A couple weeks ago, I wrote what I thought was a rather innocuous column about vacationing in Florida and discovering that the nice people who sat next to us on the beach were rabid conservatives. I didn't say anything bad about them, only that my wife and I were surprised that such genial folks could have such radically different political views from ours.
Well, innocuousness is in the eye of the beholder, apparently. I received a few venomous e-mails from folks suggesting that I should "vacation in New Jersey, where there are lots of simpletons" like me and my wife or that I keep my "liberal ass" out of nice, "conservative places like Florida." One e-mailer — anonymous, of course — suggested that he and 20 or 30 "good old boys" would be happy to show up at my house and help me move out of Tennessee.
The alternate universe of angry Americans has amped up the action. We saw it in the health-care town hall meetings, where they attempted to shout down any dialogue on the issue. We saw it in the intentionally provocative wearing of guns to presidential appearances. We hear it in the increasingly shrill cries of those who call the president a socialist, a fascist, a Nazi.
It's a universe of people who are deeply afraid. They call themselves "real Americans" and have convinced themselves they represent mainstream thinking, but they don't anymore. They represent the past, when they could call themselves a "silent majority" and no one laughed at them; when their gun worship, their simplistic "drill baby drill" slogans, racial intolerance, and gay-bashing could help a politican win a national election. They are a shrinking slice of the electorate, and the more they scream, the more they brandish their guns in public, the more rapidly they marginalize themselves.
They don't seem to realize that most Americans don't think bringing guns to a presidential appearance or a health-care town hall meeting is a good idea. Most Americans think screaming to drown out debate on a subject of national interest is simply moronic. And most Americans are now seeing the huckster media flacks for what they are: blowhards and shameless opportunists. I'm not saying "liberals" are in the majority; I am saying the majority of the American people — liberal, moderate, and, yes, conservative — wants no part of the hysterical right's fear-mongering. And that's a very good thing, indeed, even in Florida.