Spare a thought, and maybe even a dime, for Kenneth Gladney. In August he and other members of the right-wing St. Louis Tea Party arrived at a town-hall meeting organized by Missouri Democrat Russ Carnahan to lobby against universal healthcare. In the spirit of this fraught summer, a fight broke out, ending in six arrests.
Who threw the first punch depends on whom you ask. But who got the worst of it was fairly clear. Gladney was taken to the emergency room with injuries to his knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face and ended up in a wheelchair. His troubles were just beginning. Recently laid off, this particular anti-health reform protester, it turned out, had no health insurance. Last heard, he was still accepting donations for his medical expenses.
It’s not difficult to ridicule the American right. Its peculiar blend of paranoia, mania, fantasy and misanthropy has been given full rein these past few months. Those who demanded in July to see Obama’s birth certificate (which does exist) ended August invoking the British healthcare system’s “death panels” (which do not). That most of their claims were verifiably false was of little consequence–to them at least. At one point they insisted that if scientist Stephen Hawking were British and subject to the National Health Service, he would be dead, even though Hawking is British, alive and grateful to the NHS for his care.
So progressives could be forgiven for branding the right as stupid and crazy. But they would also be wrong. For if this is madness, there is great method in it. It is well organized and well funded. It has proven effective in mobilizing support, creating “controversy” where little exists and disrupting and disorienting whatever national conversation there is. If it is stupid, then what does it say about us, since time and again it manages to outmaneuver the left? Annoying, bizarre, incoherent, divisive, intolerant, small-minded, misinformed, ill informed and disinformed, certainly. But stupid and crazy–anything but. It takes considerable skill to convince people that something that is clearly good for them–like universal healthcare–is not. If the right is crazy, it is crazy like a Fox News presenter. Reducing a political strategy or belief to a psychological disorder to dismiss and ridicule its proponents may be comforting. But it also abandons any hope of defeating it or stymieing its influence beyond therapy.