A Core Threat to Democracy

A Famous Pundit said:

Have you noticed that we’ve moved from the age of the culture wars to the age of the presidency wars? Have you noticed that the furious arguments we used to have about cultural and social issues have been displaced by furious arguments about the current occupant of the Oval Office?

It’s obvious that, for the Right, the health care debate is not about the health care debate. It is about the eternal Zoroastrian struggle between Good and Evil.

The Right’s new pop culture hero is William Rice, who yesterday lost part of a finger to the Cause. The takeaway line from an interview with Neil Cavuto was “freedom is not free.”

And there is no free lunch, all roads lead to Rome, and the the first rule of Fight Club is–you do not talk about Fight Club. These are all equally rational explanations of why Rice was compelled to throw two punches at another man who allegedly called him an “idiot.”

Rice continued, “I think health care is how we are being diverted while the government grabs what’s left of our freedom away from us.” This was a few hours after Rice relied on Medicare for treatment of his injured hand because, he admits, he had no other options.

Meanwhile, the President of the United States announces he will give America’s schoolchildren a back-to-school pep talk about the importance of doing well in school, and the Right goes bat-bleeping postal and screams about “indoctrination.” School districts in six states are refusing to show the message. Joan Walsh reports, “Crazy Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin are raging against ‘indoctrination’ while Townhall’s Meredith Jessup is calling it ‘a massive abuse of government power.'”

Presidents have made similar addresses to schoolchildren in the past, notably Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Walsh also reminds us that in one of his speeches George W. Bush called on the nation’s children to help him win the war on terror, and no one complained about that. But when President Obama wants to tell children to do well in school, it’s “indoctrination” and “a massive abuse of government power.”

And you have to ask, in what universe would that be true? And the answer is, a universe in which the POTUS was not legitimately elected, but instead was installed in the White House by means of a coup d’état backed by evil foreign powers. Thus, William Rice actually fancies himself to be some kind of freedom fighter for trying to block health care reform.

And, yes, racism is a component in this, but I don’t think it’s the only component. A President Hillary Clinton would be getting equally hysterical pushback every time she so much as brushed her teeth. A white male Democratic president would be getting the Bill Clinton treatment. In this case, however, the President’s race makes the manipulators’ job a bit easier.

Famous Pundit continues,

The fundamental argument in the presidency wars is not that the president is wrong, or is driven by a misguided ideology. … The fundamental argument now is that he is illegitimate. He is so ruthless, dishonest and corrupt, he undermines the very rules of civilized society.

To the warrior, politics is no longer a clash of value systems, each of which is in some way valid. It’s not a competition between basically well-intentioned people who see the world differently. …

The warriors have one other feature: ignorance. They have as much firsthand knowledge of their enemies as members of the K.K.K. had of the N.A.A.C.P. In fact, most people in the last two administrations were well-intentioned patriots doing the best they could. The core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it’s the haters themselves.

Famous Pundit, btw, is our old friend David Brooks, from 2003. He was reacting to a piece by Jonathan Chait in the New Republic called “The Case For Bush Hatred: Mad About You.” Here is the rhetoric Brooks singled out as the “core threat to democracy”:

“I hate President George W. Bush,” Jonathan Chait writes in a candid piece in The New Republic. “He reminds me of a certain type I knew in high school ? the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks. . . . I hate the way he talks. . . . I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.”

If you read Chait’s piece, it’s actually a fairly balanced acknowledgment that some on the Left were allowing hatred of Bush to override their judgment. But he went on to express, candidly and reasonably accurately, what Bush and the Bush Administration represented to us lefties in 2003.

However, at no point did Chait call for taking action to make the Bush Administration fail. Merely expressing hatred of Dear Leader was a “core threat to democracy.”

Frankly, I don’t give a bleep if William Rice or Neil Cavuto or Michelle Malkin or anyone else hates Barack Obama, for whatever reason. If that’s how they feel, that’s how they feel. And I don’t mind if they write nationally published columns saying how much they hate Barack Obama. It’s called “free speech.” Democracy has taken bigger blows and survived.

However, today a large number of media and political elites are sending big, honking signals to the William Rice’s of America that the President of the United States is an enemy of the nation who must be stopped by any means necessary. This is a real core threat to democracy.

Yes, we’ve always had paranoid whackjobs in America. Joe McCarthy made his name in history for shamelessly fanning the flames of paranoia and then exploiting them to further his political career. And for a time part of the Republican Party, including people who must have realized he was seriously unglued, supported McCarthy.

During the 1952 presidential campaign McCarthy issued a blistering attack on Gen. George Marshall, saying Marshall was “part of a conspiracy so immense, an infamy so black, as to dwarf any in the history of man.” McCarthy’s power was such that Dwight Eisenhower’s campaign managers compelled him to strike a paragraph from a speech that defended Marshall, because standing up to McCarthy might cost Eisenhower the election. Eisenhower genuinely hated McCarthy and regretted the deletion of the paragraph for the rest of his life.

But McCarthy’s reign of terror was short-lived, and in the decades after, McCarthyism came to be seen as a moment of insanity from which the nation recovered.

But today the entire leadership of the Right — congresspersons and senators, spokespeople, the Republican Party, media personalities — have become an army of Joe McCarthys. And no one stands up to them.

Joan Walsh continues,

And lest you dismiss these rantings as confined to the lunatic fringe and ratings-crazed talk-show hosts, the backlash has had an effect. First, after school administrators in mostly red states expressed concerns about exposing kids to the speech without knowing what’s in it, the president’s office said he’d make it available on Monday so they can read it in advance. OK, that’s nice of the president, but is anybody else a little rattled that some right-wing bullies appointed the nation’s unelected school administrators to vet our president’s speech?

