Saturday, August 23, 2003

Those awful, mean 'Bush haters'

Newspeak and doublethink, the totalitarian "reality control" devices that Orwell described so thoroughly in 1984, don’t always take the form of the simple messages that are common to it: "War Is Peace," "Ignorance Is Strength."

Its underlying principles, after all, are the interposition of two seemingly contradictory ideas or concepts and asserting that they are identical, thereby nullifying their meanings. This concept can apply to whole reconstructions of reality -- particularly in the rewriting of history that contravenes reality and substantive fact, asserting the opposite of that reality to be true, and offering distorted or utterly false evidence in support and asserting that it is true. The most notorious manifestation of this is Holocaust denial and similar forms of historical revisionism. A fairly clear recent example of this is Ann Coulter's attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of Joe McCarthy.

Rich Lowry of The National Review (which, of course, many of us recall was originally a McCarthyite rag closely associated with the John Birch Society) has been proving very adept at this sort of thing lately, which makes him our Newspokesman of the Week for this recent column:
Among the Bush haters

In the 1990s, a few lunatics accused President Clinton of murder and other crimes, leading to the coinage of the phrase "Clinton-hating." Thereafter, anyone who said a discouraging word about Clinton's sex-and-lies scandal, his slipperiness with the truth or his poor performance was tarred as a "Clinton-hater" and considered somehow illegitimate. The charge of Clinton-hating, constantly retailed by the media, became one of the most useful tools of the president's defenders.

Lowry is building on the "Bush haters are worse than Clinton haters" meme that is gaining great popularity among conservatives. Bob Somerby of the incomparable Daily Howler has already ripped a hole in the bow of the meme by demonstrating how Byron York's version of this thesis was built on false data. (Lowry gets dinged for repeating the falsehood.)

I also have to note that Lowry cites the "Bush Body Count" as an example of irrational "Bush hatred," which is probably true enough. But he conveniently neglects to mention that the "Bush Body Count" was directly inspired by (and in fact, at first was a parody of) the infamous "Clinton Body Count" that circulated among the Clinton-hating right for years, and indeed was touted by any number of mainstream conservatives over the years. (More about that in a moment.)

But even more significant is the way Lowry's version of events stands reality on its head. For most of the 1990s, Clinton-hating was an extraordinarily popular cottage industry that enjoyed wide circulation in the mainstream media, particularly on cable TV. And that cottage industry blossomed into the gigantic Republican Wurlitzer that continues to this day to devote the bulk of its energy to attacking liberals. The idea that it was ridiculed or suppressed in any fashion is laughable.

In reality, the people who were ridiculed, and whose views were openly dismissed as unworthy, were the people labeled "Clinton apologists" or "Gore backers." This was particularly the case on political talk shows, both on network and cable TV.

This isn't merely a partisan counter-charge on my part, but is an observation based on substantive experience.

I worked in the Web newsroom on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., from the fall of 1998 though the summer of 2000 as a "writer/producer," which was primarily a production job. I was fairly low on the totem pole -- I was an independent contractor, not an MSNBC employee, and I got shifted around from position to position a great deal, depending on where needs arose. I was a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy who also got stuck on the lovely 10 p.m-6 am shifts quite a bit. Most of my writing work was incidental, or contingent on, my production work -- when there was an earthquake, I'd get, say, the assignment to cobble together a news story on the threat of quakes. The exception came when we'd have some eruption of right-wing violence (e.g., Buford Furrow) and then I was often given a lead role in the reporting. (The stories for which I won the National Press Club Award, "Threat From Within," were purely enterprise work I did mostly on my own time.) In any event, I wasn't one of their prized lead reporters but more of a workaday grunt. It was a great job, to tell the truth.

One of my main jobs as a producer was to watch the cable gabfests and news shows on MSNBC and capture video from snippets that could rerun on the Web site; many of these would appear simply as links within the texts of stories, which clicking upon would bring up a media viewer that would then show the clip. I had a TV on my desk, and it was on at all times, giving me a daylong view of what was being said on cable TV. (I should mention that before this stint, I spent a year in the newsroom of MSN Investor, where a TV tuned mostly to CNBC, which ran its share of political talk shows, and MSNBC was on above my desk at all times too.) I also had to be attuned to what was going on with the other talk and news shows as well, so I was sampling not just MSNBC but CNN and Fox quite a bit too.

I was doing this during the long buildup to the impeachment battle and then the long debate about Clinton that followed, as well as much of the 2000 election campaign. It gave me a pretty close view of what was being said and in what proportions.

What was really remarkable was not merely the proportions of Clinton-bashing compared to his defense, but the venom and volume of it. Across the screen would parade a veritable freak show of people whose entire careers, it seemed, were predicated on destroying the Clintons -- not over policy, mind you, but because they were wretched human beings of low character. (The projection, obviously, wasn't occurring just on the screen.)

It was quite a circus: The late and unlamented Barbara Olson, whose eyes would bulge at every prospect of reminding the audience what awful people the Clintons were. Ann Coulter, who would positively quiver with hatred while ruminating wildly about the Clintons' sex lives. Andrew Sullivan, that esteemed expert in psychiatry, who would render his expert opinion that Clinton was a "sociopath." BobBarr. David Horowitz. John Fund. Kate O'Beirne. A whole parade of lesser lights, all of whom had one thing in common: They could be counted on reliably to attack the Clintons relentlessly and without fear of being accused of being "Clinton haters." And their entire rise to national prominence was built on these attacks.

In the meantime, their liberal counterparts were (with a few notable exceptions, particularly Joe Conason and James Carville) incredibly tepid. The vast majority of so-called liberals were careful to distance themselves from the president and often openly denounced him; it was important, above all, to avoid the label "Clinton defender." Most of the "liberals" who would appear on TV ranged from mushy to downright hostile (e.g., Pat Caddell). The worst of these was probably Margaret Carlson, who mostly could be counted on to eventually agree that the Clinton haters had some merit to their spittle.

And it was interesting to see how producers would select liberal guests for their programs; increasingly, it was those non-"Clinton defenders" who would be invited back; but earning the dreaded label conversely seemed to make it less likely they would reappear.

(I remember particularly one of the liberal co-hosts of the old Bay Buchanan CNBC talk show, Equal Time, a bright young woman named Stephanie Miller. She was funny, fast on her feet and generally good with her facts. She had a real talent for skewering conservatives, including Bay. She didn't last long on the show, and I've never seen her resurface except in limited venues like those she lists on her Web page. She had a show on Oxygen titled "I've Got a Secret," but it appears to be off the air now too.)

This pathological double standard -- a clear abrogation of basic journalistic standards of fairness and at least attempted objectivity -- was common throughout the Beltway press corps, but it was especially transparent on cable-TV gabfests. It continued well after Clinton left office -- and indeed is quite apparent today, except that the equation has reversed into a pathological willingness to parrot the White House party line.

One of the more brazen moments that put this double standard on display for everyone to see came during those months following Clinton's departure from office, when the press corps was all in a frenzy over the phony "scandals" regarding the Clintons' gifts -- which, you may recall, later turned out to be pure ephemera.

On Feb 3, 2001, Howard Kurtz was hosting a panel on his CNN talk show, "Reliable Sources," to talk about the scandals. One of his guests was Josh Marshall, one of my favorite journalists, who'd had the audacity to question whether there was any "there" there to these stories (a line of questioning that later turned out to be exactly on the money).

Here's how Kurtz opened things up (after a long intro touting the scandals):
Josh Marshall, you don't know the extent of damage or vandalism by departing Clinton White House aides, and neither do I. So, in writing in Slate Magazine that the press wildly overplayed this story, it kind of sounds like you're acting as a knee-jerk Clinton defender.

Marshall, of course, turned out to be exactly right. As he explained:
Not at all. I think when I looked at that, when I looked at that story for the first few days, the charges escalated and escalated, more and more things, destruction of property, trash everywhere. And at a certain point, journalists started asking for some actual proof, some pictures, someone to go on the record and actually say this happened. And over and over again Ari Fleischer said, "Well, it's, yes it's true, but we're going to rise above it" and so forth. And at some point, you say, when are we going to get some proof that this happened.

