|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
"It's certainly a scary time," said former FBI agent Brad Garrett, now an ABC News consultant. Garrett said the Secret Service "cannot afford to pass on anyone," and he believes "they really do fear that something could happen to [Obama]."
Garrett said statements like one recently made by controversial radio host Rush Limbaugh comparing a logo for the White House plan to a Nazi symbol "legitimizes people who are on the edge to go do something or say something."
"And if you go and take a look at this, you will find that the Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo," Limbaugh said.
Later, someone painted a swastika outside the office of Congressman David Scott of Georgia, one of Obama's supporters.
While officials told ABC News that the President's daily threat matrix has yet to reflect a sharp increase in threats, White House officials privately admit deep concern and have told the Secret Service to keep security tight, even if Obama objects.
In the world of television, “Mad Men” is notorious for drawing great press and modest audiences. This could be the season when the viewers catch up, in part because the show is catching up to the level of anxiety we feel in 2009. In the first two seasons, the series was promoted with the slogan “Where the Truth Lies.” This year, it’s “The World’s Gone Mad.” The ad hyping the season premiere depicts the impeccably dressed Don Draper, the agency executive played by Jon Hamm, sitting in his office calmly smoking a Lucky Strike as floodwater rises to his waist.
To be underwater — well, many Americans know what that’s like right now. But we are also at that 1963-like pivot point of our history, with a new young president unlike any we’ve seen before, and with the promise of a new frontier whose boundaries are a mystery. Something is happening here, as Bob Dylan framed this mood the last time around, but you don’t know what it is. We feel Don Draper’s disorientation as his once rock-solid ’50s America starts to be swept away. We recognize his fear that the world could go mad.
It’s through this prism we might re-examine the raucous town hall eruptions this month. Even if they are inflated by activist organizations and cable-TV overexposure, they still cannot be dismissed entirely as made-for-media phenomena made-to-measure to fill the August news vacuum. Nor are they necessarily about health care. The twisted distortions about “death panels” and federal conspiracies “to pull the plug on grandma” are just too unhinged from the reality of any actual legislation. These bogus fears are psychological proxies for bigger traumas.
“It’s the economy, the facts that millions of people have lost their jobs and millions of others are afraid of losing theirs,” theorizes one heckled senator, Arlen Specter. That’s surely part of it. So is fear of more home foreclosures and credit card bankruptcies. So is fear of China, whose economic ascension stands in stark contrast to the collapse of traditional American industries from automobiles to newspapers. So is fear of Barack Obama, whose political ascension dramatizes the coming demographic order that will relegate whites to the American minority. In our uncharted new frontier, even the most reliable fixture for a half-century of American public life, the Kennedy family, is crumbling.
These anxieties coalesce in various permutations right, left and center. In most cases they don’t surface in the explosions we’re seeing at these town hall meetings but in the kind of quiet desperation that afflicts Don Draper and his cohort in “Mad Men.” But this summer’s explosions are also in keeping with 1963.
The political rage at the young, liberal Kennedy administration in some quarters that year was rabid and ominous. When Adlai Stevenson, then ambassador to the United Nations, spoke in Dallas that October, jeering zealots spat on him and struck him with a picketer’s placard. Stevenson advised Kennedy against traveling there. Dallas rushed to draft a new city ordinance restricting protesters’ movements at lawful assemblies and passed it on Nov. 18. We need not watch “Mad Men” to learn how that turned out.