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High Anxiety

June 11, 2009

Just as our national paranoia about terrorism was beginning to subside and discourse seemed to be getting just a bit more rational, we received a stark reminder yesterday of the dangers of lone wolf gunmen lurking in the midst of our own society.  This time the paranoid are not just fearful of the “other,” they are fearful of “themselves,” that is to say their government.  You know, the one “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”

When the Department of Homeland Security issued a recent report citing an increasing risk of violent domestic extremism following the election of President Barack Obama, conservative commentators and veterans groups denounced its release as biased by the left.  Meanwhile, the left, looking to gain ground with an administration they view as more sympathetic to their agenda is making rumblings of its own as their progressive reform agenda, particularly as it pertains to homeland security and environmental protection, appears more likely to come later rather than sooner, if ever.

Policies aimed at curbing gun violence have not yet been laid upon the table by the new administration.  The President’s team, it seems, has had far more pressing concerns dealing with the state of the economy, international relations, and climate change.  Yet large numbers of Americans fearful that they may not be in a position to defend themselves against a government they assume intends to prosecute actions contrary to their interests seem increasingly intent on procuring guns and ammunition.  So much so, it now seems, the rate is not only unprecedented but indeed unsustainable.  Many gun shops report shortages, and manufacturers appear unable to satisfy demand.

In the 1977 Mel Brooks’ comedy, High Anxiety, Dr. Thorndyke quickly learns he has far bigger worries than the administration of the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous.  While we may want to laugh at the absurdity of such rampant paranoia, it has become increasingly hard to do so without seeming more than a bit silly ourselves.  It would be nice if we could convince one another to take ourselves and our own concerns just a little less seriously while we give our government time to work, but that becomes an increasingly risky proposition as the domestic arms race continues apace.

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