Mike the Mad Biologist

The NY Times’ Matt Bai writes a predictable article about the Gifford shooting:

Within minutes of the first reports Saturday that Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, and a score of people with her had been shot in Tucson, pages began disappearing from the Web. One was Sarah Palin’s infamous “cross hairs” map from last year, which showed a series of contested Congressional districts, including Ms. Giffords’s, with gun targets trained on them. Another was from Daily Kos, the liberal blog, where one of the congresswoman’s apparently liberal constituents declared her “dead to me” after Ms. Giffords voted against Nancy Pelosi in House leadership elections last week.

Because a diary, out of hundreds posted every day, on a blog site is just like the political ads created by a former governor and vice-presidential candidate who has a potential audience of millions. Bai has to know enough about the internet to understand how diaries work (and that most probably aren’t even seen by regular visitors to the site). But this narrative is part of the Village’s Compulsive Centrist Disorder. Bai (italics mine):

The problem here doesn’t lie with the activists like most of those who populate the Tea Parties, ordinary citizens who are doing what citizens are supposed to do — engaging in a conversation about the direction of the country. Rather, the problem would seem to rest with the political leaders who pander to the margins of the margins, employing whatever words seem likely to win them contributions or TV time, with little regard for the consequences.

He then lists example after example of Republican pandering (Hell, they do this so often, their response borders on the autonomic). Of course, this doesn’t mean that, in defining the problem, he would dare use the word Republican instead of political leaders. That would be uncivil, albeit accurate*. Fortunately, George Packer commits some journalism (italics mine):

But even so, the tragedy wouldn’t change this basic fact: for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale [Mad Biologist: Packer seems to forget the run up to the Iraq War. But I digress]. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn’t a big-government liberal–he’s a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He’s also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor. Even the reading of the Constitution on the first day of the 112th Congress was conceived as an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.

This relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right. (On the left it appears in anonymous comment threads, not congressional speeches and national T.V. programs.) And it has gone almost entirely uncriticized by Republican leaders. Partisan media encourages it, while the mainstream media finds it titillating and airs it, often without comment, so that the gradual effect is to desensitize even people to whom the rhetoric is repellent. We’ve all grown so used to it over the past couple of years that it took the shock of an assassination attempt to show us the ugliness to which our politics has sunk.

Peter Daou makes a similar point:

We do not yet know whether the Arizona massacre was directly fueled by rightwing rhetoric. But we do know this: one of the most dangerous myths promulgated by the media and political establishment is that there is a comparable level of extremism among conservatives and liberals, that left and right are mirror images.

Even the most cursory perusal of rightwing radio, television, blogs and assorted punditry illustrates a profound distinction: in large measure, the right’s overarching purpose is to stoke hatred of the left, of liberalism. The right’s messaging infrastructure, meticulously constructed and refined over decades, promotes an image of liberals as traitors and America-haters, unworthy of their country and bent on destroying it. There is simply no comparable propaganda effort on the left.

The imbalance is stark: Democrats and liberals rail against the right’s ideas; the right rails against the left’s very existence.

The result is an atmosphere where bigotry thrives, where science and reason are under assault, where progress (associated with progressivism) is frowned upon. And it’s an atmosphere where violence becomes more likely. Pretending this is not the case is to enable it.

Finally, John Cole succinctly sums it all up:

And then my personal favorite: “He was just crazy!”

No shit. You have to be crazy to walk into a crowd of people and start spraying bullets, killing a bunch of elderly people and a little kid. That is crazy.

The point we have been trying to make for the last couple of years is that Republicans need to stop whipping up crazy people with violent political rhetoric. This is really not a hard concept to follow. There are crazy people out there. Stop egging them on.

The problem Bai has is that, if you report the obvious story–Republicans have been engaged in eliminationist and exclusionary rhetoric that has some of the hallmarks of fascism–there’s nothing new there. It doesn’t establish you as a ‘contrary’ thinker who comes up with devastating counterintuitive insights. But if you can ‘establish’ (even though you actually can’t) that the Left does it too, then you have something different to say. Because there are no major Democratic political figures who engage in this type of rhetoric:

Palin is conceptually and intellectually poor because her politics are not about policies, but a romantic restoration of the ‘real’ America to its rightful place. The primary purpose of politics is not to govern, not to provide services, and not to solve mundane, although often important, problems. For the Palinist, politics first and foremost exists to enable the social restoration of ‘real’ Americans (think about the phrase “red blooded American”) and the emotional and social advantages that restoration would provide to its followers (obviously, if you’re not a ‘real’ American, you might view this as a bad thing…). Practicalities of governance, such as compromise and worrying about reality-based outcomes, actually get in the way. Why risk having your fantasy muddied by reality?