And then Kurtz turned to Chris Caldwell of the Weekly Standard to deliver the coup de grace:
KURTZ: But, Chris Caldwell, do you buy the notion that journalists deliberately pumped-up the story, not just of the pardon, which I think everyone would agree, the Mark Rich pardon, very legitimate news story. But, of the $190,000 in gifts; other presidents took gifts, not at this kind of level, and the story about the prank/destruction of federal property, just because they can't stand Bill and Hillary Clinton and because they wanted to portray them as kind of low-class Arkansas hicks?

CALDWELL: Well, you know, these preconceptions that journalists have are not without a basis in fact. One of my colleagues likes to say ...

KURTZ: So, you're saying they are low-class hicks ...

CALDWELL: Well, yes, one of my colleagues likes to say, "The Golden Rule is that all rumors about the Clintons are true". But I think ...

KURTZ: That's quite a journalistic standard.

CALDWELL: That's why I'm not going to tell you who said it. OK? But, no, I certainly don't think the gift story was pumped-up, because it fits a normal Clinton pattern. People are very interested to know what actually was the China that she got for this? Why don't we know for a fact that she got it from this Borsheims Store (ph) in Nebraska where she is reported to have received it. It'd be nice to know what they're reporting as a $190,000. One would like some assurance that it wasn't bought wholesale.

[Of course, the Borsheims Store story was completely bogus -- and had already been completely debunked the day before by Eric Boehlert in Salon, who a few days later detailed just how widely this simply false story had circulated.]

Was Caldwell a "Clinton hater?" No. Were the people who practiced the "Clinton is always guilty" ethos "Clinton haters?" No. They merely had "quite a standard of journalism." And that was all we heard of that. Meanwhile, Josh Marshall was a "knee-jerk Clinton defender."

[Oh, and in the meantime, did any of these smear artists -- Kurtz, Caldwell, Fox News, the pack journalists who yelped and howled in pursuit of this non-story -- did any of them ever go back on the air later, after it was clear the stories were false and groundless, and correct their errors? Well, no. After all, being Republican means never having to admit you're a liar.]

Of course, as Somerby continues to detail at the incomparable Howler, this is a pathology that remains fully active in the national press -- it has just shifted its emphasis and targets.

Now it is targeting anyone who questions Bush. According to our friends on the right, these aren't people who have real-world policy differences with the president and believe vehemently he needs to be removed from office. No. They're irrational "Bush haters." They're just like the "Clinton haters," only worse.

What do they hate Bush for? As Rich Lowry puts it in his conclusion:
There is a vocal Bush-hating chorus on the left that resents his narrow victory in Florida, that will never forgive him for invading Iraq and that can't stand his cowboy mannerisms. It spreads anti-Bush poison far and wide -- but don't hold your breath for the Time story about "Bushophobia!" For the media, only the right is capable of "hating."

All right -- let's compare these things to some of the charges that were leveled against President Clinton by various mainstream Clinton-haters during his tenure:

-- Clinton was responsible for the fiasco surrounding the 1992 FBI shootings on Ruby Ridge.

The facts: Clinton was not in office until January 1993. The Ruby Ridge standoff occurred on the watch of his predecessor George H.W. Bush. Clinton was in charge when upper-level FBI officials mishandled the investigation of the matter -- but he was also in charge when those officials were caught and punished.

-- Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno, were responsible for the massacre of the Branch Davidians who died at the culmination of the standoff in Waco.

The facts: Though the standoff was planned before Clinton took office, he had been in charge for about a month when the initial assault occurred Feb. 28, 1993 (Reno did not take office as AG until March 11); and were certainly responsible for giving the go-ahead for the assault that produced such horrendous results occurred on April 19. Subsequent investigation of the matter revealed clearly that the fire that swept the Waco compound was indisputably set by the Davidians, almost certainly ordered by leader David Koresh. It was clear that the brute-force-assault plan was a disaster, largely because it had failed to anticipate the intended mass suicide it would spark. However, there was no evidence (despite various doctored videotapes popular among the militia/Patriot right that purported to show otherwise) that federal officials were responsible for setting the fire.

-- Clinton was the nominal leader of the "New World Order," a government conspiracy to subsume American sovereignty under the United Nations and destroy our freedoms.

The facts: This conspiracy theory was the raison d'etre of the Patriot movement, and like most of the material that circulated in that movement, it was entirely fraudulent, drawing in many respects on well-worn anti-Semitic theories about secret cadres of "international bankers" who conspired to rule the world. Nonetheless, it was peddled throughout the mainstream by a broad range of conservative Republicans, including Rep. Bob Barr, Rep. Helen Chenoweth, Sen. Robert Smith and Sen. Jesse Helms. All of these figures, it should be noted, were also prominent Clinton-bashers.

-- Clinton was responsible for a long string of deaths of people who had the misfortune to cross his path.

The facts: Probably everyone with an Internet account in the mid- to late 1990s received, at one time or another, a version of the "Clinton Body Count." And of course, there remain even today a panoply of Web site devoted to circulating this tale. And any number of conservative columnists and TV pundits made passing references to it, lending it further credence. But the "Body Count" has been thoroughly debunked as a fraud many times; the best remains this assessment from Clinton Body Count.

-- Clinton was a rapist.

The facts: This accusation was raised in 1999, after the impeachment fiasco, by an account of a woman named Juanita Broaddrick who said she had been sexually assaulted by Clinton in 1978. She told her account for a writer on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page (after NBC News, which originally interviewed her, sat on the story -- for good reason). The charges gradually evaporated as it became clear that Broaddrick (who had previously filed an affidavit denying any sexual contact with Clinton) was not a reliable witness, and may have had a profit motive for changing her story. The facts of their encounter have never been definitively established, but there is no sound evidence to suggest that any encounter he may have had with Broaddrick was not entirely consensual.

These, of course, are a mere sampling of the afactual rhetorical turds that were flung by the mainstream Clinton-hating right over the years: Clinton's love child. The airport haircut. The Mena drug ring. The White House travel office. Vince Foster's murder. The 'scandalous' pardons. The vandalization of the White House.

All of these things have two things in common: 1) They are flatly untrue, unsupported by facts and evidence, and mostly the products of hysterical hatred. 2) Their purpose is not the least policy-oriented, but dedicated entirely to denigrating Clinton's character and cast him in the most degraded light.

Now, let's return to Lowry's concluding paragraph, in which he delineates three chief attributes of "Bush haters". One of these, that they cannot stand his "cowboy mannerisms," is so thin as to be nonsensical -- while many people have remarked on his anti-intellectualism paired with his frequent abuse of the English language, these have little to do with his "cowboy" stylings or manner. Being from the West myself, this has never been a part of what Bush has done to rub me wrong, other than that I've been well trained in spotting phony cowboys, and Bush is transparently one. Nor have I seen anyone, on the blogosphere or elsewhere, much discussing Bush's cowboy ways. (I have seen a lot of references to smirking chimps and AWOL fliers, but Lowry seems not to have noticed those.)

Lowry's two other attributes, however, appear commonly in descriptions of "Bush haters":

-- They despise him for having "won" in Florida.

-- They cannot forgive him for invading Iraq.

Both of these, of course, are incomplete descriptions, but let's examine them:

-- What "Bush haters" despise Bush for having done was having stolen the election through hardball tactics and the collusion of a partisan Supreme Court. Most of these Bush haters believe, with perfectly good cause, that Gore actually won the Florida vote. This is because a hand recount of all legally cast ballots in Florida, conducted by a consortium of news organizations, did in fact show him to be the winner; moreover, the Palm Beach butterfly ballots are estimated to have cost Gore at least another 20,000 votes; all in all, it is clear that the will of the majority of voters in Florida on election was to elect Gore. Moreover, it was the will of the majority of the American people that Gore be president; he won the popular vote by over half a million ballots.

Thus Bush's installment in the White House represented, for the first time in over a hundred years and only the second time in history, that a president came to office against the express will of a majority of the nation's voters. Nor is it even clear that he properly won the Electoral College vote; the Florida hand recount clearly suggests otherwise. Many, many people consider this theft of the election one of the most egregious assaults on basic democratic principles in the nation's history -- and again, with reasonable cause.

-- "Bush haters" opposed the war in Iraq because they did not believe the threat presented by Saddam Hussein warranted the all-out invasion of a sovereign nation -- something America had never done on its own before. They did not believe the evidence the president and his minions presented was either substantive or credible. And guess what? They were right.

