Monday, December 01, 2003

Back in the saddle

Whew! Well, that was a nice break.

Writing is an appetite, and I rather gorged myself, Thanksgiving-style, on last week's, ah, longish post, which whetted my need to blog for awhile. As many of you have gathered, it was something of an expiation anyway -- I was getting out a lot of things that have been building up for quite awhile. I hope you all will excuse my prolonged silence; I was busy enjoying family over the holidays and cooking and eating turkey.

I've been kind of stunned -- since it was probably a more personal post than I usually write, and I thought its appeal would be limited -- at how broadly it seems to have resonated. I've heard from all around the blogosphere and elsewhere. The response has been overwhelming and of course gratifying -- not to mention edifying.

In addition to the usual suspects at Atrios, Talk Left, Sideshow, Tristero, Hackenblog and American Samizdat, there was a lively discussion at Smirking Chimp and a few other forums as well. Jesse Berney at put up a nice post that also drew some interesting discussion. Folks at such sites as Kimmitt's, Articulate Babble, Liberal Arts Mafia, The Left Half of My Brain, Just a Bump in the Beltway, Tugboat Potemkin, EP Rants, Bliss Puppet, Scott Slemmons, EdgeWise, Lex Alexander, Real Art, Naked Furniture, and Fables of the Reconstruction all chimed in as well. And there were even a few conservative responses, notably those from Dean Esmay and Balloon Juice.

I was especially encouraged by the kinds of smart discussions of the essay at such sites as Population: One, who says:
The right doesn’t have a monopoly on hatred in this country. Thirty years ago, our domestic terrorists were the left-wing Weathermen and the Symbionese Liberation Army. Thirty years from now, radical environmentalists may embrace terrorist tactics wholeheartedly.

But that’s then. This is now. I am a minarchist, and I have great sympathy for those who feel the government has too many tendrils in private life. This does not stop me from thinking that violence is the wrong solution for the problem as it exists in America today. And when I look around to see where the violence comes from — today, now — I see the terrorist right.

Marstonalia also offers some keen insight, reflecting on how the conservative movement has affected the court system:
One of the things that amazes me about the rhetoric of conservative movement types nowadays is that they still have the audacity to continue to use the trope of "liberal activist judges," thirty-five years after there has been a genuine liberal in the White House to do any appointing. It's one of those time-worn phrases that has been used to whip up good old American populist resentment. Judicial power is an important issue, to be sure. Still, take a look just at the Supreme Court's federalism jurisprudence, or the more restrictive turn in takings law, or the area of sovereign immunity. ...

The trope of a "liberal activist judiciary" is tired. Repeating it over and over does not make it true. But it is part of the inertia of political movement rhetoric that it gets used long past its usefulness for describing the world.

James Benjamin at The Left End of the Dial had this to say:
In the meantime, if you are a conservative reading this blog I have a challenge: the next time your peers diss moderates and liberals as traitors, cowards, terrorists, and whatever other ad hominem epithets that they like to use, stand up and tell them that they're wrong for using those epithets. Call up talk show hosts and let them know that their barrage of verbal bile is not tolerable any longer. If you see someone harrassing protesters (even if you strongly disagree with what the protesters are up to), make some noise and let those harrassing know that they are in the wrong (at least with their chosen tactics). In other words, prove to me that you and I are on the same page with regards to the ideals that have made the US a great nation, even if we disagree on the some of the details. Do so, and in time I won't look suspiciously when I see an (R) beside a candidate's name. Do so, and your party will eventually regain my respect. But treat me like an enemy, and I am left with no choice but to fight back.

And of course, I especially appreciated Digby's take, in no small part because he runs one of my favorite blogs:
David reluctantly concludes that they either implicitly endorse the increasingly blatant eliminationist rhetoric and strongarm tactics or they don't give a damn. But I actually think it's something else.

I think they are actually more afraid of these jack-booted bullies than we are. They are, as Hesiod once memorably said, "battered GOP moderates." Like an abused spouse they know that nothing pisses off the Lord of the Manor more than lip from his own family. ...

It isn't easy being a liberal Democrat in this political landscape. But, it's even harder being a Republican rebel.

I agree with Digby that my suggestions only scratched at the surface regarding the reasons for conservatives' failures to resist this slide into violent language and discourse. Another, it must be said, is the unique power of movement ideologues to buy into any kind of rationale that enables them to pretend as though this were merely politics as usual, or moreover, that liberals are not only every bit as bad, they are in fact worse in their drive to destroy conservatives. Mostly, they simply decline to address the worsening nature of the rhetoric and the fact that it is emanating exclusively from the right, and they particularly ignore the specific evidence of it.

These traits have been rather clearly on display in the two samples of conservative links to the post -- Balloon Juice doesn't even attempt to address the facts or the evidence, so he attacks me ad hominem (I'm now a paranoid fantasist, it seems). The more thoughtful Dean Esmay compares my post, unfavorably, to a classic case of conservative projection from Orson Scott Card, and then suggests that we've somehow arrived at opposing conclusions after examining the same data sets. But we haven't: Card doesn't even mention what is at the heart of my thesis: the increasingly violent nature of rightist rhetoric, and its encroaching eliminationism -- nor would he, since there really is no parallel to it on the left, and Card's kind of thinking is of the kind that likes to neatly arrange the world in a "if the right does it, the left must do it too" sort of balance. In reality this balance simply doesn't exist, and elides the fact that the left and right are distinctively different in natures.

Esmay, by contrast, is more reasonable, but like Card seems not to remember the entire 1990s, when Republicanism became typified not by a constructive polity but by visceral hatred of Bill Clinton, a hatred that has since been genericized to include all liberals. Yes, the liberal response since then has grown more strident -- for every action, after all, there is an opposite and equal reaction. But it is largely in response to the kind of nastiness that has been directed at them in large daily doses ever since the rise of Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990s. The whining over Bush's election -- based on a set of facts that may be in dispute, but which are facts in any event -- does not even come close to the bottomless (and factless) venom we heard directed at Clinton from the right, including those who questioned his legitimacy merely because he only won a plurality. Funny how we never hear that argument anymore, isn't it?

More to the point, no conservative is willing to reckon with this point: It is Republicans who have clearly demonstrated that you can succeed by tearing your opponents down. That has, after all, clearly fueled their rise to power. That same success only militates for Democrats to play the same kind of hardball.

Of course, I want the rift to be healed. That is, after all, the reason behind the post. I want to be able to go back to voting a split ticket; I don't think a monopoly by either party is a healthy thing. But I don't think any healing's going to happen until conservatives realize that liberals and left-leaning moderates will not be rolling over for them any longer. The rise of violence, and the increasing use of the "dissent is treason" theme, is forcing us to draw a line. When they understand that we're willing to fight back, maybe we can have some old-fashioned civility.

But so far, the evidence is not exactly mounting in their favor.

I'll try to get to some of my many e-mails on this topic tomorrow.

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