Playing With Fire

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.

46 thoughts on “Playing With Fire

  1. Aren’t there some laws prohibiting incitement to violence?
    Wouldn’t it be interesting if one or more of these Republican politicians were to be subject to legal problems?

  2. It won’t happen overnight — more’s the pity. But the media appear to be increasingly aware with the disgust felt by many of us about “equivalencing,” in which a show of disapproval on the left is condemned by media as equal to an atrocity spouted by the right.

    Jay Rosen (NYU journalism/media critic) and Bill Adair of Politifact were on “Radio Times” a little while back talking about their considerable efforts to get some insta-fact-checking into Sunday morning TV punditry. Here’s Rosen talking with Marty Moss-Coane:

    JR: … I think there is such a thing as confirmation bias. I think the echo chamber effect is there. The fact that there are so many more sites now, so many more sources, makes that more possible. That’s all very plausible. But I think it’s naive to assume that this is evenly distributed. I bet if you totaled up the fact checks on Fox vs. MSNBC, you wouldn’t find them equivalent, even though it’s easy to say, “Well, there’s Fox on the right and there’s MSNBC on the left.” I think this false equivalence and assumption of symmetry in our politics is not only naive but a distorting assumption that works for journalists. It allows them to play a more innocent role but actually doesn’t tell us what’s going on. It’s definitely possible for one party, for example, to invest more in denial than the other. I think we’re in a situation like that in our country right now. But I don’t expect the political class to tell you about it.

    MMC: Sounds like you’re saying, Jay, that when you look at the two parties or the left and the right conservatives and liberals, you see more exaggeration,distortions, even lies coming from the right.

    JR: I think the right is less reality-based than the left, and there are specific historical and political reasons for that. Yes.

    MMC: And is there a thirty-second description about why that is?

    JR: Because political leadership on the right has decided to make itself profitable that way. It has proven to work in the narrow sense that politics like that work. It’s been a collective decision by leadership on the right to do that. But this is also fracturing the Republican coalition. …

  3. large percentage of the right are armed ,mislead, and have been whipped into a fury by Beck and Limbaugh. Palin is an idiot for using terms like “reload”, trying to be all butchy outdoorsy Alaskan fantasy-ish, Bachman is going down the crazy path also. Ye reap what ye sow, they sow the whirlwind.
    Eventually, another wacked-out tea partier will injure or kill a leader form the Democratic party, When that happens, the shit will fly in their faces, followed by law suits from the families of the perps against the big mouths who whipped them into a frenzy over bull shit.

    Shove a war that costs trillions down our throats? No problem.
    Try to help all Americans with health care? EVIL TOTALITARIAN FASCIST SOCIALIST DESTROYING AMERICA!!!

  4. We Canadians had our health care debate way back in 1962. We’ve had universal health care ever since. As far as I can remember, our debate while divisive was never as bad as as the current US debate seems to be. Just so you know, any politician in Canada who proposes abolishing our health care would be strung up by his heals in the town square so that the buzzards could have their way with ’em. That’s why our politicians would never try. Socialist they say?? In Canada we have the strongest banking system in the world because we have maintained strong REGULATION. Right now we have the best performing economy on the planet because we have strong banking regulation and we all sacrificed hard in the 1990s to pay off debt. We never gave our bankers the power to drive our economy over the cliff. Did you know that when Sarah Palin was a child living in Skagway Alaska, her family would drive over the border to Whitehorse in Canada for “free health” care”? I’m not criticizing Sarah… as Canadians we were grateful that we were able to help. Bottom line is the USA is the only developed country in the world that does not look after its citizens; until Obama came along. Its time to move on folks. There are more important issues that need to be fixed. Like reigning in your bankers and the Wall Street tycoons who are the real criminals. When it comes to drinking the cool aid the GOP are now clearly in Jonestown territory.

  5. Studies on human behavior show that people overcome their unhappiness either by behaving as aggressively as possible and/or by clinging to a fixed moral code. And now we have the tea party to confirm the finding of the study.

  6. Reagan’s genius was that he could make hate speech seem wholesome and virtuous.

    Remember his “joke” re the USSR, “Bombing begins in five minutes”? Ah ha ha ha ha, a hundred million dead at his hands… what a knee-slapper.

    So in answer to the apparently-amnesiac rhetorical question, Hell yes, I can imagine St. Ronald in the midst of all the teaparty hate. He was its godfather.

