Left and right, anxiety over the ugly turn of American politics this month is provoking conflict about the conflict.
Paul Krugman decries "recent town halls, where angry protesters--some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting “This is America!”--have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform."
Across the ideological divide, Peggy Noonan finds, "What the protesters are saying is, 'You are terrifying us,'" expressing "a feeling of rebellion, an uprising against change they do not believe in."
Both sides agree that some of the outrage is trumped up--by "well-heeled interest groups...crass as they come" (Krugman) or the White House itself (Noonan), compiling an "enemies list" with an "email address to which citizens are asked to report instances of 'disinformation' in the health-care debate."
According to The Hill, "The showdowns between lawmakers and constituents have not only fueled the high-stakes battle over healthcare reform but also started a debate over the authenticity of the interruptions.
"With websites like EmbarrassYourCongressman.com encouraging activists to upload video and pictures from the heated meetings, Democratic members are asking Speaker Nancy Pelosi whether they should continue holding town hall meetings with large numbers of people...
"The Speaker has advised her rank and file to do what they deem appropriate. She said scheduled town hall meetings should go ahead as planned. There are other ways to get the message out, including tele-town halls, interviews, one-on-one meetings with constituents and news conferences, leadership aides said."
We are a long way, as Krugman notes, from the Norman Rockwell painting illustrating FDR’s "Four Freedoms" that "shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind."
For an historical parallel, we have to go back even more to William Butler Yeat's post-World War I poem, "The Second Coming":
"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.../The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity."