By Enrique Lopetegui
On the phone from Summerville, Massachusetts, Chip Berlet, the co-author of Right-Wing Populism In America: Too Close for Comfort, spoke with the Current on the state of dissent in America.
When was the last time there was real debate in American politics?
(laughs) Thatís a tough question. Kennedy and Carter tried. And, even on occasion, Ford. You have to give him credit for trying, he was a nice guyÖ
How much of this anger shown at town hall meetings is real and how much is it manufactured?
We have to distinguish between the people that are genuinely very angry because theyíre misinformed, and the people who are there trained to just disrupt. Anger in a democratic society is common place and acceptable. Disruption is not.
Whatís the significance and real danger of people with weapons at rallies?
I understand that often this is legal, but it is very insulting and very aggressive. If a whole bunch of black people or undocumented aliens showed up with guns at a meeting with white elected officials, there would be a very different response.
Ask the Black PanthersÖ
Exactly! And look a [Rodolfo] ďCorkyĒ GonzŠlez or colored leaders who have been targeted when they tried to defend themselves.
Yet, when white people show up with guns, itís their God-given rightÖ
Exactly. When colored people do it itís dangerous and has to be stopped, and it involves the police. But when white people do it itís just ďexercising their constitutional right.Ē Thereís something wrong with that, isnít it?
Can Obama bounce back from this mess?
I think he can bounce back if Democrats can find their backbone. When did it happen that someone shouts at Democratic leaders, and they roll up into a corner and give up all of their options? Itís pathetic. I think two things need to happen: the Democrats need to get behind Obama, and people need to go back into the streets and talk about single-payer system of health care for everybody. Thatís what most of us want. So many lies and distortions have spread across the country that decent people, who really want the best for America, now have come to believe this gigantic plot to impose tyranny on America in some form of socialized medicine that will kill granny! Itís ridiculous.
Needless to say, you donít believe real reform is possible without a public option, right?
I donít believe real reform is possible without a public option and I think it was a serious error to take single-payer off the table. I donít knowÖ I was a shop steward, and I never went into a negotiation by giving the other side everything that they wanted.
Is the ďbi-partisanĒ argument valid? Why should Obama become a prick and just do his thing, the way Bush and Cheney did?
I think heís sincere in that, he wants to have a different kind of public dialogue. But you canít have a public dialogue with a rabid dog chewing on your ankle. He has to make it clear that this manufacture of lies is not acceptable. Iíve been an angry protester at meetings, but I havenít tried to shout people down. Iíve protested outside, but Iíve never carried a gun. Itís ok for people to be angry and ask questions, but not with anger that is rage, thatís bitter, and nasty and vicious. Democrats and Republicans shouldnít make up information, but right now it is the Republicans and insurance companies making up information, and thatís not acceptable. There is a difference between a legitimate angry question that expects an answer, and staged confrontations with people so full of rage that they stop listening. Thatís not what democracy is about.
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