Saturday, November 15, 2003

Hatred, anger, and the 2004 election

All of the hand-wringing currently circulating among the pundit class about the rising tide of "Bush hatred" misunderstands the nature of what really is happening. They mistake anger for hatred -- though in the case of conservatives, it's fair to say that the confusion is intentional.

Anger, for the most part, is a righteous and largely rational thing -- it arises from genuine grievances, and is typically a response to outrages of some form or another. Hatred, on the other hand, is an irrational thing; it comes from deep in the soul, and is usually an expression of some deep-seated imbalance on the part of the hater. Naturally, if anger is allowed to fester unaddressed long enough, it can easily mutate into hatred. But they are distinctive in nature.

We can all recall the Clinton hatred of the 1990s: wild accusations that he planned to enslave America in a "New World Order," that he'd had Vince Foster murdered, that he ran drugs out of the Mena airport, that he had fathered a black "love child," and on and on and on. As Bob Somerby recently observed on the topic, this wasn't just emanating from the fringe elements of the right, though it certainly had a significant audience there; this was coming from supposedly mainstream conservatives inside the Beltway, and it was broadcast throughout mainstream media. This hatred was grotesquely irrational, especially considering that Clinton was a political moderate by any lights whose policies on many fronts (international trade, welfare reform, balancing the budget) presented victories for conservative ideals.

Of course, the same conservatives who engaged in this lunacy -- projectionists that they are -- have a habit of accusing liberals of the very behavior in which they themselves avidly participate and foment. Thus they have now invented the "Bush hatred" meme, suggesting that liberals who attack Bush are the moral equivalents of themselves. ("I know you are, but what am I?" is the essence of these charges.)

But, as I have argued at length previously, the majority of this "hatred" is predicated on real policies and real actions by both Bush and his administration. This is not hatred: it is anger -- real, righteous and well-grounded anger.

Anger can be a healthy thing, especially if it is based on solid reasons and real grievances. Anger over real injustices motivated the American Revolution, the anti-slavery and civil-rights movements, and women's suffrage. History is replete with righteous anger.

Anger only becomes unhealthy hatred if it festers. And one of the ways it can fester is if the grievances underlying them are dismissed out of hand as irrational -- not just by the perpetrators of the injustices, but by the supposed allies of the victims.

This is what is happening currently to the critics of the Bush administration who are angered over his war policies, his mishandling of the economy, his pillaging of the environment, his crass cronyism, his multitude of lies, his gross hypocrisy. Any one of these is reasonable cause for anger -- and when piled one on top of the other, it becomes a real mountain of anger. But to hear the hand-wringers of the pundit class chatter, you would think these causes are no different than New World Order conspiracy theories.

The most egregious case of this is Nick Kristoff's recent New York Times column:
Liberals have now become as intemperate as conservatives, and the result — everybody shouting at everybody else — corrodes the body politic and is counterproductive for Democrats themselves. My guess is that if the Democrats stay angry, then they'll offend Southern white guys, with or without pickups and flags, and lose again.

This nonsense has already been well-limned by Somerby, who points out the ludicrousness of Kristoff's comparisons. And Kristoff, nominally a liberal himself, is only one of many from the left side of the aisle wringing their hands in such fashion; another example is David Kusnet's attack on Howard Dean in Salon, in which he describes the kind of election-year blueprint now being tailored by the GOP:
This strategy serves four goals: portraying Bush as the unifying leader that he could have become after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Diverting attention from his own high-risk policies. Painting his eventual opponent -- especially if it's Dean -- as the real extremist and a hothead as well. And blaming Bush's lack of legislative accomplishments on the Democrats' refusal to work with a president they despise.

It is indeed apparent that conservatives are making "Bush hatred" the centerpiece of their 2004 election strategy. But what is especially silly about warnings like Kusnet's is that Republicans are going to attack any Democrat in similar fashion, regardless of who it is. The only productive counterstrategy is not to defuse or muffle the very real anger out there, but to emphasize its rational content -- and thereby help make it spread. As the bumper sticker says: "If you're not outraged, you haven't been paying attention."

Unsurprisingly, conservatives continue to play up the "Bush hatred" theme, including David Brooks' latest New York Times column, in which he attempts to advise liberal presidential candidates to chill out. Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I do find such advice from oh-so-thoughtful conservatives -- George Will likewise makes a habit of advising liberals how to behave -- extremely helpful. It's a very handy reverse barometer of exactly the kind of strategy that liberals should pursue.

In this case, muffling the anger and playing "nice" is effectively unilateral disarmament in the face of naked aggression. Liberals did not invent or even foment the nastiness of the current political climate -- it has been foisted upon them by a decade's worth of panting, raving, frothing conservatives whose power-mad agenda has become all too clear now that they control literally every component of the federal government. It is not far afield from the advice often given to Jews back in 1932-35 to lay low, play nice, and not upset the applecart in Germany.

I don't often use Holocaust analogies, but given the increasingly violent and hateful nature of the attacks on liberals -- and the increasingly apparent fascistic tendencies of the opposition -- it is becoming all too apt.

