This article was first published by Vice magazine.
It was a hot day, still 98 degrees at 6 PM, as I zoomed through gridlock on my freshly fixed 1979 Kawasaki KZ-400, squeezing between the monster trucks and lifted SUVs clogging one of Victorville’s main drags, pouring sweat into my helmet and leather jacket on my way to an anti-Obamacare “town hall” meeting at the local community college.
I thought I knew what to expect when I got there. Like everyone else in this country, I had been watching the packs of deranged tea bagger types and their astroturfing overlords dominate the healthcare reform debate like a pack of retarded howler monkeys in heat. But TV hadn’t quite prepared me for the reality of it. You can’t really appreciate how fucked this country really is until you see, as I did, hundreds of blue collar Americans sync up their primitive brains in a paranoid racist-hick seance, channeling White Power ideals through Reagan’s damned soul.
This Obama-bashing meeting was brought to the people of the High Desert courtesy of the Representative from California’s 41st District, Mr. Jerry Lewis. No, not the “Great Balls of Fire” guy. This one was a different type of performer: a great wads of cronyism political scam artist. In the two decades Lewis has served as this district’s rep, he’s made quite a name for himself as one of the most corrupt members of Congress, using his position as a ranking Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee (one of the most powerful committees out there) to “steer hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks to family and friends in direct exchange for contributions to his campaign committee and political action committee.” But as I was about to find out, Lewis’ constituency was so crazed they made him look less like an uber-successful used car salesmen and more like Mr. Mackey.
Mr. Lewis in front of Congress’ Corruption Hall of Fame portrait
My motorcycle didn’t help me get to the town hall any faster than my car would’ve—it was impossible to get around the lifted trucks with monster tires that barely fit into their own lanes—so I got there 30 minutes too late, and the auditorium had already filled up. “Sorry, sir. We have to wait until someone comes out to let you in. We’re at maximum fire safety capacity,” a college kid tasked with manning the doors told me and pointed me deeper into the lobby, where a TV and some chairs had been set up for the overflow crowd.
There were about 30 people assembled around the television set. Most of them were old, liver-spotted zombies. A few of them were in wheelchairs, others were sitting with canes between their knobby knees. Two vets had set themselves up on a bench right in front of the TV. One of them was wearing a brand-new “Don’t Tread On Me” T-shirt while his buddy had the words “Bubba Stick” etched into his wooden cane. Was this the front line of the anti-healthcare reform revolution?
I tried to make smalltalk with an old man wearing a blue “Korean War Veteran” hat, who was standing next to me. I tried to be chummy, saying something about the organizers not letting us in because we looked suspicious. But he would have none of it. Without saying a word, the vet gave me a slow cagey glance and hobbled away from me closer to the TV. I thought maybe gramps was hard of hearing. But there were mean vibes coming off the old man that couldn’t be ignored. Only later—when I finally made it into the auditorium and took a good look around—did I understand what it was all about.
Inside, the demographic was even more skewed towards the white and the old. Other than a couple of college students and one black guy, the 400-person auditorium was a sea of flabby, wrinkled white punctuated by handle bar mustaches and the occasional oxygen nose-tube glistening in the fluorescent light. But that oxygen had obviously come too late. People were queued up and down the aisles waiting for their turn to speak. And judging by what they were saying, brain damage had already taken its toll long ago.
A wheelchair-bound grandma with sunken in eyeballs and translucent skin the color of a sardine was so overtaken by Lewis’ generic Republican free market/invisible-hand-knows-best sermon that she was ready to leap out of her wheelchair. Her “amens” were getting louder every time Lewis uttered one of the many permutations of that night’s mantra—”government keep your hands off my healthcare”—that I half-expected her to start speaking in tongues.
I spied an long-haired dude wearing a “Public Option is the Only Option for Health Care Reform” button. But while the rest of the living dead cheered their rep’s “health care reform is a slippery slope to Communism” argument, he sat quietly mumbling under his breath. And he was doing the right thing. Wearing that button was brave enough, and he was already getting bad looks from some of the surlier dudes in the audience. You don’t want to start a confrontation in a room filled with venomous redneck grandmas and Harley-ridin’, goatee-braidin’ Vietnam vets hanging out with their Korean War dads while they are soaring high on American Patriotism. These people were itching to lynch a liberal. Itching real bad.
Finally, Rep. Lewis opened the floor up to questions.
Some hag from Apple Valley started off with a long screed about how illegal immigration was ruining our country and how the government was going to force her to pay the medical fees of illegal immigrants, union members, ACORN, and the rest of the treasonous Commie/Muslim groups Obama brought in. Then she switched gears: “And on page 59 of HR 3200 it states, ‘The federal government will have direct, real-time access to all individual bank accounts for electronic transfers,’” she said, convinced that the health care plan was a diabolical plan by Obama’s Commie masters to take money away from honest white people like herself and redistribute it to blacks, spics, chinks and of course those damn kikes. “The government will take our savings,” she said, her voice quivering. “I am not willing to give my savings to the government!” The whole place went wild in support, the applause kept on roaring and people gave her a standing ovation. It was like she just scored a touchdown.
There were a couple of 50-something blue collar workers and their wives sitting behind me. One of the men, who was sitting about a foot away from my left ear, kept saying “yeah,” “yeah,” “that’s right,” to every point the woman—and just about everyone else who took the mic—made. He sounded like Beavis at a super church.
