Looking at last week’s incivility during the health care voting, Frank Rich (in his Sunday column up now at the New York Times) remembers another era of incivility from the 60’s.
Medicare was robustly opposed, but it passed the Senate with 70 votes in 1965. No one died.
It was the 1964 Civil Rights Act that ” made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance. The apocalyptic predictions then, like those about health care now, were all framed in constitutional pieties, of course. Barry Goldwater, running for president in ’64, drew on the counsel of two young legal allies, William Rehnquist and Robert Bork, to characterize the bill as a “threat to the very essence of our basic system” and a “usurpation” of states’ rights that “would force you to admit drunks, a known murderer or an insane person into your place of business.” Richard Russell, the segregationist Democratic senator from Georgia, said the bill “would destroy the free enterprise system.” David Lawrence, a widely syndicated conservative columnist, bemoaned the establishment of “a federal dictatorship.”
This feels like another one of those times. This feels like 1964. All the lashing out at non specific targets. All this ‘take my country back’ stuff.
The changing demographics of the United States – and most of Western Europe – are increasingly visible in the popular culture. People – young people – moving into the visible professional and political positions are not all white anymore. That frightens some people because it’s change. Too much perhaps. Too fast perhaps. But change and some of us fear change.
I hate that it feels the same now. Yeah, speech is free and to be protected; but some of what I’m hearing lately sounds like incitement. There is a line and I don’t know when we cross it.
UPDATE: I think it’s worth posting another line from Rich’s column, because it clarifies exactly why this ‘tea party’ movement is coalescing around the Republican Party (whether the Republicans want them or not). He reminds us that “Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.”