That lasted 400 years.
In 133 BC Tiberius Gracchus, Tribune of Rome, began pushing for a program to limit the power of the special interests by passing a reform package. The special interests were outraged. Gracchus began appealing to the people, showing them how much better their lives would be if the package were passed. The special interests, which included a great many conservative Senators, sponsored the assembly of mobs which went to the Roman site where Gracchus was trying to sell his program -- a town hall meeting, if you will. The mobs hired by the special interests disrupted the proceedings, clubbed Gracchus to death, and then murdered hundreds of his supporters. It was the first true political assassination of its kind in 400 years.
This was a vivid lesson for the rich and the special interests in Rome: they realized that they could use their money and influence to create "popular" mobs to disrupt the political workings in the Senate when things weren't going their way (or as John Rockefeller said 2000 years later -- I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half). Such disruptions recurred over the course of the next several decades in Rome, culminating in a series of civil wars which destroyed the Republic and began a string of dictatorial emperors -- the very thing which the Republic had been set up to prevent. And after the republic fell, eventually Rome itself fell: the nation, no longer able to use republican mechanisms to protect itself from dictators, special interests or bad policy, saw the barbarians march through their gates and take over.
Funny how history repeats itself even in the tiniest details.
We live, at least for now, in a democracy. This entails not only the embrace of all the concepts we inherited from Rome -- separation of powers, checks and balances, elections -- but also the notion that no man could use violence to seize power, or even to disrupt national debate on the great issues of the day. The sanctity of our election process has been tested many times, to include Nixon's merry band of hired thugs in 1972, but the first serious threat to those processes came in 2000, when the Republicans and the special interests, led by Tom DeLay, directed the formation of "spontaneous" mobs, to attack, threaten and intimidate election officials who were conducting a perfectly legal vote count, and then to run into the streets, actually hollering "don't count the votes!" In a democracy.
And now the thugs are back again. After conducting two dress rehearsals in the carefully orchestrated "spontaneous" Tea Party riots, the Republicans and the insurers are sending "spontaneous" mobs out to our town halls, with the openly proclaimed aim of disrupting and preventing the American people from having a fair, fact-driven discussion of the biggest issue of our day, health care -- because the special interests know they can't possibly win a fair debate on the facts. Like the Romans in the age of Gracchus, we have true leaders who are working to help all the people, being attacked by thugs working for the special interests.
And if the thugs succeed this time, they'll be back again, to disrupt the national dialogue on energy, on global warming, on race, on the economy and what to do about it.
They're already launching these ambushes against members of Congress and the Cabinet -- perhaps their next move will be to attack the Capitol itself. Or the President they hate so desperately -- Obama is already facing five times as many death threats as the hated Bush 43, which I wouldn't have believed possible.
So this isn't just about health care. This is about saving democracy, and preventing the dictatorship of rich, crooked corporate CEO's, their rich, crooked lobbyists, their crooked paid prostitutes in Congress, and their "spontaneous" Brown Shirt mobs of thugs. Because as we know from our history, the next step after the fall of the republic, is the fall of the whole nation, as the barbarians march upon our gates.
And what this also means, is that the gravest threat to American democracy in more than 200 years, is the Republican party and their fatcat clientele. Not Usama bin Laden, not the Soviet Union, not Hitler or the Kaiser, not the Depression, not the Civil War. The Republicans. Threat Number One.