Tuesday, August 30, 2005

All our extremists is belong to you

You've got to admire, in a perverse sort of way, conservatives' apparently deep-seated belief in the power of wishful thinking. Kind of like the audiences at performances of Peter Pan: "I do! I do! I do believe in fairies!"

Whether it's the war in Iraq or the economy or race relations, whenever anyone points out any of the panoply of abject difficulties arising from their policies and agenda, conservatives just cover their ears and wish them away. They do this through one of two techniques:
-- Pretend the problems don't really exist.

-- Pretend that they're really the fault of, or emanate from, liberals.

This is, of course, also the case when it comes to the most persistent problem that underlies everything that is wrong with the conservative movement -- namely, the extremism that has become their pervasive trait. According to most conservatives, there really are no right-wing extremists -- and if any of them do exist, they really are liberals.

One of the more laughably palpable iterations of this came with James Lileks trying to claim that, contrary to the mountain of evidence suggesting otherwise, right-wing Christian extremists just don't exist -- and if they do, they're really allied with liberals:
We're often told that Islamic terrorism has an exact mirror in Christian-inspired extremism.

Sure, there are thousands of jihadis killing and maiming people of all creeds and colors, but look at Timothy McVeigh! Can't -- he's compost now. But when he was alive he wasn't shouldering aside old ladies to make morning Mass; McVeigh was one of those pathetic Aryan pagans who would have beat up Jesus for his dusky hue.

What about that abortion bomber guy, Eric Rudolph? Sorry; he calls himself a disciple of Nietzsche.

Well, what about the Crusades? And Dresden? Fine. Drop us a line when someone drives a 737 into the Sears Tower on behalf of a bygone pope and Gen. Eisenhower.

It turns out, however, that there are similarities. There is something the Islamic extremists and some Christian groups share: They agree that Israel is the problem.

Well, just for the record:

-- Timothy McVeigh may be dead, but there remain several thousand of his sympathizers -- known as militiamen -- on the loose in this country, including followers of the racist Christian Identity movement that gave birth to the militias. Of course, nowadays they're more likely to be calling themselves Minutemen. But their violent terrorist propensities, as well as their hateful bigotry, remain largely undiluted.

-- Eric Rudolph may have read some Nietzsche that he was able to twist into supporting texts for his extremist worldview (especially the bits about preferring men of action to men of thought), but his core beliefs were also built around a foundation of Christian Identity, as the definitive book on his career, Hunting Eric Rudolph, makes abundantly clear. Rudolph himself, of course, pulled out Nietzsche as a ploy to protect his family and old friends who remain in the Identity church in which he was raised; but then, it shouldn't surprise us that Lileks is gullible enough to fall for this ploy.

-- Anti-Semitism throughout American history has long been closely associated with extreme right-wing elements, ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to David Duke. It is simply ahistorical to try to associate it with the American left.

-- Criticism of the state of Israel and its policies has never been in itself anti-Semitic, and suggestions that such criticism, based on sound moral reasons that are logical and devoid of bigotry or hate-mongering, reflects bigoted beliefs is simply despicable. There is nothing in the Presbyterian criticism of Israel that even remotely smacks of anti-Semitism. Nor, for that matter, is there any hint that the church condones pro-Palestinian terrorism; as the many statements at the church's Web site make abundantly clear, it has consistently condemned any acts of terrorism or anti-Semitism in the equation.

Lileks' column is nothing short of a vicious smear that even hardened conservatives should be willing to condemn. But don't hold your breath.

That's because they're all too busy trying these days to make anti-Semitism out to be a left-wing phenomenon. Now, it's true that there are some leftist elements out there, particularly some pro-Palestinian groups and the execrable Ramsey Clark faction, who are in fact anti-Semitic, prone to all the conspiracy theorizing and vicious bigotry that comes with that trait. But these are tiny factions with only a handful of followers -- in contrast to the numerous far-right anti-Semitic organizations, ranging from Identity to Duke's group to Stormfront to the Hammerskins, as well as such outfits as the Liberty Lobby and Institute for Historical Review, that have been active on the American scene for lo these many years.

