A four foot wide swastika spray-painted on a Congressman’s office. A fax featuring the president’s picture with a slogan saying “Death to All Marxists.” A man protesting at Obama’s town hall arriving armed with a gun on his leg. Another woman making headlines with a sign equating Obama to the unelected president of Iran. Every scuffle ends up on YouTube. Every protester holds a reference sheet of talking points. Every new lie gets repeated until its gospel.
The disruptions at the town halls held during the Congressional recess to get feedbacks have become chaotic spectacles, flooded with ill-informed but amply loud right-wing activists claiming the new healthcare initiative is going do everything from turning the country red and unplugging grandma’s ventilator. On the surface, the rage seems real and gives the impression of a swell of dissent for the healthcare proposals currently coming out of Congress.
The only problem is the whole thing appears a little too telegenic.
The graffiti, the signs, the slogans, the “death panels” – all of it pains a story that sells itself. Swastikas and conspicuous are the kind of front-page, half-hour lead sexy that would make any editor wet. They’re all cable-ready, straight-to-market type stories that have legs for weeks – even if they are predicated on misinformation.
Informed opponents of the healthcare initiative are as confused as the Congresspeople getting berated in these town halls. Death panels? Fascism? Eugenics? These myths are pervasive among right-leaning Americans, but they are not coming from Republicans. The GOP leadership, if anything, has tried to combat the rowdy trend at the town halls, even with some going so far as to endure the booing of their own supporters to correct popular untruths.
They do so out of self-interest; they know that these town hall riots are good for short-term sensations but bad for the endgame. This brandof rage is unsustainable for any real length and, given the recent events in the abortion debate, can lead to dangerous consequences damaging to the cause. No, the Republican caucus is not fueling the town hall circus.
This is not a grassroots movement; this is a viral newscycle. The ready-to-link rumors, the “push” news reports, the abundance of citizens ready with a two-second soundbite – real revolutions just aren’t this carefully coordinated.
And when one examines the constituent components of where all the fuel for this fire originated – the death panel rumor, the allusions of socialism, the fascist photos – they all began in one place.
The power for this manufactured movement is provided by the only interest it benefits: Fox News.
Before it manifests itself in the crowds, it always begins on the right-wing network. No one was calling Obama a fascist before Glenn Beck. No one was talking about a government official coming to kill grandma until Bill O’Reilly. And certainly no one was showing up at town halls until Oliver North started telling them to.
Fox News is inciting these riots for ratings, a ploy despicable not in that it furthers a particular political end, but that it furthers a particular profit. These disruptions in town halls will have little effect on the policy that ultimately gets shaped, as the poll numbers indicate they’ve been having little real effect on the public opinion of the policy.
There’s only one winner through the continued frenzy, but we all stand to lose. Chuck Todd said it best in today’s First Read when he tried to find who was benefitting from the spectacle that has become our healthcare debate:
Ah, the classic political story … nobody wins, we’re all losers in these eyes of the true silent majority: the radical middle.