We should be rattled, yes. The extend to which the nation accepts this bullying as normal is a core threat to democracy.

See also:

Max Blumenthal, “Ike’s Other Warning.”
Glenn Greenwald, “Deleting the Bush Personality Cult from history

10 thoughts on “A Core Threat to Democracy

  1. I respectfully disagree. Specifically, I disagree with your proposition, “And, yes, racism is a component in this, but I don’t think it’s the only component.”

    I think that this, at least for the white guy in the street, is all about race. The right-wing media and pundits may have treated a Hillary-presidency or a Biden presidency similar to a Bill Clinton presidency, but these “white-guys-in-the-street” are apoplectic. They cannot reconcile themselves to the concept that a person of color has more qualifications to be president than they do.

    This whole campaign to carp about every move the POTUS makes is about distracting the White House from it’s core mission of improving the lives of all people in the country. By blowing every little thing so way out of proportion, they hope to de-rail the Obama presidency.

  2. maha,
    You’re right to bring up historical precedents like McCartyism. Leaders at that time also deferred to the lunatic fringe, much as they’re doing now with anything President Obama tries to do. But there is one big difference that I see here: Automatic weapons.
    When I was growing up in NYC and upstate NY in the ’60’s and ’70’s, no one I knew had a handgun. Yes, some familes had rifles because they hunted, but no handguns.
    In our long history there has been an undercurrent of ignorance and violence. And yes, for much of our history most Americans living in rural areas had guns – which were used for hunting game. They were all ‘single-shot,’ meaning you needed to reload after each shot. Today, many people have automatic rifles and handguns, which they are now starting to carry to protest’s.
    In riots in the previous centuries, if there was shooting, it was almost always the police or troops called in to keep order. In the “No Nothing” riots in the mid to late 1850’s, many were killed. Rioters killed people without using guns, for the most part. It was the troops who fired.
    Now, picture if every “No Nothing” rioter carried a portable Gatling gun in their pocket. How much more damage would they have caused? How many more lives of police and soldiers would that have cost?
    The blind hatred of an elected leader is nothing new. It seems extreme to us because, much as we hated Bush, we did nothing to try to undermine or overthrow our government. It wouldn’t occur to us because it’s not in our genes. But, I really do think what we’re seeing is something new because of these weapons. And I think that there will be violence on a massive scale. Why? People are being egged on by gutless cowards who have started something that they can no longer control. And anyone who is not a follower of the “New No Nothing’s,” is seen as an enemy of the people who needs to be eradicated by any means necessary. Look at the post of that person (noyance?) who wrote about there now being greater justification for anti-(whatever) protesters to come armed because that stooge had his finger bitten off.
    Our President is in mortal danger, as is our way of life. Maybe I’m over reacting. I hope so. But the mob out there today ain’t gonna carry torches and pitchforks. They’ll have Glock’s and assault rifles. You can do a lot more damage with those than the old conventional way.

  3. Pingback: The Mahablog » Watch Out for Those Czars

  4. For what its worth I just don’t see this as racism as much as I see it as the result of 30 years worth of Republican media driven know-nothings. This news “objectivity” is no good if one of the people is saying really dumb things. I’ve even noticed that PBS’s News Hour with Jim Lehrer lets people say dumb things without challenging them; there ought to be a point where a journalist can say to a guest, “respectfully, you are making this out of nowhere and it doesn’t correspond to the facts.”

    So what we have now as a result of thirty years worth of lousy news coverage are people who do not have the critical thinking skills required to participate in a meaningful way within a democracy. More to the point, I think many people start their days by listening to Rush Limbaugh, then move on to Sean Hannity, and finally get to listen to Glenn Beck, before watching the same people on Fox News every evening. Their only human relationships are with people who’s main job is to incite anger and fear out of them! This society is rapidly deteriorating and we will be in an even bigger pickle soon… remember they have more idiotic rallies coming up in September.

  5. One more point: Maha wondered why the guy hit the other guy in the face. One of the objectives of the right wing is to de-humanize ourselves, listen to the number of times Hannity calls someone “evil” in any given hour! I’m always surprised by the reasonableness of people when I talk to them – and to my mind these ditto heads, etc. never get to randomly talk to other people. This is compounded by the fact we are living in single family residences and driving cars everywhere we go – eliminating out walking on public space where we may meet someone randomly.

  6. “Our President is in mortal danger, as is our way of life.”

    As a neighbour to the north, all I can say is that I think you’re right and it’s terribly scary.

    I feel that if Obama finishes his term of office without any attacks on his person, it will be a major accomplishment. I worry. Hopefully, too much.

  7. I ‘lifted’ this from somebody (?) else. Governing in America has been turned into a permanent campaign as ‘issues’ are merely instruments to advance the political cause of electing someone to office or to keep the seat he has.

    And I’ll add that issues have also become instruments to drive people out of office. So much for any issues present or to come – they’ll all be treated by Repubs with the object of changing the Dem majority in DC.

    That said, it’s a fact that man-made catastrophies usually result in a state of domestic lawlessness as people go into survivor mode. Throughout the Bush Administration, beginning with 9/11, we were bombarded with threats of impending doom, more catatastrophies around the bend, hovering terrorists out to kill us…It would be unusual if at this point the American public had not gone into survivor mode.

  8. Forgot to mention, for what it’s worth, that the military has long known that bombing of civilian populations and places is a tried-and-true way of creating civil strife. Did bin Laden know this when he pulled off 9/11?

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