Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fomenting civil war

-- by Dave

Like nearly everyone, I was intrigued by Ted Nugent's open advocacy of killing Democrats -- which seemed pretty clearly the upshot of his rant wishing the violent deaths of nearly every one of the Democratic candidates during a recent concert. It was, after all, not just a startling example of the viciousness that right-wing rhetoric now revels in (it's classic hate speech, really), but also yet another notable example of the march of eliminationist rhetoric.

Nugent is such a parody of himself, a gibbering lunatic, that it's hard to take him seriously -- and thus, obviously, it would be easy for the mainstream right to distance itself from him. Just issue a few of the standard expressions of horror, assure the rest of us you recoil at the thought of even being associated with sentiments like Nugent's, and then we can all move on, right?

Well, no. Hasn't happened.

And that, frankly, is a problem. Perhaps the sign of an even bigger problem.

For most of the right, the response to Nugent's remarks has mostly entailed crickets chirping. Michelle Malkin, who has a habit of choking up in outrage over supposedly "unhinged" liberal behavior, has been steadfastly avoiding any reference to Nugent at her site,, though a quick Google search will note that she has previously described him approviingly as a Republican rock star (ironically, in contrast to Obama).

Where it has been discussed, though, there's been nothing approaching repudiation. Rather predictably, there have been some sympathetic posts from the gun-nut faction ("this is video of one man speaking his mind").

Almost as predictably, the "centrist" Beltway types who have reported on it, like Daniel W. Reilly at The Politico, described it in, ah, "neutral" terms:
Though many of us here in The Crypt are fans of bad-boy rocker Ted Nugent, he didn’t win any political points by launching an obscenity-laced tirade during a recent concert against Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, both running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Since The Crypt is a family show, we won’t reprint the "Motor City Madman’s" choicest comments. But, suffice it to say, he didn’t pull any punches.

Well, no, he didn't. He not only called them "pieces of shit," he openly wished that the could kill the two leading Democratic presidential candidates with his machine gun (unless, I suppose, one wants to pretend that "choking" or "riding" on a gun doesn't suggest being filled with lead). There was nothing humorous about this rant; Nugent meant it. But to Reilly, the only thing that Nugent did was call "the Democratic presidential front-runner nasty names," something that might spark a "PR backlash."

Truly taking the cake, though, as Digby observes, was Sean Hannity, who defended Nugent in a remarkably churlish fashion -- by not only refusing to condemn his violence-mongering but by responding nastily to his accuser, Democratic strategist Bob Beckel:
BECKEL: Are you prepared now, Sean -- are you prepared to disavow this lowlife or not?

HANNITY: No, I like Ted Nugent. He's a friend of mine.

... BECKEL: The question is not even a close call. I think Nugent was far over the line and Obama was not.

HANNITY: I want to know. Barack Obama accused our troops of killing civilians and air-raiding villages. What is more offensive to you, which statement?

BECKEL: Because I know the context in which Obama said it. This Nugent is more offensive. This guy ought to be knocked off the air. He ought to never come on your show again, and if you have him on, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. He's a bum!

HANNITY: Not at all. We have you on.

See, in Hannityland -- which, like much of the rest of the right-wing universe, resembles nothing so much as Bizarro World -- wishing aloud that you could blow away the country's most prominent liberals in graphic fashion, and getting the crowd to cheer along, why, that's exactly the same as Barack Obama explaining his military strategy by including the perfectly accurate understanding that air raids produce civilian casualties. It's the same thing as the Dixie Chicks saying they were embarrassed by President Bush. It's no different than anonymous commenters of undetermined background on Michelle Malkin's blog sending her hateful messages.

As the Media Matters piece notes:
Notwithstanding his defense of Nugent, Hannity has decried "hate speech" in the past -- particularly comments directed at President Bush and other conservatives. For example, as Media Matters for America previously noted, on the March 13 edition of Hannity & Colmes, Hannity denounced Clinton's claims of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" as "hate speech." On the March 11 edition of Fox News' Hannity's America, Hannity devoted an entire segment to a "list of the worst examples of liberal hate speech," during which he attacked Clinton, National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), comedian and Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken, actor Alec Baldwin, and others.

Indeed, as Tim Grieve at Salon observes, it was only last month that Hannity had Nugent on his show to talk about the awful nasty things that liberals say:
And how about you, Sean Hannity? Hannity had Nugent on his Fox show in July to discuss a blog post in which a writer said he had "dibs" on Rush Limbaugh if it ever became legal to shoot him, and that others would be "welcome to" Nugent if they wanted him. Hannity said he took such threats seriously, and he asked Nugent if people who make them ought to be arrested. Nugent's answer: Yes.

"You know, I'm an American. I love all Americans. And I would help any American pursue their dreams and their pursuit of happiness," Nugent told Hannity. "But you find that the left, there's a lunatic fringe on the left that literally are trying to force us to comply to their outline of life. And I find it just reprehensible that they would recommend violence, not to mention murder and shooting people and assassinating people. This is bizarre."

Of course, I've pointed out previously that this sort of behavior is part of Republicans' projection strategy: If they accuse liberals loudly enough of a certain kind of behavior, it becomes a permission for them to do so themselves -- though of course, liberals are at worst marginally guilty of this behavior, and the conservative immanation of it is exponentially more egregious.

But more than the hypocrisy and mendacity that conservatives are displaying, the most disturbing aspect of this is the toxic nature of Nugent's rant. Watching it, it's not hard to see that Nugent doesn't merely wish he could make Obama and Clinton and Barbara Boxer suck on his machine gun -- rather, they are mere figureheads for his animus, stand-ins for liberals generally. It seems he'd be like not merely to make Obama and Clinton eat lead but for entire crowds of their supporters to be sprayed with gunfire as well. And he isn't merely wishing this for himself -- he's urging his audience to join him.

For mainstream conservatives to openly condone this kind of talk is not just unforgivably irresponsibile, it's morally reprehensible. But it is, unfortunately, exactly where the conservative movement has been dragging us for the past 15 years -- ever since Pat Buchanan's declaration of a "culture war" back in 1992.

The culmination of this "war" -- which is nothing less than a civil war in reality -- is behavior on the ground like Ted Nugent's, manifested in the media by nasty defenses like Sean Hannity's. And among the conservative punditry, you can find it in such commentary like the recent offering by Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush, discussing Norman Podhoretz's new text outlining the next Thirty Years' War with Islam. Noonan believes it has a counterpart that must be fought at home:
It is noted in the book that while it can be said that 62 million Americans said "yes" to the Bush Doctrine in 2004, 59 million gave it a resounding "no" - and with the results of 2006 in, it has become clear that the ideological struggle at home is central to whether or not America will find within itself the will to see the War Against Islamofascism to victory. And that is where my concept that World War IV in the global context may very well work out to Civil War II in the American context comes in: Mr. Podhoretz had given an excellent description of the forces opposed -- internal and external, armed and otherwise -- to our victory, but less notice was given to the forces which have yet allowed President Bush to sustain the campaign in Iraq -- and, indeed, intensify the effort -- in the face of a formidable opposition which can claim a strong political victory against the President in 2006. Those forces are that part of the American people -- as well as well-wishers and allies around the world, especially in the Moslem world -- which provides sons and daughters to volunteer for the military, and who fight a hard political battle here at home to back the war effort to victory.

Which side has the majority? That has yet to be seen -- and that will be fought out in American politics for the next two or three election cycles and will, by extension, determine if we win or lose the war.

Conservatives are increasingly depicting those opposed to the Iraq war -- including, it must be noted, many hundreds of thousands of family members of the soldiers who are being sent over to sacrifice life and limb on the altar of George Bush's catastrophic incompetence -- as the "enemy," as traitors in a global struggle who must be defeated at home by political or any other necessary means. Those means include, evidently, being told by public figures that their leaders deserve to suck on a machine gun.

Nugent, perhaps unwittingly, has provided the conservative movement with its own "Go Cheney Yourself" moment -- the moment when it openly chooses to embrace the ugliest facet of the national discourse. It's the moment when all of its handwringing and finger-pointing about "civility" and the supposed ugliness of liberal rhetoric is exposed, finally, for the empty and cynical ploy that it is.

And when, inevitably, some right-wing nutcase decides to empty a gun in the direction of a liberal candidate because Ted Nugent thought it was a great idea and Sean Hannity did too ... well, expect them, somehow, to find a way to blame liberals for it. Because all that really matters to them is winning their war.

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