Now the "Bush haters" are angry because it has become increasingly transparent that the administration misled the public into supporting a war that was both unnecessary and which has now exposed us to greater threats from increased terrorism, not to mention that which faces our sitting-duck soldiers in Iraq.

Lowry's list is rather short, though, so let me add a few other common beliefs among "Bush haters":

-- He is a walking disaster area for environmental policy.

-- He is a menace to our civil liberties.

-- He has harmed, not enhanced, our national security.

-- He has turned a historic surplus into a historic deficit and turned the most vibrant economy in history into one of the worst since the Depression.

-- He has numerous dalliances with unsavory corporate crooks who have managed to wreck whole corporations with irresponsible behavior and emerge scot-free.

-- He has tried to hide behind the events of Sept. 11 to excuse his poor economic performance (see the notorious "trifecta" joke) and has openly exploited the war to boost his chances of re-election (see the USS Lincoln landing).

None of these beliefs, whether on Lowry's list or mine, are founded in half-baked conspiracy theories. They are based in reported facts that are not in dispute. The only contention is in the interpretation of those facts. Moreover, every one of these beliefs revolves around policy and civic institutions -- they are not personal attacks aimed at impugning Bush's character. (There is only one common trait among Bush-haters that meets this description -- namely, their fondness for "Bushisms" and other ways of depicting him as stupid. It is a short-sighted and shallow view, but not particularly hateful, nor in the least delusional.)

Contrast this, then, with the accusations inveighed by Clinton-haters -- all of which were utterly without foundation and predicated on vicious smears and wild accusations, and all of which were about the Clintons' personal characters, not about their policies or their abilities at conducting it.

Like the Clinton-haters, "Bush haters" think his presidency is illegitimate. The difference, however, is that the "Bush haters" have rational grounds for claiming that. Clinton-haters argued that Clinton was "illegitimate" because he only won a plurality of the popular vote; however, after 2000, they stopped arguing that point. Funny, that.

What may surprise these conservatives -- as well as the DLC types like Al From who preach a nice, spineless brand of Democratic activism -- is that "Bush haters" don't really hate Bush. Oh, some do. But most are simply very angry at the fact that he holds the office, and are determined to see him removed.

They don't necessarily think Bush is despicable. They believe he is incompetent.

They don't think Bush is a Nazi or a 'New World Order' conspirator. But they do believe he is manifestly unfit for office.

In 2004, guys like Rich Lowry will learn the meaning of that difference -- and why it matters to millions of middle-of-the-road, perfectly centrist "Bush haters."

Because reality has a nasty habit of biting back at the people who think they can control it.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Bad blood on the border

A disturbing story that shows the problem of border militias in Arizona is getting worse all the time:
Men With Guns
Churches, human rights groups, border crossers, and civilian militias are mixing it up on the U.S.-Mexico border

"People were already being harassed by the Border Patrol, and now things have gotten even worse," says Jennifer Allen of the Tucson-based Border Action Network. Mexican Americans born and raised in the United States, she says, "used to go out hunting or hiking, but they've been dragged out of their tents and harassed to such a degree that they don't go out of the city anymore. And now these vigilantes are out there with the attitude that if you're brown and out in the desert, you must be an undocumented migrant. So even the residents are in danger because the vigilante groups are bringing people in that are racist and hunting for anyone with brown skin."

Border Action Network asserts that some militia members have openly consorted with out-of-state representatives of racist groups. One public meeting in May 2000 was attended not only by such local militia backers as Roger Barnett and Glenn Spencer, but also by two representatives from David Duke's National Organization for European American Rights and members of an Arkansas Klan group.

In the meantime, the debate rages over whether or not MEChA is racist. As if that were where the problem lay.

I'll weigh in on that issue again next week.

More on the Transmission Belt

I have to admit that at times I've wondered if I've wandered too far out onto a limb with the issues I tried to examine in "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism," especially the extent to which I think proto-fascist memes circulate into the mainstream.

Of course, even bringing this topic up among conservatives provokes the usual distortions and strawman questions: "What you're really saying is that Republicans are secretly fascist, aren't you?" Well, no: I specifically say they are not -- they are corporatists. However, the GOP, by giving wide play to a variety of extremist ideas and talking points, is quickly gaining within its ranks an extremist faction that is growing in power and influence. And that is creating the conditions that can create a genuine fascism.

Part of my problem is that I haven't really seen anyone else saying this much, other than those bloggers who have picked up on "Rush" and expanded on it, much to my delight and gratitude.

Well, this week I found at least one voice of confirmation. I suppose it's unsurprising that it comes from someone whose work influenced my thinking (and someone I quote extensively in the essay, in fact), Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates. Chip has a great piece in this month's edition of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report:
Into the Mainstream:
An array of right-wing foundations and think tanks support efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable

Are black people inherently less intelligent and more prone to criminality than whites? Are Catholics incapable of self-government? Did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 strip Americans of their freedoms? Does a tiny cabal of Jewish families control international banking? Do interracial relationships have the effect of weakening both races? Are there natural ruling elites who should be governing society?

These are the kinds of ideas that are being popularized today.

How do ideas that once were denounced as racist, bigoted, unfair, or just plain mean-spirited get transmitted into mainstream discussions and political debates? Through a wide array of political and social networks. Such networks are a robust part of democracy in action, and include media outlets, think tanks, pressure groups, funders and leaders. In the 1960s, for example, networks based in churches and on college campuses mobilized people to support civil rights legislation. But it is important to remember that backlash movements also formed to oppose equality. In the 1950s and 1960s, segregationists and white supremacists mobilized to block the demands of the civil rights movement.

Today, there are still political and social networks that seek to undermine full equality for all Americans. Their messages are spread using the standard tools: prejudice, fear, disdain, misinformation, trivialization, patronizing stereotypes, demonization and even scare-mongering conspiracy theories. While many of the groups within these networks describe themselves as mainstream -- and many disagree with one another -- they all have helped spread bigoted ideas into American life.

Chip goes on to enumerate just who these transmitters are, particularly in the think-tank industry. It's far more complete than anything I attempted in "Rush," and thus really invaluable.

What's also worth noting is that this entire issue of Intelligence Report is dedicated primarily to this problem. There is a broad array of stories tackling various aspects of it:
Hate for Sale:
Beneath the radar screen of mainstream society, a commercial subculture of hate is flourishing

Reframing the Enemy:
'Cultural Marxism,' a conspiracy theory with an anti-Semitic twist, is being pushed by much of the American right

In Sheep's Clothing:
Around the country, radical right groups are staging 'European' festivals in a bid to draw ethnic whites into the movement

I was up all night reading this. It's compelling -- and another stack of evidence that the problem is worsening. Kudos to Mark Potok and crew.

What a mess

There's a reason I shouldn't be blogging right now: I'm spreading myself a bit thin, since the deadline for the book I'm writing (Sept. 1) fast approaches. But there are issues hitting the news that I feel compelled to stay on top of, even so. I'm still doing a lot of reading, not all of it well -- and sometimes my posts reflect it.

A good example is my post yesterday about the gigantic flustercuck that the war in Iraq is fast becoming, drawn largely from analysis by my friend Paul de Armond, aka Warbaby at World in Conflict. The thrust was accurate, but some of my conclusions were way off.

Paul weighs in with a useful corrective today:
Polycentric Iraqi Nationalism

Anyone grasping for a single convenient handle on the Iraqi resistance is going to have a small piece of a big problem. The resistance movement behind the growing turmoil is a welter of competing and conflicting factions. ...

Saddam Hussein's tyranical Baathist regime was more like a giant organized crime family than a government. What we are now seeing is a transnational gang war for the spoils of Iraq.

Saddam may have planned for a resistance before the invasion, but after setting the juggernaut in motion he is now in hiding. As was the case with his sons, Hussein's big problem right now is staying out of sight. The notion that he would expose himself to death or capture by serving as centralized command and control node in a resistance network is the least likely of all possible circumstances.

Paul gives a nice rundown of some of the various factions that are now converging on Iraq and our sitting-duck military. It isn't pretty. Go read.

None of this, by the way, negates my suggestion of historic parallels to the First Anglo-Afghan War -- in some ways, it more closely resembles that scenario.

Incidentally, I'm not sure that I agree with Paul that getting out of Iraq summarily may not be "a bad idea." I think it is a bad idea. It's just that the alternatives may be much, much worse.

Rush, Newspeak and Fascism

[Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, and XI. See my explanatory note.]

XII: Divine Transmissions

The fundamentalist right and the extremist right have always done a certain amount of commingling -- witness, for example, Pat Robertson's "New World Order" skirmish, and the white-hot rhetoric over abortion. And since the early 1980s, conservative Christians have had an explicit alliance with the secular corporatist right; Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush represented this latter bloc, and their alliance with the Christian right was as much tactical as heartfelt.

Not so the presidency of George W. Bush. While secular neoconservatives are in charge of Bush's foreign policy, on domestic policy the Christian right has been almost completely in charge, beginning with Attorney General John Ashcroft's numerous assaults on individual and privacy rights, and running through the Ted Olson-led White House, which has endorsed attacks on everything from affirmative action to the Miranda ruling. Most of all, Bush himself has given his own fundamentalist beliefs an extraordinarily high profile -- to the point that fundamentalists' very beliefs are now identified with the president's agenda.

This is strange, if you think about it. If you look up and down the roster of the Bush administration, what's clear is that it is dominated by corporatists. And when you look at the Bush agenda -- from tax policy to "corporate reform" to media ownership to environmental policy to the war in Iraq -- nearly every aspect of it is controlled by corporate interests. This is disquieting enough; after all, the historical record is clear on one thing: When fascism has succeed at Paxton's "second stage," it has done so through an explicit alliance with the mainstream corporatist right.

A couple of readers wrote in to point out that Mussolini himself described fascism thus:
"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism, because it is a merger of State and corporate power."

Of course, this is a typically self-serving (for Il Duce) and incomplete definition of fascism; the alliance between fascism and corporatism was essential to Mussolini's success, and he liked to flatter himself as a kind of captain of industry. Though this alliance was indeed vital, fascism in fact was a complex phenomenon that drew its animating force from its claims to represent a true national identity. Nonetheless, as Matthew Davis wrote in an e-mail:
Any reasonable definition of 'fascism' should incorporate a corporatist component -- both Mussolini and Franco (and certainly Hitler, who's not really a pure Fascist) were big on running their country for the benefit of corporate elites, at the expense of labor (sound familiar?). They occupied a grey area where industry wasn't the direct property of the state, but maintained a hand-in-glove symbiosis. The U.S. under Bush isn't quite as tight with industry, but it ain't that far off, either.

This argument, however, also demonstrates the limits of identifying corporatism with fascism. While the Bush regime is devotedly corporatist, it is only in the way it circulates and traffics in fascist memes and Newspeak that it resembles anything fascist. There is so far none of the strict and brutal authoritarianism or police-state tactics that also typify fascist regimes. Perhaps most telling at this stage of things is the extent to which it resorts to thuggery and street violence, or any of the other tactics of threatening intimidation that are associated with genuine fascism -- which so far is not to any great or really appreciable degree. That may, however, be changing.

Of course, the identifiable proto-fascist element in America -- the Patriot/militia movement and associated manifestations of right-wing extremism, especially anti-abortion extremists -- often favors such tactics. And unfortunately, the Bush campaign's apparent alliance with some of these thuggish elements in the Florida debacle indicates that, when push comes to shove, they may be precisely the kind of corporatists who wouldn't hesitate a moment to form an alliance with, and unleash the latent violence of, the Patriots and their ilk. When that occurs, real fascism will have arrived.

Much of this proto-fascist element, particularly the disillusioned former militia Patriots, clearly identifies with Bush now and could be considered fully part of the Republican electorate, instead of the maverick Reform Party-type voters they may have been eight years ago. The extent to which this identification deepens in the coming years, and the ends to which it is directed, may well determine whether or not proto-fascism blossoms further inside the mainstream, or is merely further dissipated.

It is clear that it is already deepening in the administration's response to the antiwar protests, and its seeming encouragement of "pro war" responses which simultaneously attacked the antiwar demonstrations. However, there have been no overt signs of an alliance with these elements yet, beyond their sometimes sponsorship by the Bush-connected Clear Channel Communications.

What is most disturbing, however, about the Bush administration, is not merely its devout corporatism, but the way in which it uses religion in the service of the corporatist agenda. It does so in a way that explicitly identifies the Bush agenda with God's, and suggests that Bush's every step is divinely inspired. Bush asks his followers to stick with him as an act of faith -- he's a good man with good advisors and he prays and he's not Clinton, so he must be right.

Consider, if you will, the following item from Harper's July 2003:
From "A Christian's Duty in Time of War," a pamphlet published by In Touch Ministries. The pamphlet exhorts its readers to pray for President Bush and to "consider fasting as you beseech the Lord" on his behalf. Thousands of the pamphlets were distributed by unknown persons to U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

MONDAY: Pray that the President and his advisers will be strong and courageous and do what is right, regardless of critics.

TUESDAY: Pray that the President and his advisers will have the unified support of the American people as well as that of other countries around the world.

WEDNESDAY: Pray that the President, his advisers, and their families will be safe, healthy, well rested, and free from fear.

THURSDAY: Pray that the President and his advisers will be successful in their mission and that world peace will be realized.

FRIDAY: Pray that the President and his advisers will recognize their divine appointment and will govern accordingly in compassion, mercy, and truth.

SATURDAY: Pray that the President his advisers will remember to keep their eyes on Almighty God and be mindful that He is in control.

SUNDAY: Pray that the President and his advisers will seek God and His wisdom daily and not rely on their own understanding.

Then there were the reports that came leaking out of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Crystal City, Va., in late January 2003, like the Salon article that offered the following description:
It was like a right-wing version of a Workers World rally, with one crucial difference. Workers World is a fringe group with no political power. CPAC is explicitly endorsed by people running the country. Its attendees are Bush's shock troops, the ones who staged the white-collar riot during the Florida vote count and harassed Al Gore in the vice presidential mansion. Bush may not want to embrace them in public, but they are crucial to his political success and he has let them know, in hundreds of ways, that their mission is his.

Rev. Lou Sheldon, the founder of the Traditional Values Coalition and sworn enemy of homosexuality, put it best. Asked if Bush was in sync with his agenda, he replied, "George Bush is our agenda!"

It's important to note what the atmosphere was like at the CPAC gathering, especially as a barometer of the conservative agenda. The Clinton-hate remains palpable and is an important trigger topic, but the focus has shifted to two topics: first, the utter demonization of all things liberal, with a rising quota of eliminationist rhetoric:
At a Thursday seminar titled "2002 and Beyond: Are Liberals an Endangered Species?" Paul Rodriguez, managing editor of the conservative magazine Insight, warned that the liberal beast wouldn't be vanquished until conservatives learn to be merciless. "One thing Democrats have long known how to do is play hardball," he intoned, urging Republicans to adopt more "bare-knuckle" tactics.

(Evidently, they've only been playing tiddly-winks up to this point.)

But the other dominating theme, of course, was an exaltation of all things Bush, with a heavy emphasis on the Christian aspect of his "character" and the clear implication of divine Providence in his presidency.

CPAC is an important conjunction of the mainstream and extremist right, so it's very instructive to see the commingling of ideologies at its gathering under a fundamentalist umbrella. Back when I was posting on the conference earlier, a skeptical reader wrote to pose a pertinent question:
My secretary took a couple of days off last week to go to the CPAC convention and she's not particularly religious, not a theocrat by any means or Patriot-type, just a mainstream conservative, so I am more than a little confused by your claims about CPAC.

This is, of course, the entire point: Gatherings like CPAC give a broad range of extremists, posing as ordinary Joes or Limbaughite loudmouths, the opportunity to spread their radical ideas among the whole sector of mainstream conservatism. Unassuming conservatives go to these gatherings and come away at least exposed to, if not outright converted to, some of these extremist beliefs. That's how these ideas eventually gain circulation among the broader population, often dressed up in a nice Republican cloth coat.

Next came Bush's relatively mundane appearance before the National Religious Broadcasters in which he touted his "faith-based initiatives." What was noteworthy was that at the same conference, the NRB's president, Glenn Plummer, delivered a scathing attack on Islam, denouncing it as a "pagan religion" -- which is the kind of talk the Bush team has, up till now, done an admirable job of countering. (Recall that Bush chastised both Falwell and Robertson for similar loose talk in early December.) After all, much of the president's war coalition depends upon Islamic allies, and moreover, an Islam-vs.-West cultural conflict is precisely the trap Osama bin Laden has laid for us. But Plummer's remarks received neither rebuke nor demurral from the White House.

