Just to put the supposed incivility of town-hall meetings and presidential addresses to Congress in relative context, there's going to be a G-20 summit this weekend, and that means a "Black Bloc" of self-styled anarchists has to put in an appearance to make a racket and break stuff. The performance took place today outside Pittsburgh, and if you follow the link you'll see that the demonstrators are quite photogenic in their uniform anonymity. If these guys stormed somebody's health care chat, all the whining about death panels would almost look quaint. But in the defense of this element, they're not exactly in a business where civility is a requirement. They aspire to embody everyone else's outrage at the regime of global capitalism, and they consider vandalism a healthy alternative to other acts of destruction. Naturally they complain about being arrested or being barred from demonstrating at all sometimes, but to an extent they're indulged in their marginality. Let's go back to the counterexample: if people done up like that did storm a town hall meeting in the name of conservatism or the Republican party, nationwide hysteria would result. It would be the same if Democrats ever had an urge to act that way. But when it comes to anarchists, America has come a long way in the century or so since the assassination of President McKinley made them the Commies or terrorists of their time. People considered them a genuine threat to national order because, well, one of them had killed the President of the United States. All the Red Scare tactics of decades to come were employed against anarchists. It all seems ludicrous now, and I doubt anyone apart from the local police feels threatened by the black-clad hooligans romping about near the latest power summit. There were probably more of them on the ground today than comprise the typical unregulated militia unit, but when was the last time you saw a TV commentator expound on the anarchist menace? Maybe back in 1999 when the "Battle of Seattle" seemed to portend some larger social movement. But now? Nobody takes seriously the prospect of a mass anarchist movement. There's no perception that the occasional appearance of a small mob is the tip of an anarchist iceberg floating toward the ocean liner of capitalism. Would that be because no one believes that the demonstrators represent anyone beside themselves, or because nearly no one has a clue about what the demonstrators stand for, and thus have a hard time feeling threatened by it?
I'm not saying that anyone should feel threatened by anarchists, of course. It just strikes me as odd that no one does.