Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Identifying the enemy

-- by Dave

Everywhere you turn, it seems, Republicans are repeating what's clearly going to be their main theme for the 2008 election: Democrats are traitors. They want us to lose in Iraq because they hate Bush so much they're willing to let the terrorists win. Next thing you know, Al Qaeda's gonna be blowing up the Peoria mall.

Something along those lines certainly was the message from Freddie Thompson in his interview with Fox's Sean Hannity the day after announcing his candidacy:
It really depends on which way you lean, Sean. If you’re committed against this war and to do something to further harm the president the way the Democrats seem to be in Congress, then anything that’s a mixed message is going to be seized upon in a negative way. But if you understand that this is part of a global conflict, and if we look weak and divided, and cannot get our own people together toward maximizing the advantages that we have – as we’re making progress in the Anbar province, and we’re making progress in getting some of these local tribal leaders, uh, going from the grassroots up, you might say, what we call it here in this country, and making some real progress on the ground, not necessarily in the capital, enough, but all over the country – if you can capitalize on that, you can really start to change things there. We’ve to take the opportunity to do that. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen. But if we look weak and divided in this country, we’re going to pay a heavy price for it in the future. We’re living in the era of the suitcase bomb, and they’re not going to go away. They’re here now, they’re armed and dangerous, and they’re trying to get weapons of mass destruction.

In an earlier interview with Hannity I saw replayed recently on Fox [still searching for the video], Thompson had gone even farther, saying that the Democrats in Congress were "dangerously close" to "rooting for our defeat" in Iraq.

As Dr. Denny at Scholars and Rogues points out, this is just flat-out fearmongering. It's also a gross distortion of the reality, to wit:

Republicans, both in the White House and Congress, are responsible for creating one of the most catastrophic military screwups in American history, largely through a toxic combination of incompetence, malfeasance, and mendacity. At this point, the actual grownups -- those who understand that the war in Iraq and our continued presence there makes us more vulnerable to future terrorist attack than if we remained, because it has exponentially fueled the underlying causes of terrorist recruitment -- are going to have to wrest control of the matter from them and begin seriously cleaning up the mess they've made.

Of course, Republicans don't want to hear such talk because it's not only the truth, but it makes clear that their looming removal from power is richly, even profoundly, deserved. Evidently their recourse is simple: Shout "traitor" and "stabbed in the back" long and loudly enough and maybe it'll stick. That has been largely their approach to liberal criticism of Gen. Petraeus's "stay the course" report to Congress.

The latest permutation of this meme is to identify liberals with terrorists. Thus we saw, after Osama bin Laden's recent video release, right-wing pundits from David Brooks to Fox News to even CNN's Kelli Arena comparing his remarks to those of a "left-wing blogger."

Of course, this kind of meme circulation starts at the top and works it way down to the rank and file. Thus here in the Northwest, we recently had a collection of College Republicans running a "humorous" contest at a fund-raising event identifying Democrats with terrorists.

Jim Camden at Spin Control, the Spokane Spokesman-Review's political blog, has the details:
The Washington State College Republicans held a demonstration Thursday on the Pullman campus to allow students to "Vote for Your Favorite Domestic Terrorist."

The choices were not Timothy McVeigh, Erik Rudolph and Ted Kaczynski, who have a pretty clear history of domestic terrorism, but a quartet of liberal public figures whom they don't much like: Jesse Jackson, Hillary Clinton, Michael Moore and Rosie O'Donnell.

The group billed it as a method of "poking fun at these figures," although a previous posting on Spin Control questioned the humor in it.

Asked how the group concluded that these four were candidates for "favorite domestic terrorist," CR President Daniel Schanze explained that all four have a history of making "anti-American remarks."

For example, Schanze said, Moore had the temerity to tell a German newspaper that Americans were "possibly the dumbest people on the planet."

... The others have said things that were condescending to their country or their countrymen, he added. "I think we were just responding equally."

Equating criticism with terrorism seems like a giant leap, even if the group was, as Schanze contends, just trying to inform the voters.

Reminded that domestic terrorism is a serious crime, Schanze seemed to backpedal. They never thought of it that way, he said. The title of the contest was just a come-on, sort of like the headline on a news story, he added.

But headlines are supposed to accurately reflect a story, just as this contest seems to accurately reflect the College Republicans' feelings about people who stray from their view of patriotism. Trying to judge which political opponent is the bigger domestic terrorist goes beyond Love It or Leave It to something akin to Love It or Go to Guantanamo.

The College Republicans were out on Terrell Mall for about four hours Thursday and had more than 150 students cast ballots. More than half marked their ballots for Clinton, with the rest going to Moore, O'Donnell and Jackson in that order.

As for the "humor" intended here, well, Camden probably said it all in his earlier post on this matter:
Used to be "poking fun" meant something between harmless joshing and a practical joke, not something between McCarthyism and accusing someone of a federal felony.

Even if this invidious talk gains traction, I'm hopeful that it won't be enough to overcome the public's anger at Republicans, at least in 2008. But its profoundly divisive long-term effects -- you know we're going to be hearing right-wingers explain away their disastrous rule in coming years this way -- is the kind of material on which fascist movements are built. And that's the real systemic danger that liberals are going to have to face down in the coming years as well.

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