A woman who was extremely worried about the sovereignty of America took the mic. She heard that China was going to be one of the half-dozen countries manufacturing the Swine Flu vaccine. And she was convinced that those Commie bastards were going to use the vaccine as a Trojan horse to destroy America from the inside. “I hope we are going to be protecting our sovereignty. I hope that America does not import the vaccine from China,” she screamed into the mic. “And I better damn hope we know what they are putting in these vaccines!”
The idiots in that room got to their feet and cheered her on, whooping, yelping and whistling. Some guy took it even farther. He was convinced the World Health Organization had fabricated the Swine Flu pandemic so that the UN could take over the whole world and start running that One World Government they had been planning for so long. Not only had these people not changed in half a century, it seems like they had regressed.
As long as we’re keeping score: The Enlightenment: 0, Rednecks: 1.
On and on it went. “I’m sick and tired of having people up there comparing us to other countries. If you don’t like it here, go back to Africa!” a stringy woman with a meth-head physique yelled into the mic, goading her own ten-year-old daughter into health care-related illegal immigrant bashing. “How come we who work have to pay for people who don’t pay any taxes?” the girl said, clearly not knowing what the hell she was talking about. Another guy went on a tear about how illegal immigrants are actually flush with cash, but don’t spend it. Instead, they use credit cards that they never bother to pay, forcing us to foot the bill. “Who’s gonna pay for that when they disappear? We are!”
“Yeah, I took an oath to protect and serve my country. Not piddle it away to immigrants and unions,” a vet chimed in.
Jesus Christ. These people really are the perfect slaves. Their brain structure isn’t equipped to handle the complicated ripoff schemes pushed on them by greedy corporations, corrupt politicians or perverted pastors. It was clear that for the majority, racism and violence were about the only concepts they could understand with any certitude.
It was a weird, scary thing to behold. And it was clearly making Rep. Jerry Lewis uncomfortable. He tried to play down some of the more paranoid and racist statements, but he knew he was walking a thin line. Any attempt at reason would be viewed as nothing less than outright betrayal of the American Way he was elected to preserve.
And some of it backfired. He tried to reassure the crowd that the UN was not going to take over America and that Obama was not going to get full access to their savings accounts, but the people didn’t like that one bit. One guy threatened Lewis straight up, saying that he better not see him support those union lovin’, ACORN-funding Dems. “You better not. Or… I’ll be watching you,” the said, his voice menacingly flat and terse. This wasn’t deadpan liberal comedy. The man meant it, and Jerry Lewis knew it, able to muster only a nervous laugh and attempting to redirect the bad vibes coming his way in the direction of a grotesquely obese heckler in the back, who was drunk and spewing out incomprehensibly slurred grievances for the better part of an hour.
“You know, we’ve had a heckler like this at just every town hall meeting I’ve hosted. Last time, there was a man trying to ruin our civil discussion. I didn’t know it at the time, I read it in a newspaper, but it turned out this guy was working for the Democratic opponent that ran against me. He had been fired a little earlier because he was selling kiddie porn,” Lewis told the crowd, delivering the anecdote Jay Leno style. He knew how to work his audience back into a good mood. Even the heckler had a laugh. It seemed all had been forgiven.
As the meeting went on, it became clear that the crowd was composed of three distinct groups. The first, largest and dumbest was made up exclusively of racist hicks, who were convinced that any regulation was a secret attack on the Founding Fathers, the Constitution and the God-fearing Ways of White America. The second group, heavily overlapping with the first and probably just as big, was was made up of old people. They were pensioners and veterans who were opposed to government-run health care—the very health care plans they were on—because they feared their benefits would be cut. The third town haller type was stealthier and smarter. They didn’t ask questions or voice concerns, they made point-by-point policy demands lifted straight off the health insurance lobby, but wrapped in the bi-partisan rhetoric of astroturf organizations like FreedomWorks.
But the evil corporate shills didn’t bother me as much as the old people with their old-person smells. There they were, barely moving and ignorant as all hell. They are part of “sun revolves around the moon” demographic, but they are not stupid, survival instinct-wise. The joke of this is that they’re all living on government healthcare plans—the very thing they had been mobilized to this auditorium to fight! But they were not ignorant or hypocritical. They were fighting to protect a limited resource.
Consider these fun Baby Boomer facts: Right now, there are about 75 million of them. By 2020, there will be one baby boomer for every five Americans. As they age, they’ll siphon off more and more money from Medicare, spending more to keep themselves alive than they ever put into the system. You can be sure that when the Baby Boomers are done with it, Medicare will be sucked dry with nothing left for us youngin’s. And they know it. They want to maximize socialism for themselves while they can, and leave none for the next generation.
On some primitive level, the old people around me understood what I had not: the fight for healthcare reform is not just pitting the average American against giant health insurance vampires. It is also a fight between the young and the old, between the giant, aging Baby Boomer generation and the rest of us. They understand that we want to have some of what they have. But they are greedy, self-centered geriatric vampires and they do not want to share.
This article was first published by Vice magazine
Yasha Levine is a McMansion inhabitin’ editor of The eXiled. He is currently stationed in Victorville, CA. You can reach him at levine [at] exiledonline.com.
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