  7. PW: your word “equivalencing” really describes the process!

    Also, has anybody got a link to a listing of “What Ronnie Really Did” that would include his budgetary and legislative/political outcomes? That “sunny” description fits the look of his administration, and his fake sincerity always looked like Acting 101 to me. I think that looking back now it should be possible to “out” his real actions and effects quite clearly and succinctly. Remember the old business concept of the “one-pager” or elevator talk?

    Saint Ronnie is soooooo accepted as a representative of what the conservatives are talking about, but I don’t think he is all that defensible as a representative of what the baggers are talking about today.

  8. The tantrums and infantile intent to incapacitate government (presumably of, for and by the people) simply because the majority does not happen to agree with them is out there for all to see. Efforts to separate the ideas of country and government notwithstanding, there are enough sensible people around who realize that violence and overthrow of democratically elected government are not viable alternatives. Eventually these people grow resentful of those who use these tactics.

    They like democracy until they aren’t in the majority but they offer nothing better except possibly anarchy, hardly something they can sell, even with the best packaging that money can buy.

  9. I keep wondering if what we are experiencing between the two sides and the increasing escalation and pushing the envelope of expressions of contempt resembles at all the social inflammation in 1857 – 1860.

  10. I recently watched a video of Rick Perlstein speaking on Whatever Happened to Hope? Why Obama Cannot Be A Transformational President. Perlstein (author of Nixonland and other works) is an expert on the conservative movement. The video is long (about 90 minutes) but worth listening to (let it run in the background while you do something else, although one or two of his charts are not to be missed).

    One of his main points is that successful, transformative liberal presidents drive home to the populace the failures of conservative rule. FDR did this constantly, as did LBJ to a lesser extent, and the nation was transformed (in FDR’s case) for several generations. The rural populations who distrust urban liberal elites are brought over to the liberal viewpoint.

    Obama’s failure to do this (except for a few times now and then) is in many degrees responsible for the crazy we’re seeing on the right, by not speaking out against it, and in particular against the ruinous conservative policies that have brought us to this point. Absent this chastisement, the nuttiness on the right is treated in the public space with the same deference as saner impulses from the left and center, no matter how badly said nuttiness has failed us in the past. This should not be.

    There is a place for the high minded vision that Obama embodies, but if he is unwilling to directly confront the violent and base lunacy of the right, his wonderful vision will be choked out by weeds, if not worse.

    And I’ll be blunt – I wonder how much of Obama’s unwillingness to directly confront this craziness is driven by his experience as a black man. I think he’s had an entire lifetime of training in not directly confronting whitey (don’t be the uppity nigger under any circumstances), especially if whitey is irate. His method is to be much more subtle than that in reaching his goals. The jury is still out whether this will work, but as Perlstein teaches, and as I think common sense teaches, you have to cut the weeds, and get rid of the trash, before you can build anything great.

  11. I think it is just a matter of time before someone is killed because of the rhetoric coming out of fox nooz.

  12. “Many people are afraid of the dark, the saying goes. But the real tragedy is those who are afraid of the light.
    Egan’s last line is beautiful.
    And one of the most important reasons that the Teabaggers are going crazy is that the the man trying to lead the nation into the light, is dark.
    Many of these Teabaggers are older Americans on SS and MediCare. It’s one of the few things the poorer ones have that other people don’t. And I think one of the reasons that they’re fighting tooth-and-nail over this is that they will no longer have something over other people. I wrote about this awhile back – it’s the old, “Look, Son, we may be poor, but at least we’re not as bad-off as the n######s *in this town,” which was the prevailing theme of life for the rural white poor in the South until LBJ. That’s where Nixon and his people used Civil Rights as a wedge issue and Reagan sugar-coated it, and both Bushes were good at the game, too.
    What about the younger ones? I don’t know, just stupid, I guess. But, then again, as I mentioned, since Nixon, the right has been running the “What’s the matter with Kansas” 3 card monte game for 40 years with race, Welfare, abortion, homosexuality and immigration taking turns as the ace, queen, or joker. Teabaggers are just the latest mark, or sucker, for this long-playing game.

    *For “dyedinthewoolliberal ” (at least I think it was you)” I appreciate what you wrote in a prior post. I don’t like to use the N-word or the F-word. I only used them in that post because I believe that when people use these horrible words in public, we need to quote them directly, call them on it, and hold it in front of their faces for all the world to see. I hate it when the newspapers use the N-word (the F-word, or other horrible terms are abbreviated), or when TV and radio bleep them out. Let people read in in stark black and white. Let people hear vicious racism and hatred in full. Let them see the spittle spew on TV as they scream those words demonstrating their ignorance and fear.