Now they're trying to smear antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan with a similar technique, twisting her criticism of Israel into a kind of anti-Semitism. The most recent indulgence in this came from Jonah Goldberg, who slyly associated Sheehan with the neo-Nazis at the National Alliance by saying:
She's rallied the Nazis to her cause (obviously unintentionally, but it's interesting how her message resonates in such quarters nonetheless).

He later expands on the point:
I think Sheehan has absolutely no sense of proportion or responsibility when she calls Bush a terrorist and a murderer or when she ascribes comic-book-villain motives to the administration. I think such rhetoric is appealing to a wide range of groups who practice similar rhetoric including, by the way, International Answer which no self-respecting liberal (as opposed to leftist) should have any association with. If I was being too glib by not spelling that out in my post, I apologize. But, I think Sheehan's PR operation -- including her water-carriers in the liberal press -- should no be surprised that they're attracting a broad Popular Front which includes a lot of disreputable and unpleasent elements. If you leave yourself no room, rhetorically speaking, between yourself and the crazies don't be surprised if the crazies respond to your rhetoric.

Nice of Goldberg to notice that attracting the extremist right to your cause is perhaps an indicator that perhaps something's amiss. You have to wonder why he didn't notice that previously:

-- When the folks from Stormfront rallied in support of George Bush in Florida in November 2000.

-- When white-supremacist leaders around the country, from David Duke to Matthew Hale, announced their support for Bush in that election.

-- When militiamen in Michigan announced that they were standing down after Bush's ascension to the presidency, since he now was looking after their interests.

The list goes on and on. Right-wing extremists, perhaps unsurprisingly, have for many years now looked to make common cause with mainstream conservatives far more often than they have aligned themselves with anyone on the left. This has been pronouncedly the case with the Bush administration, as I've pointed out previously, precisely because it has left itself little room, rhetorically speaking, between itself and these extremists. Both in its campaigns and in the conduct of its policies, the Bush team has a history of making multiple gestures of conciliation to a variety of extreme right-wing groups.

These have ranged from the anti-abortionist zealots who fueled the Terri Schiavo controversy and forced the administration to oppose stem-cell research, back to the neo-Confederates to whom Bush's campaign made its most obvious appeals in the South Carolina primary to his speaking appearance at Bob Jones University. Bush and his GOP cohorts have from the start made a whole host of other gestures to other extremist components: attacking affirmative action, kneecapping the United Nations, and gutting hate-crimes laws.

More to the point -- unlike Sheehan, who has pointedly denounced the presence of any kind of anti-Semitic haters among anyone who would join her protect -- the Bush administration has never at any time distanced itself from the extremists attracted to the ranks of Republicans by these tactics. On the contrary, it has largely engaged in wink-and-nudge responses.

The same is true of conservatives generally. The most recent manifestation of this, as I've described at length, is the recent rise of the anti-immigrant Minutemen.

Goldberg, perhaps predictably, resorts to the first kind of wishful thinking when bringing this up as a kind of half-assed refutation of his critics on the Sheehan matter:
Critics of the Minutemen, for example, have been eager to point out that such projects are popular among skinheads, Neo-Nazis and the like. Such guilt-by-association bothers the left not at all, even though the Minutemen have been working hard to weed out the nuts and goons rhetorically and practically.

Right. That would explain this.

Actually, the Minutemen's ranks are riddled throughout with neo-Nazis and white supremacists of the lowest order precisely because they haven't been serious about weeding them from their ranks in the least, as this SPLC report makes abundantly clear. The only thing they've been assiduous about on this front is insisting that they're not racist to mainstream media folks like Jonah, who've been all too content to simply accept these claims at face value.

Jonah is just squeezing his eyes shut and saying: "I do! I do! I do believe in fairy tales!" That's just the conservative way, these days.

No comments: