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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Ride to the sound of the guns..."

The rising tide of violence incidents in the wake of passage of health care reform -- thankfully little more than petty vandalism so far -- has produced the usual partisan finger-pointing with liberals and conservatives trying to say the other side started it.

The weight of reality, not to mention history, suggests otherwise.

The paranoid style of American politics documented by historian Richard Hofstadter nearly 40 years ago at the birth of the modern conservative movement, sounds familiar today:
American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.
And while the Weather Underground, Black Panther Party and today's anti-globalization anarchists certain fill the bill from the left, the tone of paranoid politics today has a distinct rightward slant, with leaders like Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin sounding the call.

Ad it's that last fact -- paranoia being fed by Republican "leaders" -- that is most ominous.

A Harris Poll this week has some stunning findings about the mood on the right about Barack Obama: from 40 percent who think he's a socialist to 32 percent who think he is a Muslim, to 25 percent who think he is foreign born to 20 percent who compare him to Hitler in actions to 14 percent who say he is the anti-Christ.

Let's think back for a moment where many of those ideas -- socialist, Muslim, Kenyan -- come from: the 2008 Republican presidential campaign of Palin and John McCain.

Then let's toss in the fact the Tea Party movement has as much astroturf as grassroots, springing from the efforts of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey -- Gingrich's top henchman and a man who slurred Barney Frank and tried to pass it off as a slip of the tongue.

And let's not forget current House Republican leaders, calling Democratic staffers "punks" and egging on protesters during Saturday's climactic health care debate.

It's clear the GOP sees the Tea Party as electoral salvation: a Gallup Poll found the angry white men who predominate the movement were mainly McCain voters to start with.

But with half-hearted slaps at the so-far non-lethal violence and childish responses to Democrats using the same parliamentary tactics the GOP used when it had the majorities -- top Republicans are behaving nothing like leaders.

Let's not forget the worst recent case of domestic terrorism came from Timothy McVeigh on the right. And that we have also had an anti-tax protester fly a plane into a Texas IRS office -- a political act that failed to get the attention it deserved as a warning sign.

The lesson of democracy is simple -- if you win the election you control the agenda. Democrats will need to face voters in November. Republicans should focus on that and stop encouraging the heated rhetoric that seems to think they should face firing squads now.

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Blogger Readwriteblue said...

Sir with all due respect you are guilt of adding to the rhetorical flames that boil our politics currently. The professor you site at length is considered “iconic historian of postwar liberal consensus” which would make him an antagoinist to the conservative movement. The poll you site “Wingnuts and Obama” is equally questionable as an independant source.

I do not require you to explain the many examples of the progressives’ poor conduct, I ask only that you join with me in trying to elevate the quality of political discourse. It is self evident than the quantity of political “talk” is growing so perhaps we could both work to move beyond ephipets and treat each other as we wish to be treated. As always…


March 26, 2010 9:26 AM  
Blogger Quriltai said...

Here's what I don't get...there simply aren't enough angry white men to power a majority, or plurality political concern. This strategy is doomed from the get-go. Unless they're not planning on winning this thing at the ballot box.

March 26, 2010 9:27 AM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Well, Quiriltai, "angry white men" seem to have an unfortunate tendency to vote more regularly than mildly irritated Latino women, preoccupied or apathetic young white men, and angry black men who might be fed up with politics in general. Which is just to say that not everybody who can vote does in fact vote, so minority views can in fact prevail at the ballot box. I think Scott Brown's campaign benefited from this sort of unbalanced political participation.

March 26, 2010 3:15 PM  

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