Then there have been a spate of stories describing Bush's religiosity, notably one from the Baltimore Sun, "Christ-centered course of faith-based president worries some":
At the same time, Bush's stepped-up efforts to express his faith coincide with a White House drive to court religious conservatives in advance of the president's 2004 re-election campaign.

The president's top political adviser, Karl Rove, has concluded up to 4 million Christian conservatives who probably would have voted for Bush instead stayed home in the 2000 election. Rove said a year ago that "we have to spend a lot of time and energy" drawing them back into politics.

Of course, this is not the first sign of Bush's predilection for seeing himself in a messianic light. A February 2003 piece in The Progressive, "Bush's Messiah Complex," tackles the subject directly.
That Bush believes he was assigned the Presidency from on high comes through in another passage of [former speechwriter David] Frum's book. After Bush's September 20, 2001, speech to Congress, Gerson called up the President to compliment him: "Mr. President, when I saw you on television, I thought--God wanted you there," Gerson said, according to Frum.

"He wants us all here, Gerson," the President responded, according to Frum.

It's clear that not only does Bush see himself as a man on a divine mission, but he actively cultivates this view of his importance among his staff. Moreover, the White House similarly promotes this image to the public, particularly among conservative Christians.

It's important to note that the White House has been very secretive about the nature of Bush's relationship with the religious right. Indeed, his pre-election overtures to the fundamentalists were specifically kept under wraps. It was something that should have been noticed and uncovered at the time, but everyone was too busy unearthing Al Gore "lies."

I'm thinking specifically of Skipp Porteous' work at the (apparently now-defunct) Institute for First Amendment Studies. Skipp attempted to find out just what Bush was saying at one of the meetings where many of us suspect he was promising to carry out their agenda once elected -- specifically, a meeting of the Council for National Policy in 1999:
To find out what the Republican candidate for president had to say to such a group, the Institute for First Amendment Studies (IFAS) ordered a set of audiotapes of the sessions. Using an approach that had worked several times in the past – tapes are available to members only – the tapes finally arrived, sans the Bush speech.

IFAS contacted Skynet Media, the recording company hired to record CNP meetings. IFAS then learned that it wasn't the fanatically secretive CNP that decided to delete the Bush tape from the package – the deletion was done on direct order from the Bush campaign. When asked if they actually have the Bush tape, Skynet spokesperson Curt Morse said, "We do," and also noted it wasn't available at any price.

When asked about Bush's speech at CNP, Scott Sforca, a press officer for the George W. Bush for President campaign office, claimed that the meeting "doesn't ring a bell" with him.

When contacted by The New York Times, CNP executive director Blackwell put it as follows: "[T]he Bush entourage said they preferred that the tape[s] not go out, though I could not see any reason why they shouldn't." Blackwell claims that it was a standard speech that he had heard before and since.

Ari Fleischer, a Bush campaign spokesman, told The Times that if anyone was "hoping to hear something that the governor would say that he hasn't said publicly, then they're on a wild goose chase." Fleischer declined to characterize the speech, but said, "When we go to meetings that are private, they remain private." He added, "As far as we know, there is no tape."

Of course, any reporter worth their salt would recognize that Fleischer is baldly lying. If it's only a mundane speech, then what's the secrecy? Why not just let journalists listen to it?

[Sure. I know the answer. The same one you get to the question: Why doesn't he just release his military records?]

The sum of all this identification of Bush with a Divine Agenda -- which has reached such heights that now conservative Christians are even organizing fasts for Bush -- is especially troubling in light of the presence of a proto-fascist element within the ranks of those who openly and avidly support him. While Bush himself may not be charismatic in any kind of classic sense, his adoption of this image may be an effective substitute for rallying a fanatical following -- one which is all too willing to discard of such niceties as free speech and constitutional rights in the name of homeland security -- in a time of war.

This was driven home during the run-up to the Iraq war, especially as the rhetoric identifying antiwar dissent as "treason" has reached new levels, as has the open use of thuggery to silence dissent.

The essence of this mindset was described for me by reader John Burns of Raleigh, N.C., in an excellent letter in which he outlined the concept of "a law beyond the law":
As an attorney, precision in language is, of course, of paramount importance, and accusations of fascism which all too easily fly back and forth do very little to advance reasoned debate.

Nevertheless, there are ominous signs of, if not fascism, then something very closely approximating it. I came across the quotation below in an article in the Fall 2002 issue of Litigation magazine, written by Robert Aiken, called 'Hans Frank: Hitler's Lawyer.'

"The article concerns the gradual perversion of German Law during the 30s, driven by Hitler and Frank, from a Civil Code based system to one based on the Will of the Fuhrer above all else. What is interesting are the parallels in this statement of the nature of Reich law and the principles put forth by the Christian Reconstructionists who populate the right wing, the Federalist Society and now, more and more, our courts. I think the key element is the idea of a law beyond the law. Here's the passage, which Aiken takes from Noakes & Pridham, Documents on Nazism (1975).

National Socialism substitutes for the conception of formal wrong the idea of factual wrong: it considers every attack on the welfare of the national community, every violation of the requirement of the life of a nation as wrong. In [the] future, therefore, wrong may be committed in Germany even in cases where there is nothing (no written law) against what is being done. Even without the threat of punishment, every violation of the goals towards which the community is striving is wrong per se. As a result, the law gives up all claim to be the sole source for determining right and wrong. What is right may be learned not only from the law but also from the concept of justice which lies behind the law and may not have found perfect expression in the law.

Compare this with the remarks of John Ashcroft at Bob Jones University on January 12, 2001:

"There's a difference between a culture that has no king but Caesar, no standard but the civil authority, and a culture that has no king but Jesus, no standard but the eternal authority. When you have no king but Caesar, you release Barabbas -- criminality, destruction, thievery, the lowest and least. When you have no king but Jesus, you release the eternal, you release the highest and best, you release virtue, you release potential.

"It is not accidental that America has been the home of the brave and the land of the free, the place where mankind has had the greatest of all opportunities, to approach the potential that God has placed within us. It has been because we knew that we were endowed not by the king, but by the Creator, with certain unalienable rights. If America is to be great in the future, it will be if we understand that our source is not civic and temporal, but our source is godly and eternal. Endowed by the Creator with rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I thank God for this institution and for you, who recognize and commit yourselves to the proposition that we were so created, and that to live with respect to the Creator promises us the greatest potential as a nation and as individuals. And for such we must reacquaint ourselves daily with His call upon our lives."

Of course, the ideal behind the law in Germany was found only in the pronouncements of the Fuhrer, who, Frank came to believe, was divinely chosen for his role. Perhaps in that paragraph can be found a definition of fascism -- the equation of the will of the leader (or the party) with law and the organizing of society around that central principle. This of course leads one to wonder from where Ashcroft and the Christian Reconstructionists would divine the "higher law." From all appearances, I would say it is from their own interpretation of the Bible. God must have divinely chosen them to pronounce the true law. A scarier prospect one can hardly imagine.

Frank, incidentally, was executed at Nuremburg, but not before salvaging some honor by admitting to his crimes and to the crimes of the Nazis. He is quoted in the trial transcripts as stating that "a thousand years shall pass and still Germany's guilt will not have been erased."

This very concept -- that the law must accede to a higher authority -- is now being circulated by none other than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The upshot is that the Supreme Court itself is in danger of aligning itself explicitly with the open use of such thuggery as may be necessary to maintain power.

The main evidence lies within a May 2002 piece by Scalia, "God's Justice and Ours," that appeared in First Things. Particularly startling was this:
These passages from Romans represent the consensus of Western thought until very recent times. Not just of Christian or religious thought, but of secular thought regarding the powers of the state. That consensus has been upset, I think, by the emergence of democracy. It is easy to see the hand of the Almighty behind rulers whose forebears, in the dim mists of history, were supposedly anointed by God, or who at least obtained their thrones in awful and unpredictable battles whose outcome was determined by the Lord of Hosts, that is, the Lord of Armies. It is much more difficult to see the hand of God—or any higher moral authority—behind the fools and rogues (as the losers would have it) whom we ourselves elect to do our own will. How can their power to avenge—to vindicate the "public order"—be any greater than our own?"