    Moonbat,
    I think you answered your own query about Obama. Imagine if he’d gone a little harder on the right. They’d be making Eldridge Cleaver look like Obama-lite.
    Oh wait, that’s happening anyway…

  13. In Nashville, Tenn., a nutjob by the name of Harry Weisiger has just been charged with felony reckless endangerment for deliberately ramming his SUV into a car. The reason? According to the driver of the rammed car, Weisiger did so because of an Obama/Bidin sticker on the back bumper. The driver was taking his 10 year old daughter home from school when the car was rammed.

    C & L has the details.

    Trouble with stirring up a hornet’s nest is you can’t make the critters mad, and then claim you didn’t expect them to sting anybody to death.

  14. Moonbat, I think it might be hard to discern cause and effect. Maybe confrontation only accompanied a new perspective on the issues and was only partly instrumental to the change that occurred. Things never happen for one reason and one reason alone.

    I’m not saying I’m right so why take chances, if more confrontation is beyond Obama, for whatever reason, a Biden-Obama tag team might help if there are any concerns about the black man inciting the crazies even further. He’s incited them enough to show them for what they are…

  15. When I look at movement conservatism and combine the ingredients:

    1. All political tricks and no governing.
    2. “Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.”
    3. The echo chamber effect.
    4. Obama may be more skilled than most have imagined.

    …the final outcome for brand R doesn’t look pretty.

  16. Moonbat, I can see the internalized compliance (one-down) possibility, although I would think it would be deeply unconscious given his Ivy League success. His mother would have screened out some of that kind of inculcation perhaps. I also think that his being more Gen X than Boomer, and being a post-modern in social justice perspective, fits in here a bit as well.

    But given the pragmatism he must needs as a first term president with an already difficult campaign brewing I am betting the advice to him is to rope-a-dope when he has to and pick his blows very carefully. I don’t know what percentage of the bridge voters can stand to see a highly aggressive mixed race leader without being pulled in to reflexive tribalism–although I would enjoy it greatly myself.

  17. Moonbat – let me take you on on your point that Obama has not called Republicans crazy often enough. I think he has. The real point is simply that he can’t be on point as often as the echo chamber is! He isn’t on tv or radio as often as the Republicans with all the dumb people always on the air and never admitting a mistake. At the gym today I got to see Glenn Beck lying and making up nonsense. The audience hears this all day long and becomes quite numb to the fact that it doesn’t really make sense. Today he was proposing that we should all embrace more independence for the future when we won’t have anything at all – the exact opposite of a productive proposal to help us in a future with less things.

  18. Good points everyone, about a comment I made upstream. The thought occurred to me after I wrote that it was easy for FDR to inveigh against the right, because he came from the aristocracy, and so it was much easier to take on his own class.

  19. Moonbat… I hear ya about Obama, it’s an interesting thought. My thought is that he’s got a firm grasp on wisdom and he knows how to operate on a higher plane. The Conservatives and the Repugs can’t be reasoned with, and will never hear any constructive criticisms of their foolishness or folly. They are genetically incapable of “getting it” and I think Obama understands that, so he doesn’t waste he time or energy beating his head against the wall fighting a losing battle by putting wisdom into a void.

    Obama’s demeanor as a gentle spirit is one of the qualities I admire about him. To me it’s a definite plus…as opposed to the acrid personality of a guy like Boehner who emanates nothing but puke city.

  20. Moonbat – I agree with yout 7:28 comment. I would LOVE to see Obama take on John Bohnser and Eric Cantor directly and with a HUGE dose of anger. I would also like to see the democrats not lose the House and the Senate in 2010, and I want them to make gains in 2012. This isn’t because I am a democrat – it’s because I want to see Card Check, Cap and Trade, Fair Taxes, Immigration Reform, SS Reform – Medicare Reform.

    Americans have traditionally ‘split’ thier federal branches, GOP Congress, Democrat POTUS or vice versa. Once upon a time, that worked in terms of compromise legislation. If the GOP has control of Congress, House or Senate, NOTHING gets done. That’s a high price for the pleasure of seeing John Bohner bitch-slapped.

    Pelosi, Reid AND Obama held together a coalition of democrats to get health care passed. I don’t see Obama as weak. The posturing on bipartisanship is 1) a hope that the GOP will fracture separating the sane from the crazy. (It didn’t happen) 2) Obama wants the independent vote in 2010 & 2012. That crowd is GONE like a scalded cat as soon as they see the Angry Black Man. However, they will be sympathetic to the unlimited patience of a president who reaches out and listens – only to be continually rebuked and insulted.

