Friday, September 04, 2009

There is an alarming whiff of extremism in the air

I can count on one hand with fingers left over the number of times I have agreed with something that Frank Rich has written. But as the old saying goes... "even a stopped clock is right twice a day." I have been concerned for sometime about the increasing visibility of the lunatic fringe and their apparent obsession with guns and revolution. As I stated in a previous post on a similar theme, it is time for respectable and mainstream conservatives to make it clear that these wing nuts do not represent us.
“IT is time to water the tree of liberty” said the sign carried by a gun-toting protester milling outside President Obama’s town-hall meeting in New Hampshire two weeks ago. The Thomas Jefferson quote that inspired this message, of course, said nothing about water: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” That’s the beauty of a gun — you don’t have to spell out the “blood.”

The protester was a nut. America has never had a shortage of them. But what’s Tom Coburn’s excuse? Coburn is a Republican senator from Oklahoma, where 168 people were murdered by right-wing psychopaths who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Their leader, Timothy McVeigh, had the Jefferson quote on his T-shirt when he committed this act of mass murder. Yet last Sunday, when asked by David Gregory on “Meet the Press” if he was troubled by current threats of “violence against the government,” Coburn blamed not the nuts but the government.

“Well, I’m troubled any time when we stop having confidence in our government,” the senator said, “but we’ve earned it.”

Coburn is nothing if not consistent. In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, he was part of a House contingent that helped delay and soften an antiterrorism bill. This cohort even tried to strip out a provision blocking domestic fund-raising by foreign terrorist organizations like Hamas. Why? The far right, in league with the National Rifle Association, was angry at the federal government for aggressively policing America’s self-appointed militias. In a 1996 floor speech, Coburn conceded that “terrorism obviously poses a serious threat,” but then went on to explain that the nation had worse threats to worry about: “There is a far greater fear that is present in this country, and that is fear of our own government.” As his remarks on “Meet the Press” last week demonstrated, the subsequent intervention of 9/11 has not changed his worldview.

I have been writing about the simmering undertone of violence in our politics since October, when Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential candidate of a major political party, said nothing to condemn Obama haters shrieking “Treason!,” “Terrorist!” and “Off with his head!” at her rallies. As vacation beckons, I’d like to drop the subject, but the atmosphere keeps getting darker.

Coburn’s implicit rationalization for far-right fanatics bearing arms at presidential events — the government makes them do it! — cannot stand. He’s not a radio or Fox News bloviator paid a fortune to be outrageous; he’s a card-carrying member of the United States Senate. On Monday — the day after he gave a pass to those threatening violence — a dozen provocateurs with guns, at least two of them bearing assault weapons, showed up for Obama’s V.F.W. speech in Phoenix. Within hours, another member of Congress — Phil Gingrey of Georgia — was telling Chris Matthews on MSNBC that as long as brandishing guns is legal, he, too, saw no reason to discourage Americans from showing up armed at public meetings.
Read the rest here.


Reactionary said...

"it is time for respectable and mainstream conservatives to make it clear that these wing nuts do not represent us."

I'll be a conservative when I'm convinced there's anything of the American State worth conserving. The USA is on the wrong side of history at this point.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely correct John.

Reactionary: A conservative who makes such decisions in a vacuum (what is or isn't "worth" conserving) isn't conservative. They are a progressive, just possibly enamored with an era other than our own.

In other words, if what you think the world should look like happened to be a period in the past (say the 1950s), then you're still an activist, just displaced in time.

True conservatives deal with what IS, not some idealistic vision of what they think things should be.

alban said...

Very nicely worded. The extreme right wing is doing great damage to the conservative cause and their hysterics appear to be gathering pace. I now find myself referring to Fox News as Faux News as truth no longer seems to matter to them when it comes to the President.

I sincerely fear for the safety of President Obama. The violence proposed by some is not of God - indeed, it cannot be from God - and thus can come from only one other source: the great Deceiver, Father of lies, the Fallen Lucifer.

I did not vote for Mr Obama, but he is the elected President of the United States. May God not only guide, but protect, Mr Obama from those who would do evil to him and his family.

Reactionary said...

True conservatives deal with what IS, not some idealistic vision of what they think things should be.

Excellent. Then you and all the other True Conservatives can hold the line on such crucial matters as whether the national health care system pays in full for third trimester abortions, or only first trimester abortions.

David said...

Before we throw people under the bus let's not forget it is our president who has called for a civilian domestic police force funded like the military. We have police, why do we need his new group? Is it to counter the threat of the military to any unconstitutional acts he or any other president should undertake?

Trust me I am conservative and not a kook. I am afraid of the nuts who often intertwine their protestant fundamentalism with their political ideology.

Anonymous said...

The issue isn't my opposition Reactionary. The issue is what forms of opposition I'm willing to take and my realistic expectations for achievable political goals.

Everyone will agree that conscience requires exposition of my opposition to abortion. Everyone will also agree that murdering doctors who commit these terrible crimes is unacceptable.

So the question becomes when does that transition from "required" to "unacceptable" happen?

Am I required to commit a political maneuver that I don't think will be successful in the name of being loyal to my position? What if I think the act or tactic in the political battle will actually be counter-productive? Am I required to act in accordance to my convictions even when I know that it will necessarily promote the position I'm in opposition to?

