BATTERED IDEOLOGY SYNDROME
People who feel they have the right to get away with intimidation, or even violence, often know where to draw the line. I don't mean "draw the line" in a moral sense -- I mean many of them intimidate, sow fear, inflict pain, but know how not to push it to the limit. Men who beat up their wives and girlfriends can be like that -- some know how to avoid leaving marks, or even how to obtain submission using methods that fall short of physical violence. They also use their status as seemingly upstanding citizens to dissuade cops from responding appropriately to the abuse. And then sometimes the victims lash out in response -- and they haven't developed any expectation of successful intimidation or societal backup. So, in quite a few cases, a long-term victim will lash out with much greater force than she's been subjected to on any one occasion. Sometimes those women kill.
Think of that as extended political analogy, appropriate to the Summer of Hate and what's going on now. The town-hall intimidators never got outrageously out of control because they think they're America's upstanding citizens. They think all other "real" Americans recognize that fact. Plus, whether or not they realize it, they're used to winning: liberalism has been on the run in this country since at least 1980; not even eight years of a Democratic president in the 1990s changed that.
What brings all this up for me is the story of the pro-health-care-reform demonstrator in California who bit off part of an anti-reform counterprotestor's finger. To judge from the most detailed eyewitness account we have so far, by a blogger named Karoli (who's also posted it here), this was a ghastly escalation of a confrontation that had already included some serious but plain-vanilla right-wing intimidation:
All of a sudden, I saw a very tall man in an orange shirt ... confront [a female pro-reform demonstrator], verbally at first. Her back was to the thruway, and he was shooing her, approaching her, speaking to her in a very aggressive fashion (observation from body language only) and waving his arms in a shooing motion. With each step she took back, he took one forward, shooing her more. From where I was, it appeared as though he were telling her to get on her own side of the street, and backing it up with a very clear physical threat. Even from where I stood, it chilled me....
Several minutes later, there was another altercation. My best recollection is that this man saw what happened to the woman and reacted to it....
The man in the orange shirt hit the pro-reform guy (I'm going to call him PR Guy just to keep the players straight). Hard. (tweeted in real time) He punched him in the face, knocked him to the ground and into that thruway.... He got up, tried to get back up on the curb, but Orange Shirt guy was in his face. Finger in his face, PR Guy standing, steps up to the curb, and there's a scuffle. Orange shirt seemed to have PR Guy in a hold, but again, I was across the street, so won't state that as absolute fact. Next thing I see is PR Guy's hat being tossed into the street, both yelling at one another, then Orange shirt walks away, PR Guy picks up hat and crosses to our side.
When he gets to our side, he tells a story in one sentence: "He punched me hard, straight in the face, so I bit his finger off."
I know the anti guy may believe he's permanently under siege from the Vast Liberal Conspiracy, but he sounds like a guy who's used to winning fights -- physical ones and political ones. The natural order of things is that Bush beat back the liberals and Gingrich beat back the liberals and Reagan beat back the liberals; the natural order of things is for him to get his way.
And that's the natural order of things for us liberals, too. We're used to it. We're used to losing.
So one of us, like a battered woman pushed too far, went too far.
Biting off part of a finger? It's utterly wrong -- I absolutely don't defend it. But I think I get it.