conservative movement: You could hate the Right's message but you had to respect the lock-step way in which they delivered it. The Left, on the other hand, has always been the gang that couldn't shoot straight, a rag-tag band of wildly varied interests barely living together under the big tent of the Democratic Party and incapable of staying focused.

And never was this ad hoc approach to ideology more on display than when the Left would gather for a protest (or try to pass health care reform): If you got a bunch of liberals together at a rally protesting the war in Iraq, you were guaranteed to see signs and T-shirts attacking the World Bank, racism, genocide in Darfur, "enhanced interrogation techniques," Dick Cheney, globalization, Starbuck's, censorship, deforestation, God, country, honor, truth, babies, pudding, you name it.

That's just the way liberals do things, as if promoting a political ideology were like improvising a stew: throw everything into the pot and stir until boiling.

But not conservatives. They get their talking-points memos in the mail, memorize them, and repeat them word for word to anyone who will listen, like good soldiers -- "We don't want the smoking gun to turn out to be a mushroom cloud," "We will fight them there so we don't have to fight them here," "Joe the Plumber and Tito the Builder and Sinbad the Sailor and Tinbad the Tailor and Jinbad the Jailer and Whinbad ..." Which may be spooky (and odd for a political ideology that advertises itself as the defender of the individual), but it makes for smart politics.

And yet on Saturday conservatives were incapable of sustaining anything even resembling a coherent message. They held up signs protesting excessive spending, taxes, government take-over of health care, death panels, "shadow governments," the death of liberty, the rise of fascism, the rise of communism, the unholy marriage of fascism and communism, Barack Obama as illegitimate foreign-born usurper, Barack Obama as race-warrior, Barack Obama as Nazi-Marxist-Czarist-communist killer of grandmothers, the government trying to pry their guns from their still-alive still-warm hands (which wasn't the agreement), and Nancy Pelosi.

And tune in tomorrow for another protest protesting the media's misreporting of the size of Saturday's protest.

I suppose this is what happens to people when they start to feel the ground shift beneath their feet and realize that the tide of history has turned against them. They throw blame around willy-nilly, playing catch-as-catch-can with the facts in a mad attempt to bring some sense back to their world. What else can you do when the world is refusing to stay the way you want it to, other than raise your voice and throw a fit, like a kid who just found out his parents are getting divorced and he's going to have to go to a different school?

At this point the fears of white conservative America go beyond losing elections. They're losing the country, losing the culture, losing the future, losing the past. Losing everything, slowly but inevitably, like air going out of a tire. No wonder they're so cranky.

Hence the shots of Barack Obama dressed like Hitler and the wild claims about eugenics plans, the belief in a national civilian defense corps, government internment camps, and swine flu quarantine conspiracies. Hence Glenn Beck's proclaiming (and his acolyte's believing) that Obama hates the white race and white culture (whatever that might be: John Cougar Mellencamp, maybe? Lemonade? Go-karts?) and that he's using health care reform as a means to exact reparations for slavery. Hence the trumped-up charges of racism and "hot-headedness" leveled at Sonia Sotamayor and the claims that Nancy Pelosi's health care plan will provide insurance for illegal aliens. Hence the ranting and raving about the death of American values and the dissolution of the American family that will result from the legalization of gay marriage. Hence the irritation-turned-to-ideological-frenzy that comes from having to listen to your telephone banking options read to you in Spanish.

Hence the entire three-ring circus that is American democracy in 2009.

All of which would be fascinating to watch if it weren't so unnerving. I don't know about you but angry white folks with a stung sense of pride, a growing sense of irrelevance, an out-sized reverence for an over-romanticized past, a paranoid fear of the future, a firm mistrust of the "other," a dodgy understanding of history, and guns worry me. Then again, maybe I'm the one being paranoid. They are patriots after all, right? Simple folk doing what they feel needs to be done to save America and preserve its traditions. Better that, I suppose, than the alternative: to sit idly by while blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, secularists, Darwinists, foreigners, socialists, and social deviants steal the country we love so very very very much and turn it into Germany 1933 or Russia 1917 or Cuba 1959 or some previously unimagined hybrid of all three.

Surely that's not what the Founders had in mind, right?