Thursday, September 17, 2009


Walt Whitman described his poetic musings as a “barbaric yawp.” The phrase more accurately describes the character of collective democratic discourse.

When three thousand citizens come together to demonstrate their unhappiness—as happened at Oceanside’s amphitheater on Thursday before Labor Day weekend—you can bet that the ideas expressed won’t be nuanced. Detailed arguments don’t fit on a poster.

“Don’t Tread On Me” was typical of democracy’s revolutionary voice. At Oceanside, “Give Me Liberty, Not Debt” was the prevalent theme amid a group energized to oppose what they see as an unprecedented and dangerous expansion of government power.

In any sizeable group some comments will test the boundaries of respectability. But the idea that the word “socialism” somehow crosses that boundary is risible. After all, those European parties most in tune with the Democrats now in power in Washington explicitly call themselves “socialist.” (Nuance alert: Socialism and communism are not exactly the same thing.)

Words such as “traitor” and “psycho” weren’t prevalent at the rally, but they were present—and, of course, they were picked up by media cameras eager to focus on what was most provocative among people who have been slimed as brown-shirts by no less than the Democrat Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Indeed, a major reason for the collective yawp that took place at Oceanside a few weeks ago (and more impressively at the huge, underreported rally in Washington D.C. nine days later) is the double standard that mainstream media regularly apply to gatherings of this sort. The vile and hate-filled epithets regularly hurled at former President George W. Bush, for example, were seldom, if ever, reported as signs of left-wing derangement or neo-fascist thuggery.

Even when some agitators suggested that a Bush assassination would be nice, the mainstream media response was essentially “ho-hum.” The protests, they implied, only highlighted flaws in the President and his policies. How things change when the presidential shoe is on the other foot and protestors themselves become problems to be vilified as racists or (as with Cindy Sheehan at Martha’s Vineyard) ignored.

By most group standards, tea-party demonstrations have been rather civil—as one might expect from a largely conservative group. The protestors decry a government that appears intent on using last year’s financial crisis as a pretext for socializing as much of the economy as possible. They are frightened at the prospect of trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. They are dumbfounded that a nut-job racist like Van Jones (who believed 9/11 might be a Bush-inspired plot) could be made a Presidential Czar—and could resign without significant comment by the mainstream media.

They are upset that news reports uncritically parrot the preposterous administration claim that a “stimulus” package (that’s hardly been spent) has “saved or created” a million jobs.

Then they see President Obama siding with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro against the democratic nation of Honduras and know something is desperately wrong.

Therefore, yawp!

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