And this:
The mistaken tendency to believe that a democratic government, being nothing more than the composite will of its individual citizens, has no more moral power or authority than they do as individuals has adverse effects in other areas as well. It fosters civil disobedience, for example, which proceeds on the assumption that what the individual citizen considers an unjust law—even if it does not compel him to act unjustly—need not be obeyed. St. Paul would not agree. "Ye must needs be subject," he said, "not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake." For conscience sake. The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible. [Emphasis mine]

As Dave Johnson of the Commonweal Institute correctly suggests, "Scalia appears to think that the way to identify legitimate God-chosen leaders is when they seize power in conflict, demonstrating that God chose them over others." Scalia's formula invites all kinds of mischief, including particularly the overthrow of democracy itself. Notably, Scalia reveals an open hostility to democracy anyway when he contends that it tends "to obscure the divine authority behind government." One indeed wonders if Scalia has read the Declaration of Independence, which enumerated one of the basic principles of American democracy, namely, that "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Under the legal theory Scalia now seems to advocate, a Bush administration that saw itself on a divine mission might find some justification for refusing to relinquish the reins of power to a Democratic election winner in 2004. With the backing of Patriot thugs who shout down political dissenters, and a devotedly pro-Bush military, it would not be hard to imagine who would be most likely to lay claim to being the "hand of God" and thereby winning Scalia's proclamation as the nation's true ruler, mere democracy notwithstanding.

This is not to suggest that such an unthinkable scenario is being plotted by the administration. But when the rhetoric starts inviting thuggery, the equation changes dramatically. And events have a way of piling upon themselves inevitably. After all, who could have foreseen the sequence that brought us Bush v. Gore?

That ruling was, in many ways, a harbinger, in that it represented a similar capitulation to thuggish, proto-fascist elements. Recall, if you will, that it is a unique ruling in that it has virtually no defenders or supporters outside of a tiny clique centered around the arguments offered by Richard Posner. And the essence of Posner's defense of Bush v. Gore is that, yes, legally it may have been a thoroughly unsound ruling, but the court was acting in a practical sense by settling the election decisively, because otherwise incipient social chaos threatened. It was, you see, justice, not the law.

As it happened, the only sector of the country that was likely at the time to enact any widespread social chaos was the extremist right -- the same Freepers and Patriots who are now threatening to string up anyone who questions the Divinely Inspired President's war plans. In contrast, the left proved thoroughly subdued enough to settle back and live with a Bush administration.

Of course, that's the way it works when you're busy achieving justice above the law. That's because it's divine justice.

Next: Fascism and fundamentalism

Thursday, August 21, 2003

The Brownshirt Barbie strikes again

While I've been re-running the "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism" series,, it's become clear that I already need to update the chapter dealing with Ann Coulter and her prominent role as a "transmitter" of extremist memes into the mainstream -- something I've been tracking the past couple of months but haven't had the time to blog about.

During that time -- particularly with the release of her new book, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism -- she has shifted into a completely new realm, one in which the ideas and agenda she represents are unabashedly drawn from the extremist American right. (As usual, the book is also replete with crass falsehoods, bizarre distortions, documentation that contradicts the text, and sweeping generalizations. See Brendan Nyhan's thorough debunking at Spinsanity for more details.)

Of course, this extremism is present in the very title -- as well as the overriding theme of the book -- in that Coulter paints a portrait that presents well over half the population of the country, including many who have sacrificed their lives and well-being in the defense of the nation, as outright traitors. This is the kind of rhetorical thuggery that has raised itself in America on a few select occasions -- all of them associated with fascist and proto-fascist politics -- and its broad acceptance is a disturbing indication of the direction the national political dialogue is taking.

Her outright celebration of extremist memes is particularly pronounced in one well-remarked facet of Coulter's thesis: Her attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of Joseph McCarthy. She paints the Tailgunner as a true-blue red-blooded American who fought the dirty Commies tooth and nail and was crucified for doing so.

To say that this flies in the face of history's judgment -- that McCarthy was a far-right demagogue who exploited a false patriotism to smear political opponents and ride a wave of hysteria to power -- is putting it kindly. Indeed, Coulter is attempting to revise history with an overt abuse of facts and logic that is derived, stylistically and thematically, from the Holocaust revisionism of the Institute for Historical Review.

Moreover, the attempt to rehabilitate McCarthy's reputation has long been a favored theme of the extremist right. John Welch founded the John Birch Society specifically as an attempt to carry on McCarthy's torch. The JBS' McCarthy rehabilitation efforts have continued to this day. McCarthy has continued to be a hero to these even farther right than the Birchers. I used to see a book titled, I think, The Taming of Tailgunner Joe for sale on tables at militia meetings and through the Identity-based Christian Patriot Association; it was an attempt to tie in the "smearing" of McCarthy with the rise of the so-called "Holocaust hoax."

Now Ann has underscored that extremism, in another interview with her favorite extremist-meme co-transmitter, the New York Observer's George Gurley:
My Dinner With Ann

"... They’re squealing like mad, but it’s too late—I’ve redeemed Joe McCarthy, it’s done. People give me Joe McCarthy T-shirts, there’s going to be a Joe McCarthy doll, there’s another Joe McCarthy book coming out. It’s over."

If Coulter is right -- and I doubt it, given that any number of conservatives have denounced her ahistorical and afactual "rehabilitation" job -- then the nation is in serious trouble. A return of the McCarthyist ethos would mean the very real empowerment of the extremist right in America.

Even if she is wrong, there is little doubt that her tirades -- and her continued high profile in the broadcast and print media as a spokesman for the conservative movement -- have pushed mainstream conservatism even farther to the right.

I observed previously, at the outset of the "Rush" essay," that one of the best ways to discern the underlying agenda of conservatives is to examine what they accuse liberals of planning. And Ann, of course, provides us with a startlingly clear example:
"Oh, they will never be able to say that," she said. "If we lose, and the liberals are running gulags, concentration camps and madrassas, and the re-education counselors are teaching the history -- that is the only circumstance in which a liberal will ever be able to say, ‘We were right and you were wrong.’ No, they are wrong about everything …. They are working ferociously to undermine America."

Projection: It's not just for movie theaters anymore.

[A tip o' the Hatlo Hat to Maia Cowan for the last line.]

The War in Iraq has only just begun

The truck bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Iraq this week underscored a fact that has been becoming increasingly clear:

The war in Iraq, as both Saddam Hussein and the White House have said, is not over. Indeed, the prospect of a long, drawn-out and bloody conflict costing hundreds if not thousands of American, Iraqi and peacekeepers' lives looms darker on the horizon every day.

World In Conflict had an incisive post on this last week:
Thinking about the Iraqi resistance

We now have sufficient information start drawing some conclusions about the Iraqi resistance to U.S. occupation. It's a mess. It's been a mess ever since the Iraqi National Congress became a front for U.S. policy interests. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. The sad thing is the facts were all out in plain sight -- but U.S. intelligence and military establishments were too busy playing up to domestic political interests to do their job in an honest and workmanlike manner. Shrewd.

Paul de Armond, aka Warbaby, goes on to explore the chronology of the resistance so far. What his analysis reveals is that the Iraqi resistance may well not be the amorphous, uncoordinated product of remaining pockets of Ba'athists -- but rather, it may be only the beginning of protracted guerrilla conflict being coordinated by Saddam himself. This casts Saddam's videotaped warning of July [see link above] in entirely different, and decidedly ominous, light.

One of the key points to remember is the ease with which American forces took Baghdad and conquered the fleeing remnants of Saddam's army -- even at the time, many in the military thought this was "surprising." What has become self-evident since then is that it will be impossible to guard both the power lines and the pipelines that are essential to getting Iraq back up and running.

The picture of conflict that is beginning to emerge now suggests that this may have been Hussein's strategy all along: Draw the invaders in and let them believe they have conquered easily. Spread out and hide your forces. Then begin a steady trickle of guerrilla warfare. Attack the infrastructure, which will force the invaders to spread out their forces and thin them. When they become vulnerable, distracted and complacent, strike back and drive them out.

This is not a fantasy scenario: It has occurred before in the Arab world:
The Retreat from Kabul

Almost 17,000 people left the cantonment that dark day. About 700 were Europeans, both soldiers and civilians, another 3,800 were Indian soldiers and more than 12,000 camp followers.

Exactly one man survived.

