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Rachel Maddow: The Growing Threat Posed by Gun-Strapped Right-Wingers at Obama's Townhalls

Rachel Maddow and Frank Rich discuss the use of intimidation as a political tactic.

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And, therefore, I worry about and wonder about what citizens who aren‘t law enforcement officers, who aren‘t directly responsible for keeping other people safe, what responsibility we can all take, us in the media and just us as citizens in trying to change the tone, and trying ratchet it down, and trying to make it a safer atmosphere.

RICH:  Well, I think we all have a role to play and I also think that politicians have a role to play.  And it‘s shocking to me that very few Republican leaders have really condemned this kind of activity.  In fact, they‘ve sort of encouraged it.  Well, it‘s the Second Amendment right and so on.

Where does that get us?  While I have the same faith you do in the people who protect us, the Holocaust Museum was not some obscure little back water.  It was very understandably a well-protected site in the center of Washington, D.C., and an 80 something-year-old man could go in there and create havoc and commit murder.

MADDOW:  Yes.  You also said in your column this Sunday that the twisted distortions about "death panels” and federal conspiracies to pull the plug on grandma are too unhinged from the reality of any legislation.  These bogus fears are psychological proxies for bigger traumas.

Do you mean that health care is essentially -- essentially, a vehicle to get into much deeper pathologies and much -- things that were much more irrational they‘re upset about?

RICH:  Yes.  I don‘t think health care, per se, but the -- but I think that this talking about death panels, this bogus stuff, has ratcheted up for people who are automatically paranoid about the federal government, feel it‘s out to get them -- it‘s now become a proxy for everything they don‘t like about the government, everything they don‘t like about a liberal-leaning administration, everything they don‘t like about to change.  And that‘s another thing that‘s going on now.

There‘s -- it‘s not just the Obama brand of change.  We‘ve gone through this economic turmoil.

MADDOW:  Sure.

RICH:  People are frightened.  Manufacturing industries have collapsed.  My own industry is sort of half-collapsed.  And so, people are on edge anyway.  And these town halls seem to be a handy way to vent.

MADDOW:  Frank Rich, "New York Times” columnist and very welcome guest on this show -- thanks very much for coming in.

RICH:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Here‘s the quote of the day, "I haven‘t done anything legally wrong.”  That was Senator John Ensign‘s hearty defense today of his affair with an underling who is married to another of his underlings -- which that affair featured getting that couple‘s son a job with the Republican Party and paying the mistress nearly 100 grand after the wacachika wacachika was all done.  But just to be clear -- John Ensign wants you to know, he did nothing legally wrong.  That story is coming up.

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