Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Friday, March 26th, 2010.

Playing With Fire

Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

I guess the day of pundits’ clucking about “angry liberals” is over. They’ve finally noticed the Raging Right.

Of course, going back several years now Dave Neiwert, Jeff Feldman and others have documented that speech coming from the American Right is far more eliminationist and violent than speech from the Left.

Sure, every time some adolescent punk at an anti-war rally held up a picture of George Bush dismembered, Michelle Malkin would feature it on her blog and shriek about “unhinged” liberals. But even during the darkest times of the Bush years it was extremely unusual to see a major leftie bloggers call for the death of or violence toward any rightie politician, including Bush. And if any national liberal spokesperson or elected Democrat in Washington ever suggested, even as a “joke,” that a member of the opposing party should meet a violent end I can’t remember it. (I have argued in the past that “joking” about the violent demise of someone you don’t like is not a joke.)

But as Paul Krugman said in his column today,

What has been really striking has been the eliminationist rhetoric of the G.O.P., coming not from some radical fringe but from the party’s leaders. John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that the passage of health reform was “Armageddon.” The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, surrounded by flames, while the committee’s chairman declared that it was time to put Ms. Pelosi on “the firing line.” And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight.

All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush — but you’ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials.

A big reason why it’s irresponsible to suggest — even as a “joke” — that someone should be killed or physically harmed is that there are people who can easily be incited to do terrible things. Eugene Robinson wrote,

When tea party leaders talk about the threat of “socialism” and call for “a new revolution” and vow to “take our country back,” they can say they are simply using vivid metaphors. But they cannot plausibly claim to be unaware that there are people — perhaps on the fringe of the movement, but close enough — who give every sign of taking these incendiary words literally.

And does anyone doubt that the movement attracts the kind of people who take these words literally?

Of course, we expect this sort of thing from Fox News. And, sure enough, the Faux Nooz website is asking people to send in graphics showing what Nancy Pelosi should do next. The results are pretty ugly.

You might remember, six or seven years ago, Moveon held a video contest asking people to make videos critical of the Bush Administration, with a chance the winner would be shown on national television. People were allowed to upload their videos directly for public viewing without going through a moderation filter. A couple of videos were uploaded that portrayed President Bush as Hitler, and the Right had a screeching fit about it. And Moveon took them down immediately. But I swear to this day righties complain that Moveon made a video (One more time: Moveon didn’t make the videos) that compared Bush to Hitler. Yes, I know — IOIYAR.

But back to the bad behavior by Republicans in Congress. See Timothy Egan, “House of Anger.”

Unfairly or not, the defining images of opposition to health care reform may end up being those rage-filled partisans with spittle on their lips. Whether the outbursts came from inside Congress — the “baby killer” shout of Rep. Randy Neugebauer, and his colleagues who cheered on hecklers — or outside, where protesters hurled vile names against elected representatives, they are powerful and lasting scenes of a democracy gasping for dignity.

Now, ask yourself a question: can you imagine Ronald Reagan anywhere in those pictures? Or anywhere in those politics? Reagan was all about sunny optimism, and at times bipartisan bonhomie. In him, the American people saw their better half.

I say again, Reagan’s genius was that he could make hate speech seem wholesome and virtuous. He could appeal to racist voters with his stories about inner city “Cadillac Queens” and hold up a response to the AIDS virus because some people needed to be taught “lessons,” and everyone still remembers him as “sunny.”

But Reagan was elected when “movement conservatism” was on the upswing, liberalism was routed, and a white, tax-free and God-fearing Utopia seemed just around the corner.

But that was 30 years ago. Now you’ve got a generation of “conservative” politicians who are accustomed to leading America around by the nose with rhetorical bullying, demagoguery and fear mongering, without actually having to govern, which they don’t know how to do. But the old tricks aren’t working, so they have to escalate. It’s all they do know how to do.

See also Josh Marshall, Scott Lemieux, Jeff Feldman.

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