Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Needing protection

This was one of those eye-popping stories from today's paper:

Protection costs for Walker, Kleefisch more than double

I mean, I would love to have the info to know if they face more credible death threats than Gov. Doyle did, who was not exactly well liked by many Wisconsites. I would like to know how much of this is real, how much is paranoia, and whether or not Walker & Kleefisch feel at all that any of the vitriol of their supporters, or the policies that they have rammed through our state politics without popular support, have anything to do with creating this level of threat.  There are, after all, other styles of governing that do not leave people feeling so frustrated, powerless, and angry.

This is not to excuse a single credible threat. Sadly, these are part of our political culture now. I know what it means to be Barack Obama, for example. Being the first African-American president means you, your wife, and your 2 children are the subject of daily credible death threats because there are still white people who resent your mere presence on their TV screens. I am aware of this from my long time doing political work in DC. Members of Congress, too, get freaked out by the steady volume of threats that have increased exponentially in the past decade or so.

So, on the one hand, this makes me very sad. On the other hand, it reveals the consequences of a politics of rage and hate, resentment and division, and enormous frustration when those who now 'govern' (or try to 'rule') have often been part of that kind of politics, or even benefited from it.

I mean, listen to a little Charlie Sykes or Rush Limbaugh - these people are not innocent of creating the culture that gives rise to this kind of rage and resentment. They stoke it. They empower it.

There is no excuse for this on any side of the political and cultural divides; but, still, I would like to know more. I would like to know who is making these threats and why. I would like to know what leads law enforcement officials to be this concerned, and whether or not this level of protection is about something real or feared, often perhaps with good reason.

But here's the other thing that makes me crazy: Walker & Kleefisch, who are the targets of these threats, have just approved one of the nation's most permissive concealed carry laws in the nation!! People can now walk armed right into the Capitol!!

So this is my crazy-maker for this day: WI Repubs and Lena Taylor have just made our society less secure and a whole lot more frightening, and the result is more insecurity and more fear, and then more armed guards and more tax money to pay for more armed guards. We allow our people nearly unlimited access to guns, including high-powered handguns. And then we ramp up security.

And one day, we will wonder where our democracy went. Maybe that's what the NRA wants - a nation of scared people cowering behind walls and moats defending their property and their lives with guns (or 'works of art,' as Sen. Taylor calls them) against enemies, real or not, a statewide and nationwide O.K. Corral.  Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

I guess this story was for me yet another sad commentary on the state of the political culture. It will take a long time to repair these breaches of distrust. But let's remember where they came from - they came from a backlash against the broad social contract constructed over decades that included things like worker rights, civil rights, voting rights, affirmative action, Social Security, Medicare, more cultural inclusion of gays and lesbians, immigrants and people of other cultures, fair housing acts, more stringent environmental protections, and a tax structure that once helped prevent the kind of concentration of wealth we're seeing now, leading to the impoverishment of the middle class, a progressive tax structure that was one of the hallmarks of our relatively stable society.

Check out the list: virtually every one of these things is under attack right now, and the rollback began 10-20 years ago. It has been very successful, and it has torn the cover off of old animosities and prejudices, helping to re-create the politics of resentment that has brought our democracy to the edge of collapse.

So I hope nobody tries to commit violence against any of our elected politicians. It would be beyond tragic. It would actually pose a grave threat to our state's democracy. And I hope we can use this story as yet another stark warning: we need to start healing these breaches so that the social contract can be restored and a culture of tolerance and inclusion reborn.

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