Thursday, June 12, 2014

Reaping What They've Sown

Some interesting thoughts on both the self-inflicted and widespread damage being done by the Republican Party because of their relentless march to the conservative fringe.

First, a great polemic from Paul Waldman linking right-wing rhetoric to the increasing pace of right-wing terrorism in the U.S. Waldman doesn't pull any punches in calling out GOP politicians on their rhetoric and the atmosphere it creates:
What I’m about to say will raise some hackles, but we need to talk about it. It’s long past time for prominent conservatives and Republicans to do some introspection and ask whether they’re contributing to outbreaks of right-wing violence.
. . . 
The most obvious component is the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns. But that’s only part of it. Just as meaningful is the conspiracy theorizing that became utterly mainstream once Barack Obama took office. If you tuned into one of many national television and radio programs on the right, you heard over and over that Obama was imposing a totalitarian state upon us. You might hear that FEMA was building secret concentration camps (Glenn Beck, the propagator of that theory, later recanted it, though he has a long history of violent rhetoric), or that Obama is seeding the government with agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. You grandfather probably got an email offering proof that Obama is literally the antichrist.
In addition to noting current examples of irresponsible right-wing rhetoric and reprehensible right-wing violence, Waldman reminds us that this phenomenon is nothing new. Over the past 50 years, we have consistently seen an increase in right-wing violence following Demcratic political gains.
In our recent history, every election of a Democratic president is followed by a rise in conspiracy-obsessed right-wing populism. In the 1960s it was the John Birch Society; in the 1990s it was the militia movement shouting about black UN helicopters, and during the Obama presidency it was the Tea Party. Some of those movements are ultimately harmless, but alongside and around them are people who take their rhetoric seriously and lash out in response. After these killings in Nevada, and the murders at a Jewish community center in Kansas, and the murders at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and multiple murders by members of the “sovereign citizens” movement in the last few years, it’s worth remembering that since 9/11, right-wing terrorism has killed many more Americans than al Qaeda terrorism.
And Republican politicians explicitly fan these flames and actively rebuke people who call attention to the fact that right-wing terrorism exists. I admire Waldman for making such a public statement about the power of right-wing rhetoric on right-wing extremists, and for explicitly linking it to the fetishizing of firearms among a significant segment of our population.  I am also scared for Waldman for those very reasons. Which means their terrorism is working.

Less significant in the scheme of things, but important in the corridors of the Capitol, this week also saw another notable impact of relentless right-wing rhetoric on the part of Republican leaders and conservative media: the ouster of House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, in the Republican primary in favor of a far-right, Tea Party candidate.

As Jonathan Bernstein notes, the "establishment Republicans" made this bed, but, unfortunately, we are all going to have to lie in it:
Republican leaders, including whomever counts as the “establishment,” have spent more than 40 years educating rank-and-file voters that “more conservative” is always better. But they haven’t specified what “more conservative” actually means beyond attitude. So it isn’t surprising that people in the House or Senate leadership - those who are required to make and support deals with Democrats during times of divided government - will wind up accused of being squishes or RINOs. Even if we don’t know whether that is specifically the cause of Cantor’s defeat, it’s almost certainly part of the context that has made all Republican incumbents a little more vulnerable.
As for the consequences of Cantor’s loss (beyond changes in the leadership), they don’t really depend on the causes; they depend on how Republicans interpret the election.
One thing has consistently been true over the years. Whenever conservative Republican politicians are accused of not being sufficiently conservative, they react by rushing to tighten their embrace of the loudest, nuttiest, most radical, self-proclaimed conservatives.  
You know, the ones who want to shut down the government, or deny climate change exists, or declare that a fetus is a person, or want to privatize social security, or refuse to confirm any judges, or want to  deport every undocumented immigrant in the country, or try to restrict voting rights, or eliminate estate and corporate taxes, or loosen gun laws in the wake of school shootings, etc., etc., etc.

And then these "reasonable Republicans" wonder why their base keeps electing lunatics who often can't win a general election.  It's tempting to gloat and say "you get what you deserve, morons," but the reality is that we all suffer when this kind of rightwing extremism is embraced and encouraged.  It's time we start talking openly about the danger right wing reactionaries pose to this country and the ways that mainstream Republicans are supporting them. I applaud both Waldman and Bernstein for engaging in this conversation.

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