Oh, and has anyone noticed that things aren't exactly going so well in Afhanistan, either?

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Rush, Newspeak and Fascism

[Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X. See my explanatory note.]

XI: Dualist Receivers

So far, when talking about the "receivers" who compose the audience of the various "transmitters" of extremist memes into the mainstream, I've mainly focused on the mainstream Republicans who make up the mass of the conservative movement in America.

But as I've explained, these "transmissions" are two-way affairs, sending messages to both the mainstream and the extremists from whose worldview the memes are drawn: namely, that their formerly unacceptable beliefs are gaining acceptance. It essentially invites them to move into the mainstream without having to change their views.

And so for the past decade and more -- and particularly in the past three years -- mainstream conservatism has increasingly become home to a variety of right-wing extremists. Conservatives uniformly reject this reality, arguing that their party is not home to a bunch of wild-eyed lunatics; it's the home of tax-paying, churchgoing, job-holding, productive members of society.

One of the real problems with coming to grips with the right-wing extremists, in fact, is the public image that has grown up around them for the past half-century, but driven home in the militiaman stereotype of the 1990s: A half-educated, beer-swilling, Bible-thumping, child-beating, dentistry-challenged, gun-loving lunatic with both eyes rattling around in his head and a steady stream of hate foaming out of his mouth. Not to mention all those visions of black helicopters dancing in his head.

I have attended a lot of militia and Patriot meetings over the years, and this wasn't what I found at all. In my experience, the average militia member is a person who very much keeps all the appearances of being a mainstream player in society (as contrasted with, say, the skinheads and neo-Nazis, who more closely fit the description). Most of them are reasonably well educated. A large number of them are veterans. Most of the rest are agrarian or blue-collar workers with families. They all pay their taxes (unless they've been drawn in deeply by one of the tax-protest schemes) and vote and attend church.

The false stereotype is built on a sociological approach to these groups, called "centrist/extremist theory," developed in the 1950s that actually is now largely discredited among sociologists. This theory basically held that these "fringe" groups represented a constituency of largely uneducated classes who were grossly disenfranchised due to this fact, thus leading to their radicalism; their status also ensured that they would remain outside the realm of the mainstream. Well, subsequent data collected through the 1970s and 1980s began to demonstrate the weakness of this model; contrary to its prediction, surveys of "Christian Patriots" found that on average they were better educated than the population at large, and many of these groups' members actually prove to be highly educated and some of better-than-average means. Take, for instance, the saga of Carl Story and Vince Bertollini, who made millions in the Silicon Valley, moved to Sandpoint and promptly began underwriting the Aryan Nations and other Identity churches in the area. Of course, right now, Bertollini is on the lam and Story has moved away.

Sociology in the meantime has moved on to a broader consideration of the problem, often summarily described as "post-classical theory" and including such models as the "new social movements theory," all of which recognize that there can be considerable interaction between these groups and the mainstream, and that many of their followers are in fact as mainstream-based as can be. And this is borne out largely by what we've seen in terms of the Patriot movement's spread via mainstream channels.

It is important to note that it is erroneous to conclude that since there are often shared themes on the right that all right-wing groups work together. It is not fair to presume that all conservatives are on a slippery slope toward reaction, nor that all reactionaries are inevitably borne on a transmission belt toward fascism. Migrations do occur, but they occur in both directions, just as on the left.

At the same time, however, it is equally undeniable that these kinds of associations forever alter the nature of the political body in question. The Republicans' Southern Strategy, by aiming to draw white segregationists into the GOP fold, ineluctably transformed the party to the point that calling it the "party of Lincoln" now, particularly in the South, is liable to draw hoots. The associations work both ways, of course; extremists are just as likely to have their anger defused and their extremism tempered by their exposure to mainstream influences. But the overall gravitational pull rightward by the extremist elements has become increasingly disproportionate in recent years.

The problem is that Americans -- and the media particularly -- have a view of these so-called "fringe" elements as being on the outskirts of society, when in reality they have become wholly interwoven with the rest of this. Much of the blame belongs to "centrist/extremist theory," which gained such prominence in the media in the 1960s that it has never been displaced from the popular understanding of political extremism. C/E theory was an offshoot of the chief sociological model of the '40s and '50s, "Collective Behavior Theory," which stressed irrational dimensions of movements and often saw them as potentially dangerous, temporary aberrations in the otherwise smooth-flowing social system.

Let me recommend a resource for more on this point: Public Research Associates' page on "Studying the Right: A Scholarly Approach," which has a large amount of material on C/E Theory. Chip Berlet, the author, sums it up thus:
Under centrist/extremist theory, dissident movements of the left and right were portrayed as composed of outsiders -- politically marginal people who have no connection to the mainstream electoral system or nodes of government or corporate power. Their anxiety is heightened by fears that their economic or social status is slipping. Under great stress, these psychologically fragile people snap into a mode of irrational political hysteria, and as they embrace an increasingly paranoid style they make militant and unreasonable demands. Because they are unstable they can become dangerous and violent. Their extremism places them far outside the legitimate political process, which is located in the center where "pluralists" conduct democratic debates.

The solution prescribed by centrist/extremist theory is to marginalize the dissidents as radicals and dangerous extremists. Their demands need not be taken seriously. Law enforcement can then be relied upon to break up any criminal conspiracies by subversive radicals that threaten the social order.

You can read through the rest of the above piece to see why and how centrist/extremist theory has become discredited. But the coup de grace may have been delivered by a study that was important to my own work, James Aho's 1991 text, The Politics of Righteousness: Idaho Christian Patriotism. ("Christian Patriots" is what the movement called itself in the 1980s and then morphed into the more secular and simple "Patriot movement" by the early 1990s.) Aho, who conducted a complete study with a full statistical sample, found that while a number of Patriots indeed fit the profile predicted by centrist/extremist theory, the majority did not. He found that they were often well educated (their average education was above the average American's), held regular jobs (though they did experience a higher degree of occupational isolation), and appeared "normal" by most measures:
Idaho's patriots in general do not seem more socially alienated from their communities than cross-sections of Americans or Idahoans. ... Out of the seven alienation variables on which information was gathered, statistical support for the theory of mass politics [another term for C/E theory] is found for only one.

The false stereotypes -- beloved among folks on the left for their value in lampooning right-wingers, and equally cherished on the right by conservatives loath to admit the extremists' influence -- have obscured the extent to which right-wing extremists have woven themselves into the fabric of mainstream conservatism. It's an illusion that has especially manifested itself in rural America, where the extremists' actual numbers are hardly overwhelming, but the number of people who sympathize with them is. I would hate to have counted how many times I (and others who work the field) have heard neighbors, friends and relatives of Patriots say: "Well, I don't buy everything they say, but I think some of it might be true, and I certainly can understand why they'd feel that way" (or some variant thereon). In fact, it's rare when you can find a rural dweller out here who doesn't say something like that.

A deeper examination of the individual psychology of the kind of people who are drawn to extremist movements helps explain further how extremist believers intermingle with those in the larger mainstream. There have been many studies along these lines, but the one that seemed to most accurately describe the people I met in the Patriot movement could be found in the essay "Religious Totalism, Violence and Exemplary Dualism: Beyond the Extrinsic Model," by Dick Anthony and Thomas Robbins (both sociologists; Anthony is from Berkeley and Robbins from Yale).

In this analysis, the Patriot movement and its millennialist relatives are described as "exemplary dualist movements," a direct product of the current larger social malaise:
It has been a staple of recent American cultural analysis and criticism that the contemporary United States increasingly lacks a consensual and compelling social ethic and that in consequence, the 'covenant' uniting the American people has become, in Robert Bellah's words, an 'empty and broken shell.' One consequence of the lack of an integrative ethic, we have intimated above, is a diminished capacity of parents -- who are themselves wrestling with the fragmented selves that result from the lack of an integrated ethic -- to serve as persuasive role-models or identification figures for their children, and thereby to transmit a coherent set of values. In this context parents may tend to treat their children as 'self-objects' in the sense of evaluating them in terms of tangible, purely external criteria such as their apparent social-academic-vocational 'success' or competence. This pattern enhances the anxiety over the themes of success, competence and power on the part of children, who are more likely to develop a fragmented or polarized self composed of a grandiose, all-powerful or omnipotent self which is split off from a devalued, pathetic, failed self.

