The shouters and shovers at recent town meetings being held to discuss health-care initiatives are “probably reacting less to what [President] Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s doing, than to who he is,” writes N.Y. Times columnist Paul Krugman.

“That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the ‘birther’ movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.

“And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.

“Does this sound familiar? It should: it’s a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realized that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.

“Many people hoped that last year’s election would mark the end of the ‘angry white voter’ era in America. Indeed, voters who can be swayed by appeals to cultural and racial fear are a declining share of the electorate.

“But right now Mr. Obama’s backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn’t living up to their dreams of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.”