…What’s potentially dangerous about Palinism is that it is not the usual form of ‘identity politics.’ Even in its crudest, bluntest form–or when policies influenced by identity politics are implemented poorly–identity politics are ultimately about inclusion: a group believes it has been excluded or marginalized and wants to be included into the mainstream. What makes Palinism worrisome, and why I think it can be labelled ‘para [or proto]-fascist’ is that it is marginalist. For ‘real Americans’ to take back ‘their’ country–and note the phrase take back–they, by definition, are taking it back from an Other, whether that Other be a religious minority, racial minority, or some other group. This isn’t ‘old-school’ identity politics–getting a fair share; even if we disagree about amount of shares and methods, traditional identity politics are not marginalist. There is a disconcerting streak of marginalization of the Other (e.g., gays, religious minorities, racial minorities) that could easily veer into eliminationist rhetoric and violence…

This is not to say that all forms of conservative thought are marginalist, at least in terms of identity (although political and economic power perhaps), but it is disconcerting that the GOP is flirting with the politics of the blood.

Bai does his readers a disservice when he fails to use specific pronouns to describe the problem.

*Note to newspapers: not providing relevant and accurate information to your readers might just be a bad business model. Or you can blame the internet.

Comments

  1. #1 Sam C
    January 10, 2011

    One aspect that a lot of Americans don’t quite “get” is that US politics is all right-wing relative to international averages. The Democratic party would be considered centre-right in Europe, possibly hard right. They are absolutely NOT a left-wing party.

    This is clear when you look at the health care issue; in what other developed country would it considered left wing to try to improve public health or to try to make health care affordable? Yet crazies in the US use words like “socialism” to describe this “unpatriotic” act.

    So you’re comparing a hope-based centre party (the Democrats) with a fear-based right-wing party (the Republicans) and a bunch of extreme crazies (the Tea Party).

    A large part of the US’s problems historically have been down to the toxic combination of fear (especially of “them” – blacks, communists, foreigners, according to time and place!) and violence. Both of these seem endemic to many parts of the US. When these are stirred up with unashamed lying and ranting from trash radio and trash television ladled over a pervasive ignorance about the world and a fetishistic worship of firearms, it’s not surprising that bad things happen.

    As other nonsense has shown, such as the MMR scare concocted by Andrew Wakefield and his fraudulent research papers, or the “death panel” propaganda from the Republicans, it’s much easier to whip up fear than to engender hope. Sadly, that suggests the crazies will be difficult to subdue; they aren’t open to reason.

    I don’t have any clue how you can get rid of this toxic atmosphere. It would require the Republicans to show some compassion and engage their under-used brains in an honest attempt to tell citizens that “hey, this is a good country, even with a president that we didn’t want, be happy, be good”. But they won’t. They’ll whip up fear and hatred, and then wade through the river of blood to the White House, ready to help their paymasters and screw the poor.

  2. #2 Wow
    January 10, 2011

    A problem is that the progressives have nothing else to vote for, so the Dems go for the rightwing who are tired of the nuttery of the Republicans whilst the Republicans are hooting for the nutters.

    Since the progressives have nowhere to go and if the Republicans even HINT at wooing them, these representatives get booted out by the nutters (one reason why Republicans are wooing the nutcases).

    After all, the US political system has only one more party than Communist Russia had. Why would you expect a vastly different outcome?

    The final problem I see is that the poor have been stolen from and for the last 10 years the only place the rich can get their money from is the middle class. This removes the middle class who are often more tending left AND ensures that government (who get more money from the poor) can more easily be demonised (which doesn’t matter too much if you pander to the rich, since they’ll give you a nice little earner when you “retire”).

    Both parties are bought and paid. The Republicans don’t have to bother hiding it and do not care anyway.

  3. #3 megan
    January 10, 2011

    The only time you could’ve used that accomodationists equivalencies rhetoric would’ve been during the early 1900’s in the US and elsewhere where the socialist, anarchist and fascists fought in gangs on the streets.

    A new movie keeps getting held back from theater showings called “No God, No Masters” but it unfortunately focuses on the anarchist/labor movement’s violence against the industrial business hegemony of the day controlling all of government, before OSHA, EEOC etc that FDR brought about. The Roosevelt broke up that hegemony and they have been hated and fought ever since by the monied elite using poorly educated groups similar to slaves who supported their masters’ ownership rights.

    But fighting for freedom to live with equality and decent treatment is NOT morally or ethically EQUIVALENT to the hubris of fighting to restore a majority privilege to abuse, demean, exclude, take advantage of, attack and isolate. That is bullying, plain and simple and the fact victims defending themselves are made to feel guilty as equally wrong and allowing bullies delusional victimhood, is what has been a recent perversion in US political discourse.The self idealized majority has tried to dilute the progress in this country as socialism and ignorantly tie into fascism, while their clear racist fascist roots and memes are denied.

  4. #4 wereatheist
    January 10, 2011

    Welcome to the Weimar Republic.
    (that’s not funny)

    wereatheist

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