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The change I didn't want - Joel Hall

When Barack Obama was elected as the 44th president of the United States, I was ecstatic.

From the beginning, however, I knew that a lot of people would not be able to handle it.

Less than a year into the tenure of the nation's first African-American president, Obama has inspired more irrational fear than any president, or person, I can recall.

Before he was even elected, there was a vocal, xenophobic contingent of people aimed at proving him to be an un-American, elitist, secret-Islamic-terrorist antichrist.

Since his election, many more have set out to prove Obama is a no-birth-certificate-having, grandma-killing Nazi, with a desire to dismantle the fabric of America.

Those are things I expected. It would be naïve to say race has nothing to do with it, but more than anything, Obama has delivered on his promise to disrupt the status quo, and that makes some people furious.

With as much information as one can gather about an administration in less than a year, I would say that overall, I am happy with the changes I am seeing from the administration.

I believe government is more transparent than ever. I am more informed about my government than ever, and I believe our government is more accountable than ever.

While the process has been rocky, there is finally some movement on the issues that are important to me.

In the last few weeks, however, It appears that America has stepped off the edge of a scary precipice. As a country, I feel like we have gotten to a point where we have lost the ability to have open, logical discourse.

The moment this scary realization became apparent to me was last week, when I was watching CNN. During a segment on Rick Sanchez's show, I witnessed a clip of a Jewish man at a health-care town-hall meeting explaining to a reporter what he liked about the Israeli national health-care system.

All of a sudden, outside of the view of the camera, a woman began shouting "Heil Hilter" at the man, who wanted to do nothing more than talk about the issue of the day - health care. When the man talked about being uninsured and having to pay $8,000 for a two-hour stay in the emergency room, the women mocked the man and brought her hands to her eyes as if to say, "cry me a river."

To me, this was an ugly display of someone attempting to silence a person with an opposing viewpoint through intimidation. Far worse displays, however, took place in Arizona and New Hampshire, where people carried loaded firearms to health-care rallies, where President Obama was present. These, again, were incidents in which people, in an attempt to silence their opposition, brought a foreign contaminant into the debate. In the first instance, it was anti-Semitism. In these instances, it was guns.

The circular argument of the people who brandished loaded handguns and assault rifles among women and children was that they were exercising their rights. A gun, however, is a defensive tool, and when brought into an argument, the argument becomes very one-sided.

While the people who brought loaded weapons to a health-care rally weren't shouting "Heil Hilter" at pro-health-care-reform advocates, their guns did all the shouting for them. While they may have not been pointing their guns at President Obama, or the people who oppose the current state of health care, their targets were clearly defined.

By trying to exercise their freedoms, the ones with the guns silenced the freedom of others to freely disagree. To me, that is no worse than the Taliban, and no better than the Nazis.

This sad state of discourse is what has changed the most during the first months of Obama's presidency, and that is change I didn't want.

If we allow our passions to drive us to the point where we can no longer be civil, then I'm afraid that we've lost the best part about being American.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.