The most disturbing aspect of this trend, as I described in the above post, is the clear emergence of an eliminationist agenda aimed at liberals, replete with all kinds of rhetoric fomenting violence against them. (One example I failed to mention was this one.) The past few days have provided even more examples of this behavior.

One of the most noteworthy recent cases (as Jesse at Pandagon explored recently) was Mark Byron's bizarre Turner Diaries-like fantasy about running mass assassinations of liberal Democrats:
A paramilitary organization calling itself the Christian Liberation Front changed the balance of power in Washington by a pair of brutal attacks this afternoon. A force estimated at about 200 CLF commandos stormed the Supreme Court building, killing 35 people, including five Supreme Court Justices. At the same time, a contingent of 1,000 CLF paramilitaries attacked the Hart Senate Office Building, where a Senate Democratic Caucus meeting was being held. Approximately 50 people were killed in the attack. Once the commandos had seized the building, they systematically killed Democratic senators from states with Republican governors.

A similar fantasy recently appeared among the comments at Little Green Footballs, responding hysterically to Ted Rall's admittedly lame satirical column, whose purpose clearly flew right over the heads of the troglodytes who post there:
"Dear Recruit:

Thank you for joining the American resistance forces. You have been issued an illegal bolt-action rifle, a drum of improvised explosive material and an address where you can pick up supplies of ammunition and fuses. Please let your cell leader know if you require additional materiel for use against the authoritarian left.

You are joining a broad and diverse coalition dedicated to one principle: freedom for America. Our leaders include generals of President Bush's secular government as well as fundamentalist Christians.

We are Christian and Jew and atheist, white and black, Anglo and Hispanic, native and immigrant, Democrat and Republican. Though we differ on what kind of future our country should have after liberation and many of us resented Bush, we are fighting side by side because there is no dignity under the brutal and oppressive jackboot of the People's Coalition Provisional Authority headed by the terror-apologist and traitor, Ramsey Clark or their Vichyite lapdogs in the media, the academic community, and the elitist corporate foundations.

Because we destroyed our weapons of mass destruction, we were unable to defend ourselves against Iranian nuclear terrorism.

This was the Left's plan all along.

Now our only option is guerilla warfare: we must kill as many Leftists as possible at a minimum risk to ourselves."

And then there was this charming and oh-so-hilarious essay at IMAO:
So what do we do with these idiots who annoy us?

Mass slaughter you say?

No, though we can easily do that, we need to find solution more tolerant, such as showing them the errors of their ways. …

Carefully Explain the Errors in Their Logic: They think Bush is like Hitler, so show them the difference. Have them wear a sign in front of the Whitehouse saying, "I hate the government." and then have them wear the same sign in some country like Syria. Maybe they'll understand the difference in the moments before death.

The author goes on to explore other methods, such as forcing liberals' hands into a fire, administering shock therapy, breaking their kneecaps, and punching them in the face. Commenters at the site go on to recommend machine-gunning liberals and forcing them into slavery.

As I observed last time, this kind of violent eliminationism is a core component of fascism, especially in the context of Richard Falk's definition of the term as "an ultranationalist ideology that views its enemies -- internally and externally -- as evil and subject to extermination or extreme punishment."

These are not mere jokes. They describe an underlying attitude about the writers' fellow Americans that not only demonizes them, but reduces them to subhuman level, prime targets for violent elimination. The authors may think they are publishing mere jokes, and perhaps in their own minds, they are. But they have a concrete real-world effect -- because inevitably members of their audience (particularly the more hate-filled and mentally unstable types) will eventually act them out. Recall, if you will, that William Pierce often protested that The Turner Diaries was a mere work of fiction; but that did not prevent either Robert Mathews or Timothy McVeigh from attempting to enact its blueprint.

But as Falk also warns, this kind of rhetoric, and the resulting behavior, has a flip side: Hatred inspires hatred, violence inspires counterviolence. Eventually the provocations from conservatives will inspire a response in kind. This means we are treading into extremely dangerous territory.

Contrary to Kusnet's thesis, I think it's clear that Howard Dean's candidacy is an important sign of a healthy response. As Falk puts it:
[I]f the Democratic Party in the United States doesn't elect a candidate who will challenge these policies, I think it would lead an increasing number of people to become disenchanted with normal politics and be more inclined to feel that the only way change can come about is by more extreme political tactics, which in turn would lead the government to feel justified in expanding its powers of control over the citizenry.

Liberals' anger is mounting so rapidly that there is indeed a real danger of it teetering into irrational hatred. This is already beginning to bubble up, and it in fact can be found among commenters on left-leaning blogs (see, for instance, some of the vicious comments catalogued by Keith Berry in his comments after a post about Barbara Bush), though no liberal bloggers have yet waded into Mark Byron, Rottweiler or LGF territory.

Moreover, liberals are now so angry that they are itching for a fight, and will almost certainly pounce on any serious provocation. If violence comes their way, there is certain to be counterviolence.

Somehow, I expect, conservatives and hand-wringing pundits will find a way to blame it all on liberals. And that's all the pretext the Bushites will need.

Anger at Bush is a healthy sign. But liberals must find a way to continue to channel that anger in a constructive direction. If we become haters, like the conservatives who are fomenting violence against us, we ALL will be lost.

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