Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Gold Rush

Ann Althouse gives what I think may the most creative apology yet for how extreme conservative rhetoric is not creating a dangerous climate.

I will commend her for at least acknowledging that it exists. But I still find her argument unconvincing in that it ignores how comprehensive is the (formerly) fringe right-wing narrative on government illigitimacy, and how it has left considerable wreckage in its wake.

In the 1990'sRuby Ridge and Waco were highly politicized by the right and used to continue fabricating the paranoid narrative of impending tyranny. As was the Elian Gonzalez stand-off, I might add. This was the same right wing that at the time was talking about the New World Order, UN, and forming up militias all over.

The government was never close to posing any such threat, yet to hear the fringe pundits at the time, the response to Ruby and Waco were perfect such evidence. So the connection from these events to Oklahoma only existed because the groundwork had already been laying for decades.

Imagine if the left continued its delegitimizing of the government and business the way it had in the 60's, hewing to that radicalism more in line with Jeremiah Wright. (It hasn't - that sort of discourse is still very fringe on the left. It's an empirical question and demonstrably false.) But if it had, and the mainstream left seriously talked about the government in terms of impending tyranny or oppression, they would be completely on the hook for any sort of anti-government/business violent protest that occurs.

A perfect example of this is eco-terrorism and animal rights radicals. They feel that certain industries are illegitimate, and therefore real targets. To the extent that there is extreme rhetoric over these issues, it should be held accountable for contributing to a climate of violence. I've never heard anything like that on the radio, but it must exist! On the right, this would be the anti-abortion terrorism, and the extreme rhetoric that fuels it.

I don't see how hard it is to make the connection. Extreme rhetoric from Islamists contributes to terrorism because it legitimizes the entirety of the West, and thus violent acts occur. Once one's opponent is no longer simply a democratic sparring partner and loses their legitimacy entirely, they become much easier to think of as an "enemy" to be removed with force. The right has allowed such discourse of "illegitimacy" into its mainstream, it is a common occurrence for them to use extreme and violent rhetoric, and therefor it is perfectly justified for people - the left, whoever - to become concerned that the climate has become dangerous.

I think the right is really struggling right now because it has in a sense hoisted itself on its own petard, captured perfectly in the phrase "keep your government off my Medicare". It has embraced a sort of big-tent conservatism that wraps around and eats its own tail. The crazy originalist libertarians who want to gut the federal government and go back to the nightwatchman state are at one end, while the reasonable folks who view some government as important and good are at the other. All of the sound and fury comes from the former, who can make grandiose claims and invoke the enormity of the gap between the present and their ideal, making it seem as if the US government really is one step from Socialism. Yet the same originalism, if followed logically (as many libertarian zealots do, in their defense), would do away with enormous parts of what the latter holds dear.

Thus, in their extremist rhetoric they've gotten all the passionate narrative they've asked for, yet it is one quite out of step with reality. So you have the Althouses of the world having to do these elaborate rhetorical gymnastics just to get this cancerous genie back in the bottle. "Oh, it's all in good fun. They don't really mean it. It's just their style of speaking." Well, sorry dear, but while that may be true for someone as brilliantly smarmy as Limbaugh, his listeners - as well as proteges such as Beck et all - actually believe it! Let's just hope they wise up and tone it down a notch before we really do get someone shouting "Goooooooooooooold!" as they ignite a truck of fertilizer.

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