“Can we all get along?” — Rodney King
The alarm hadn’t even rung this morning. It was about a quarter past five. Yet I was awake.
The din outside my window was, considering the hour and my state of unconsciousness just moments before, deafening.
I should have been mad, no?
A countless variety of birds was whistling, clattering, gargling, hooting, chirping, yipping, and otherwise letting the world — and this no-longer-sleeping beauty — know they were alive.
It was the most beautiful cacophonic symphony imaginable. Like the birds, I was glad to be alive.
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TOO TOUGH FOR OUR OWN GOOD
During the dark days when the Republicans seemed to be the only party in this holy land with guts, with a vision (albeit repulsive to me), and with exciting candidates (at least to fellow Republicans), I longed for my Dems to, well, wake up.
I mean, honestly, Michael Dukakis?
Y’Wanna Vote For Me? Okay.
The late 80s was the nadir of the party. The GOP was constantly prowling and attacking and my Dems were always cowering in a corner. The tone was set when, during the 1980 presidential debates, Ronald Reagan listened patiently to incumbent Jimmy Carter (I mean, honestly, Jimmy Carter?) read off his list of particulars, accusing Reagan of being, you know, a Republican, and then, when it was his turn to speak, gave a sad little shake of his head and said, like a headmaster, a camp counselor, a disappointed father, “There you go again.”
Now You Listen To Me
Reagan needn’t have said another word. Carter was deflated. Defeated. Finished. He knew it. Reagan knew it. And America knew it.
The Republicans, particularly Reagan, had a way of withering the Dems with a single phrase.
I was embarrassed to be a Democrat back then. It was almost as bad as being a Cubs fan.
I longed for the day my party would rear up and fight back.
The Republicans through the years had had their Joe McCarthy, their Donald Segretti and G. Gordon Liddy. By the 80s, they had their Lee Atwater. All tough, no-nonsense guys who’d stick a shiv into the belly of any Dem at any time.
Tough, Albeit Deranged
Why, I wondered, couldn’t we have a guy or two like that?
Would we always be so touchy-feely, so accepting, so forgiving, so ready and willing to bear our necks and let the predators of the world go for our jugular?
It got so that the Republicans turned our passivity into their own campaign asset — they would argue, Do you want these softies “protecting” you against the commies and the brown-skinned people of the world?
And, really, who would want Walter Mondale, to be the wingman in an alley fight?
Don’t Worry; I’m Right Behind You
But the Dems were learning. In 1989, Lee Atwater floated the rumor that Speaker of the House Tom Foley lived in a “liberal closet” (wink, wink). Barney Frank, the advance guard of the nascent fighting Dems, came out swinging.
Frank announced to the press that if the Republican innuendos about Foley’s sexuality didn’t cease forthwith, he’d release the very next morning a list of five prominent Republican congressbeings who were secretly gay and do the same thing the next day and the day after that until all the GOP closets were empty.
The Republicans jumped like scalded rabbits. Atwater instructed the White House operator to track down Foley immediately so he could tell the Speaker the attacks were history.
Hello, Tom? C’mon Man, You Can Take A Joke, Can’t You?
And then, a miracle. Bill Clinton came out of the nowhere that is Arkansas. He was tough. He was ready and willing to throw some thumbs. Not only that, he had a snarling dog on a long chain next to him, one James Carville, a guy who could make even Liddy take a deep breath.
Clinton’s campaign headquarters became know as a War Room. The gloves were off. The fight was on. The Dems won the White House, woo-hoo!
The Republicans, of course, eventually came back with a series of rabid curs: Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, and Karl Rove. They snatched away first the House of Representatives then the White House.
Then came Barack Obama with his own carnivore, Rahm Emanuel.
By the 2008 presidential election, it seemed the Democrats had reached parity with the Republicans in terms of toughness.
Still, the Republicans had their lunatic fringe fighters, the so-called Minutemen along the Mexican border, the abortion clinic bombers, the murderers of doctors who provided abortions, Michigan militias, and other terrifying creatures.
Now these really were people who could make the sane among us cower in a corner.
Somehow we always knew the guy flying the plane into a government building or the loner purchasing tons of fertilizer-based explosives would be a right-winger.
White Makes Right
And even if the Republican establishment tut-tutted these folks, I always got the feeling that puffy, paunchy chicken hawks like Rove secretly wished they too could bring a sidearm to a political debate.
We Dems could proudly say, Yeah, we’re tough now, but we aren’t psychotic.
That is, we could say it until now.
And the newest psychos come from right here in good old Monroe County.
You may have heard about the brutal attack on a gathering of white supremacists (perhaps the first time those words have ever been written together) in a Chicago suburb over the weekend.
See, a gang of five Bloomington-area men barged into a family restaurant in Tinley Park Saturday and beat the bejesus out of a bunch of old men gathered there to eat club sandwiches and tell each other how fabulous they are for being descendents of Eastern Europeans.
The five were under the mistaken impression that the old men were part of a white supremacist organization.
It’s not known what feelings the old birds have in their heart of hearts for brown-skinned people, or even if they consider brown-skinned people people at all, but they swear up and down they’re not part of a Klan-like gang.
But let’s assume for a moment that they are, just for the sake of argument. Let’s assume they despise people who aren’t blessed by god with pasty skin. Let’s assume they met at the Ashford House Restaurant to discuss among friends how the darker people of this land are ruining it.
Even if that were the case, the five men who exploded into the restaurant carrying billy clubs, knives, hammers, and other instruments of mayhem are jerks.
They went into the place with murder in their hearts (trust me, when you carry a hammer into a brawl, you’re looking to kill someone), aiming to punish human beings for their thoughts.
I thought it was a fictional conceit.
But the Sutherlin boys and their two pals from Bloomington, Indiana, have made it real.
Now, we of the left side of the spectrum have our own fringe fighters. We’d better do more to distance ourselves from our psychos than the Republicans did.