They've been picking some strange, strange battles.

Posted: 10 September 2009 in civil rights, human rights, obamanation, politics, republicans

On May 22nd, 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina, incensed over anti-slavery remarks made by Senator Charles Sumner, walked into the Capitol Rotunda and beat Sumner over the head with his cane.  Sumner would take over three years to recover from the beating, which lasted well over a minute and resulted in the cane being snapped over his head.  Brooks would be expelled from the House and fined, but upon his return to South Carolina, he was feted with banquets in his honor, presented with a host of new canes, and quickly re-elected to the House.  Such were the divisions of the time leading up to the Civil War.

These days, we’re not so crass in our opposition to thing we disagree with.  Instead of caning people over the head on the Senate floor, we exercise our civil rights.  The right to keep and bear arms, for instance.  And last night, in that same hallowed chamber where Brooks beat Sumner’s head in just 153 years ago, Representative Joe Wilson, hailing from the same South Carolina that Preston Brooks represented, raised not his cane in opposition, but his voice, like the gentleman that his is:

Did I mention that this was a Presidential address to a joint session of Congress?  On national television?  And not a town hall meeting?  Did I mention that Joe Wilson is, by all accounts, not a third-grader?  And that he forgot to add (as required by law) “pants on fire!” ?

These are the battles that they’ve chosen to wage a culture war over.  This is scorched-earth tactics, the kind where the entire battlefield is burned to the ground to deny its use to anyone.  And we’re not just talking rhetoric here, we’re talking outright threats and members of Congress actively losing their shit when they hear something that they disagree with.  I’m not going to talk about how this is new, certainly I lead off with stories of more… pronounced disagreement in our nation’s past.  I am looking at this and wondering, however, what the next step is.  We’ve had divisions over major issues in the past fifty years, and aside from the nuts on the absolute fringe and some strong language, people managed to comport themselves.  Not now.  Now, we’ve got people openly menacing the Commander in Chief with firearms (and don’t think that carrying an assault rifle with the express purpose of being seen near the President isn’t menacing).  We’ve got Congressmen shouting down his opponents in the Rotunda on live television.  We’ve got a strangely organized movement of highly disengaged people disrupting any sort of conversation at any chance they get.  This doesn’t feel like the disagreements of our recent past.  What’s more disturbing is that these are the battles that they have chosen – not slavery, but healthcare.  Not abortion or school prayer or same-sex marriage but HEATHCARE.  This isn’t even a moral outrage issue.  This is simply “we don’t want to be healthy, and dammit, we don’t want anyone else to be healthy either.”  I think the scariest issue here isn’t just that the threats are so blatant, it’s that they’re over this issue.  What will happen when they really get upset?


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