    It’s theatre. We are in the first row because we are informed. We bother to be that way. The people in Row 63 need the exagerated gestures of the heros and villains becuase they don’t follow the facts.

  21. This blog not only has one of THE best bloggers, but the range of contributing commentors, for Barbara and each other, is truly inspiring. What a place to connect and share. Bravo!

  22. Obama’s demeanor as a gentle spirit is one of the qualities I admire about him. To me it’s a definite plus…as opposed to the acrid personality of a guy like Boehner who emanates nothing but puke city.

    Swami, I don’t remember where I read it, but someone pointed out that all Boehner needs is a couple of steel balls rattling around in his hand, and he’d could outdo Bogart playing Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny.

  23. Some very well-made points about Obama and confrontation on this thread. I do think his racial identity and his upbringing shaped him into a “can’t-we-all-just-get-along” type of personality, although (maybe because he’s a responsible dad) he also knows from whining and lame excuses and isn’t afraid to call BS on that. Now and then we’ve seen him get very stern, face-to-face, with his critics; he’s also smart enough to be on television, live, when that happens. And I must say I prefer “stern and forthright” to what I’d call “anger”; if Obama publicly went off in the manner of Rahm Emanuel or some Rightie monster-shouter, I’d start to question his maturity and common sense.

    Also there are more ways than one to skin that elephant. Designated hit-people can be useful, and I think in this admin the hitman is supposed to be Rahm (but that’s not working). Rahm’s too explosive, and already considered at least slightly nuts; Robert Gibbs is too wimpy; Michelle needs to project grace under pressure. Sometimes Biden manages to be the hitman, although I think he wants too much to be liked. Maybe Obama needs to get his mother-in-law out there, swatting Rightie butt and taking names, and promising to call their mamas.

  24. I’ve posted this before but doing it again may shed some light on the topic of the article: the New Yorker, Sept. ’08, “The Obama Nation” by Corsi.

    “Obama is a corrupt, enraged, anti-American, drug-dealing, anti-Israel, pseudo-Christian, radical leftist, black militant, plagerist, AND a liar, trained as a Muslim and mentored by a menagerie of Marxists, Communists, crypto-communists and terrorists.”

    The tea party was/is a foregone conclusion.

  25. If it’s the case that Obama either dispositionally cannot or tactically will not call out the Teabigots and the Hatriots, then why not Biden? He’s passionate but with a deft touch, and is able to be forceful without seeming angry or petty. This is the sort of thing a Vice-President ought to be doing, and it makes sense to have a Caucasian Irish-Catholic do the rhetorical taking-to-the-woodshed that the GOP needs, rather than an African-American man whose very existence gets lizard-brain neurons firing.

  26. Oh yeah, Bob. That’s a rant and a half. Spot on, in my opinion. But I agree with Doug; whomever takes on these scrotes, it can’t be Obama. I like Biden doing it, but I like Nancy Pelosi doing it even more.

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  28. Holy bleep! Now Obama’s in Kabul, scolding Karzai. Suddenly he’s turned into Tony Stark, after escaping the terrist cave. He’s everywhere! And he’s pissed off!

    Seriously, this past week has been The West Wing meets Iron Man. Where’s this president been for a year? Good to see him now, though.

  29. @ joanr16 – continuing the comic book metaphor – I’m willing to lay down money that there’s a radioactive spider somewhere in the oval office.

  30. We hardly need to show Boehner in flames. He is a self-immolationist, and by the look of his lovely golden-brown and crispy skin, is just about done.

    Grimalkin and her colleagues in the RW blogs do, indeed, catch every intemperate comment on Daily Kos and other progressive blogs. That is very handy for those claiming ‘equivalence’ between right and left. No need to sieve through hundreds of thousands of comments on the left to find the occasional nastiness; on the right, traffic is much lower and three out of ten comments may be eliminationist, so really easy to find. Kudos to the Malkinites for winkling out the rare lefty threats! Saves the journamalists no end of grunt work.

  31. vjbinct,
    This Boehner’s overdone.
    I prefer them on the rare to medium-rare side. With a fine Chianti and some fava beans.

  32. According to the Home Depot’s Minwax wood stain color chart, Boehner would have a color equivalence to “Colonial Maple”… more of an orange hue. Personally I’d describe him as a burnt umber,if accuracy were critical.

  33. Maybe conservative think tank studies have shown that more voters will overlook Boehner’s “Hellno!” gibberish, if his tan comes across as part George Hamilton, part homage to the deep fat fried foods cherished in the south?

    • I didn’t save a link to it, but once I saw one of those “separated at birth” gags in which the separated twins were Boehner and an orange.

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