John McCain played with fire. Sarah Palin stoked the flames of the far right with abandon. We even saw McCain, with tight-lipped resignation, forced to tell a wild-haired supporter Obama was not a Muslim. The Republican duo tapped into the ugliest part of the conservative base, whipping up xenophobia and belligerence, and, largely on the basis of one ill-timed Obama utterance, labelled Obama a socialist.
The Obama tax plan says this: "The top two income tax brackets would return to their 1990s levels of 36 percent and 39.6 percent. All other tax brackets would remain as they are today." The top two brackets are now 33 percent and 35 percent. A difference of 4.6 percent in the top tax bracket, my friends, has convinced certain of our fellow citizens we'll all be donning mink hats and goose-stepping through Red Square come January.
I remember the numbness that set in just before George W. Bush took the oath of office in 2001. I wrote about it, saying that I thought he would do his best, limited though he might be. I was willing to give the guy a chance, even though he seemed like a testy frat boy. By the day after Bush's return for a second term, my tune had changed: "Those who... have grown incapable of seeing and believing the reality of their president's easily verifiable dishonesty and small-mindedness, those who refuse to see that military action creates more terrorism, that unprecedented national debt is bad, that killing Iraqis harms our security more than gay marriage, have spoken."
Last Wednesday, I perused some right wing sites to see what was brewing. The farthest right among us are not just bummed. They are red-eyed, twitchy, convinced that America stands on the brink of death, destruction, or worse. That is their starting point, and the filter through which they will see the Obama administration.
I get that, because I was bummed and afraid in November of 2004. But that was because of the four years which preceded that day, four years in which my every low expectation of Bush had been surpassed with breathtaking audacity, and I had seen the notion of civil rights blow right out the window, replaced, by the time 2006 arrived, with idiotic blather like Senator Pat Roberts' (R-Kansas) brilliant "I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties, but you have no civil liberties if you are dead."
The far right, on the other hand, is stockpiling Dinty Moore in advance. Not the mere conservatives—there are plenty of reasonable voices among the more moderate of Republicans, those who are embarrassed by their wild-eyed fellow travellers. Even Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher said on Fox News, "He's what the people chose, so now I got to get behind him and support him." It is only the most extreme who believe President-elect Obama will transform the country into a Kenyan/Indonesian/Marxist/hippie socialist/communist/totalitarian state, pretty much January 21. They're still checking the kerning on Obama's birth certificate, hoping to reveal proof of Kenyan citizenship.
Here are a few examples, collected from the comments on the very conservative Townhall.com and a few other right wing sites on Nov. 5:
1) "Get used to it.
The United States of America is DEAD.
Don't blame Obama, he is just the symptom and was in the right place at the right time. Blame the selfish, greedy socialists who supported and voted for him. They are your neighbors, coworkers, and possibly family members. These are the cold, hard facts."
2) "American, you have just elected a Muslim Marxist. Congratulations. I doubt in six months that you will still be happy with your BDS hissy fit."
3) "And now, with NOBama as President, be Afraid. BE VERY AFRAID. Of Everything."
4) "The liberals now control every sector of our society. The storm troopers' uniforms are dreadlocks, hemp skirts, and Birkenstocks. They are violent, they are dangerous, and they are serious. We have much to fear."
There was also, of course, the just plain racist: "Free fried chicken in every home." And this racist wannabe statement that means heaven knows what: "Mr. Obama is not Jackie Robinson. He's Mr. T with a law degree."
Somehow, even through the Bush years, the far right maintained an unmistakable sense of persecution and victimhood. Somehow they thought Republican domination and simpering "opposition" from Democrats still didn't mean they were in power. But my favorite right wing nutjob statement of the campaign season was "Americans aren't ready to give up their freedom yet." The last eight years argue otherwise, what with domestic spying, warrantless wiretapping, and a full-out assault on habeas corpus, the very cornerstone of Western democracy. Somehow, in the right wing mind, those things don't equal giving up freedom. And peaceful ganja smokers are violent and dangerous.
I say all this not simply to bash the calcified far right. On the heels of an impressive Obama victory, we have a real opportunity to seize the moment, to work for common good. It's beautiful stuff. But we cannot forget that these extremists are going to remain extreme. Their time in power was the result of long planning; they gained power and started the process of pulling up the ladder, knowing a minority couldn't hang on forever without manipulating the mechanisms that put them there. It took eight years of abuse of power before enough of the rest of us woke up to reality to change things.
We should embrace the spectrum of political thought, and try to gain a sense of unity after Bush's widening of divisions with endless fearmongering. We cannot forget, though, that some of our fellow Americans, that small but absolutist minority, will not join us. They cheered as Bush removed civil liberties, calling the result freedom. They cheered as we invaded a country that had nothing to do with Sept. 11 and called us traitors for opposing it. When Palin said Obama "palled around with terrorists," they embraced her as a new figurehead.
Open-mindedness is just weakness in their estimation. We forget this at our peril.
I look forward to letting down my guard some, to discovering how our new president will deliver. I look forward to debating policy instead of incredulously discovering that it's somehow necessary to craft an argument against, say, torture. Much is possible that has not been since before the new millenium. It's a beautiful day.
While the vast majority of the country is basking in that glow, those who have openly opposed the most basic tenets of how a democratic society conducts itself are planning. Already, Impeach Obama groups are forming on the Web. We nearly lost our democracy, and it's a long way from healthy still. George Bush is not gone; he's busy with his executive orders and signing statements, sending us careening even farther rightward before Obama inherits his office. We can forgive, but we should not forget—eternal vigilance really is the price of freedom. We have seen that it can happen here. It's up to us to see that it never happens again.