This is what I mean by dealing with what IS. We cannot afford illusions of the grandeur of our gestures at the expense of innocent lives. We might sleep better at night in our ideological purity, but more babies will be killed.

If I believed I could save more lives persuading women not to have abortions rather than attempting to manipulate the political apparatus to force legal consequences on those who do, am I not forced to take the option my judgment tells me will be more effective?

Or do I discard judgment and begin gathering stones against anyone who would oppose the will of God?

The Ochlophobist said...

If expediency provides the parameter's, why not support the murder of abortionists?

The murder of abortionists has had an obvious impact on the abortion industry in this country. In some metro areas the number of abortionists was reduced by 75% or more and the pro-death side, rightly, attributed as the main cause of this reduction to fear on the part of those doctors who would otherwise engage in the practice. One murder has a huge impact for a good amount of time (in combination with the regular diet of death threats, etc.). If the singular criteria for discerning right action here is what will reduce the number of babies killed then it seems to me acts of lethal force would be included.

We do not include them for reasons of principle. And one might not engage in capitulation to, say, neo-conservative pseudo-life rhetoric and political posturing also for reasons of principle.

Anonymous said...

I don't like expediency, I prefer my term, effectiveness. Efficiency which is a factor for expediency isn't really a concern for me. Effectiveness incorporates a concern for the quality of the result. And I think draws in the holistic desire for a "complete" answer, rather than one dramatically lacking in some particular virtue.

I know were talking about moral issues here, but Covey's 7 habits of effective people doesn't cover the villain-despots of the 20th century in it's survey of effective people. His use (and mine) assumes being in accord with virtuous behavior.

It doesn't add anything to toss an extension of my point into the absurd. I'm well aware of the absurdities which would arise from an unmoderated extrapolation of my point.

But I am no cynical pragmatist. However, I refuse to ignore the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of my behavior as a part of my reasoned participation in the political arena.

I think the rest of a sort of cowardly egoism. Where someone gets to enjoy the celebration of their own opinion without concern for the consequence that has all under the protection provided by appeals to ideological purity.

The Ochlophobist said...

A politic directed by 7 habits of effective people is a banality I cannot stomach. That you would call my posture egoism and your own some sort of sincere desire for effectiveness, which now rhetorically divorces "quality of result" from actions which would further reduce a great number of abortions seems to me a petty arbitration. You have your quality of result, other's measure quality by different standards.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know you were speaking of your own position, Ochlo. I'm struggling a bit here, being an Ochlo-fan and receiving an obtuse rebuke from someone I respect.

I'm trying to thread a difficult needle. I know the harm tactics I've personally used in the past have caused and what I'm hearing from some is that such harm in the name of the cause is acceptable.

It's just not acceptable to me anymore.

Ochlo, I don't know your position. It seems that you want me to think you don't like mine, or some aspect of mine.

Egoism is a reasonable charge against those who act in a way which has consequences for others that they disregard. If there were at least a mention by those those who prefer a more ideologically consistent approach, that they regret such harm instead of generally (not meaning 'always' but 'often') espousing the worthiness of such harm to those who oppose them... if that wasn't a regular testimony against them, I would be less inclined to use the term.

When I listen to people, I'll admit, I'm looking for key terms or phrases which emit something between the lines. I'm looking not just at position, but attitude.

I'm not trying to set myself up as judge (though in my weakness that ends up happening often enough), I'm trying to get to know and understand people, both my political enemies and my allies.

As for Covey, I was only drawing a contrast on my use of the word "effective" from Covey's own material. I'm no particular fan, but I thought the fame of his material would clarify my particular vocabulary in light of your attempt to reframe my response.

The Ochlophobist said...


My own position is not one of paleoconservatism or libertarianism, though I flirted with paleocon for several years. I certainly do not want another revolution of any sort. I am a backslidden Wendell Berry agrarian whose intuitions on political matters is influenced by the pacifist anarchism of the Catholic Worker movement. Highly impractical egoism, to be sure. I do, however, agree with those who believe that, for instance, the National Right to Life's affairs with the Republican Party is a capitulation and adultery which is perverse and most unfortunate. And, in league with React's comment above, it is all statism to me. I understand the need to operate in a context of realpolitik, but at a certain point I think that game is up.

That said, I really do not understand what you are getting at with what you have written in your last two comments, and my own comments might well have not related to what you wrote. Forgive me if I have offended you.

Anonymous said...

No offense. Let it more be said that I was over-eager to find commonality with a blogger I have followed for some time and "like" (as much as one can know or like someone via this medium). I'm a little disappointed with myself, not offended.

I'd love to have a label, but since I try to define things functionally, such a label would have to arise from genuine commonality with others. There's just too much mud in the water to find that right now. It seems like many people I once thought I had such a common framework with are now prone to say things that shock me.

I have sympathies to those groups you mention and some you don't like "Front Porch Republic"-types.

I dislike thinking that I might let realpolitik dominate my thinking. But I hope that by being transparent with the positions and tactics I employ I can avoid the more nefarious tones of that genre.

I have come to know a couple of things. Many people don't like the company they are forced to keep and that's become an issue on the right for the first time since Reagan.

Second, regardless of the particular mix of pragmatism, idealism, populism, traditionalism, etc that I brew in a kettle in my basement, I am continually grieved at it's inadequacy. I'm just doing my best to work all this stuff out with the tools I've got.

Thank you for your patience and I request your prayers.