Los Angeles was bopped by debris crumbling loose from twenty-five years of a Great Society gone goofy, or so believe the callers from all over America with whom I talk for three hours on weekday afternoons. These talk-show callers are angry, frightened, and baffled.

They’re angry at pictures of rabble marching on Korean grocers like peasants off to Frankenstein’s castle. They’re fuming at the insult of the moral, drawn by the civil-rights community, that when a black is beaten by police, it’s the fault of the police; when Koreans are beaten by mobs, it’s the fault of the Koreans. Callers figure that neither rage nor fear explain the frenzy of a police attack upon an unarmed motorist or the mob’s attack upon truck drivers and Asians.

Callers are angered by people like Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who named the days of looting “The New American Insurrection.” Like the furious Boston caller angered by Waters’ contention that he didn’t understand black rage, “Hell, that’s the cry of the New Frontiersman: ‘You can’t understand what you refuse to subsidize.'” Callers have a simpler explanation for the riots: “When Congress is looting Washington, why be surprised that their clients loot South-Central L. A.?”

People are furious over Jesse Jackson’s call for a Day of Protest on June 19. “Victim’s Day,” as a Philadelphia man says, “A great plan. Wait till the temperatures bubble—then call a strike into the streets. Victim’s Day is another word for ‘HOORAY’ to contractors who build bars onto merchants’ windows.” A woman in Hartford wondered whether “Jackson hired his strategist from Bank of New England.”

Callers noted the one common denominator on the faces of the rioters—pimples. A Miami caller said, “Those were children—Lord of the Flies gone weird. These kids in their designer running shoes seem like Beirut in Air Jordans. After twenty-five years of Great Society spending,” he wondered, “what [were these] well-intentioned policies [that] have so dissolved family discipline?”

Callers of all colors are frightened. They know that twenty-five years of poverty programs could buy the total assets of the Fortune 500 companies with enough money leftover to purchase all of their country’s farmland—and what has it bought? A man from Dover was “terrified watching middle-class fathers huddled in their doorways, pistols protecting their families.” He was afraid that he “might be just a Second Amendment away from the Crips and Bloods. Gun fun on the New Frontier.” Or, as a Texas bumper sticker puts it, “Guns, the Final Frontier.”

And finally callers are baffled by the media. “Why,” a Denver lady asked, “after thousands of showings of the most grisly parts of the Rodney King tape, was there no discussion anywhere of the possibility of a not-guilty verdict coming out of Simi Valley? Why weren’t we prepared in any way?”

Then picture this. L. A. is still in flames, looters pillage the streets, the governor of California, seeking calm, goes on CBS Morning News with Paula Zahn who asks, “Governor Wilson, how do you respond to critics who charge that the riots were the direct result of failed Republican policies?” “THUNK,” the sound of mouths dropping wide! “That was an editorial, not a question,” a Tacoma caller argued. And how does the caller explain Zahn’s politics? “The fact that she’s up after sunrise shoots my vampire theory all to hell.”

Watching television newspeople work during the May Mess was, to many, like getting signals from Mars. A Maine caller wondered if “they booked guests from Horton, Hill, and King—the Speakers Bureau run by Willie, Anita, and Rodney, a crew that even discriminating reptiles normally shun.” Television was loaded with advocates for everything from multicultural textbooks to defenders of free condoms. A New Orleans man noted that, “While one group explained L. A. was caused by Bush’s international junkets and inattention to the cities, another urged him to join Al Gore and the Greenies on their conga line to Rio!” Yet amidst all this, a Nashville caller said, “Television’s concern for the welfare of Koreans or care for the victims of a quarter century of tax rape came and went so fast—it amounted to subliminal sensitivity.”

Callers were confounded by TV coverage that argued that the solution to the melee in the streets was a whole lot more of the Democrats’ Great Society. And a Cincinnati woman pointed out that “every tottering municipality has been governed by Democrats for years.” Another guy from St. Louis said, “Ted, if LBJ were a city, why he’d be L. A.!”