Social movements with distinctly dualistic worldviews provide psycho-ideological contexts which facilitate attempts to heal the split self by projecting negativity and devalued self-elements onto ideologically devalued contrast symbols. But there is another possible linkage between these kinds of movements and individuals with split selves in the throes of identity confusion. People with the whole range of personality disorders, which utilize splitting and projective identification, tend to have difficulties in establishing stable, intimate relationships. Splitting tends to produce volatile and unstable relationships as candidates for intimacy are alternately idealized and degraded. Thus, narcissists tend to have vocational, and more particularly, interpersonal difficulties as they obsessively focus upon status-reinforcing rewards in interpersonal relations. They have difficulty developing social bonds grounded in empathy and mutuality, and their structure of interpersonal relations tends to be unstable. Thus, individuals may be tempted to enter communal and quasi-communal social movements which combine a more structured setting for interpersonal relations with a dualistic interpersonal theme of 'triangulation' which embodies the motif of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend.' Such movements create a sense of mutuality by focusing attention on specific contrast groups and their values, goals and lifestyles so that this shared repudiation seems to unite the participants and provide a meaningful 'boundary' to operationalize the identity of the group. Solidarity within the group and the convert's sense of dedication and sacrifice on behalf of group goals may enable him or her to repudiate the dissociated negative (bad, weak or failed) self and the related selfish and exploitative self which they may be aware that others might have perceived. These devalued selves can then be projected on to either scapegoats designated by the group or, more generally, non-believers whose values and behavior allegedly do not attain the exemplary purity and authenticity of that of devotees.

In my experience, this quite accurately describes the dynamic of how and why people are attracted to such hateful beliefs as those held by right-wing extremists, as well as their pale reflections -- filtered, as it were, through transmitters -- advocated by such receiver types as the Freepers. It also clearly describes the meeting-ground for extremist and mainstream in the black-and-white, Manichean dualism common to all kinds of worldviews; it has always been pronounced both among right-wing extremists and the theocratic right, but of late it has become a staple of mainstream conservatives as well.

Most of all, the suggestion that the movement’s primary converts will be essentially dysfunctional people is not much cause for optimism, either, for as they note at the end, this kind of susceptibility to authoritarianism obviously increases during such periods of social chaos as we have had since Sept. 11:
We do not necessarily view the members of exemplary dualist groups as mentally ill or deeply disturbed relative to average levels of developmental maturity in the general population. We do believe that such groups appeal to individuals with certain identity constructions and difficulties. Nevertheless some degree of splitting, projective identification and polarized identity may be 'normal' for most people in mainstream culture.

People with completely holistic selves with an integrated ethical orientation rather than split-off negative external conscience may be relatively unusual, particularly in periods when general meaning orientations in the culture as a whole have declined in coherence and plausibility. ... When mainstream cultural coherence declines, and anomie and identity confusion become more common, active seeking for exemplary dualist involvements is one possible solution to immediate psychic pain.

Indeed, as we will see, this could very well explain why the right is becoming increasingly intolerant of liberalism: It is the one remaining component of society that has so far failed to join up with the dualist worldview being promoted not merely by transmitters like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, but by the Bush administration itself.

More importantly, it makes clear that the chief driving force against liberalism in America is precisely in the chief meeting-ground of right-wing dualism: fundamentalist Christianity.

Next: Divine Transmissions

Real Christians

I'm way behind on this, but Kynn Bartlett at Shock & Awe had a long and thoughtful essay the other day:

More Stuff About Christians and Christianism

[Full disclosure: Kynn says some nice things about the "Rush" essay. But he carries the thinking to another level.]
Christianism is a theocratic form of Christianity which is anti-pluralistic, designed to impose conservative Christian beliefs on American society (and eventually the world) through the use of the political system (or sometimes outright force). Christianism is a domestic crusade designed to change the country from the inside into one in which (nominally) Christian beliefs are the guiding societal force.

This is the "culture wars" which we are engaged in. It is often presented as "secular vs. Christian," but that's patently false. The fundamentalists have managed to distort the public debate to the point that fundamentalist beliefs are identified in the media as "Christian" -- ignoring entirely the fact that there are large numbers of Christians who don't believe the same way as the conservatives.

I'm glad Kynn explores this issue, in depth, because it's one that animates me as well. I don't discuss the matter much in my analysis because it's clear, of course, that not everyone opposed to the fundamentalists is a Christian.

But the reality is that many of us are. And we are not only disgusted by what they do in the name of our faith, we are dedicated to stopping it.

Of course, as Kynn points out, we are not "real" Christians to these people. I for one am glad to let God decide that one, not some wattle-faced preacher.

You get what you ask for

Public Nuisance has a terrific post about the "Presidential Prayer Team," which is encouraging us Christians to pray that Bush will come up with a "biblical" solution to the heteros-only marriage conundrum:

Biblical Marriage
Here at the Nuisance, we believe prayer should be balanced by action. And, perhaps unlike certain others, we actually do read the Bible. So here, in support of the Prayer Team's admirable goals, is a proposed Constitutional Amendment codifying marriage entirely on biblical principles:

1 Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives.

That's just the beginning. Funny and dead-on -- my kind of humor.

Dishonoring the memory

Margaret Kimberley over at The Black Commentator has a terrific takedown of Condoleeza Rice's bizarre comparison of the invasion of Iraq to 1960s civil-rights marches:

Condoleeza Rice and the Birmingham Bombing Victims

I don’t know anyone who protested against this war because they believed that Iraqis were not interested in democracy and freedom. I am certain that the Iraqi people wanted freedom in 1983 when the Reagan administration Middle East envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, met with our then friend Saddam Hussein. At that moment in history Iran was the bogeyman in the region and the United States government was all too pleased when Hussein invaded that nation. Rumsfeld was in Baghdad again in 1984 when the United Nations concluded that Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iranian military targets. No condemnation or protest was forthcoming from Mr. Rumsfeld or anyone else in the Reagan administration. In fact, American arms sales to the Iraqi regime increased. Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant then, but because he was “our” evil tyrant we turned a blind eye when he started a war that resulted in the deaths of over one million Iraqis and Iranians.

Go read the rest.

A great American?

[Henry Ford receives the Grand Cross of the German Eagle in 1938 from two Nazi diplomats.]

John Hawkins over at Right Wing News has been polling bloggers for the best and worst figures of American history. I participated in the first poll of "Worst Figures in American History," but unfortunately couldn't find the time to send in a list for the "Best." John posted the results of that poll recently:

Left-Wing Bloggers Select The Greatest Figures Of The 20th Century

Most of the names selected seemed fairly reasonable, to tell the truth. (Indeed, there were several I wished I'd thought of when I was briefly trying to put a list together.)

But this one stopped me cold:
18) Henry Ford (3)

All right, I could easily see Ford appearing on a right-wing list. But why would anyone who calls himself a liberal name him?

Maybe they have simply bought the timeworn image of Ford as the clever industrialist who brought the automobile to the masses.

Maybe they simply have forgotten -- or were never aware of -- the rest of the Henry Ford story.

That would be the Henry Ford who in 1920 began publishing The International Jew -- one of the most infamous anti-Semitic screeds in history. This text first raised to national prominence the notorious Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion hoax -- and indeed may have been responsible for its subsequent wide distribution in Hitler's Germany as well.

Speaking of Hitler, here's what he had to say about the speculation in 1923 that Ford might run for president:
I wish I could send some of my shock troops to Chicago and other big American cities to help in the elections ... We look to Heinrich Ford as the leader of the growing fascist movement in America ... We have just had his anti-Jewish articles translated and published. The book is being circulated in millions throughout Germany."

As the ADL notes:
Though Ford apologized for The International Jew and closed the Dearborn Independent, he later accepted the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Hitler's Nazi government in July, 1938.

This award, incidentally, is the highest honor Germany can offer to a non-German.

Ford also probably did more than any American to help build the Nazi war machine in the 1930s.

Whatever good Ford may have engendered through his clever industrialism was forever poisoned by his contributions to one of the worst nightmares in history.

Why would a liberal, exactly, put Henry Ford on any list of "great" Americans? For that matter, why would anyone?

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Rush, Newspeak and Fascism

[Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX. See my explanatory note.]

X: Reaching the Receivers

I was driving around Billings, Montana, in the middle of a nasty blizzard in a cheap little rented car and trying to figure out what in the hell was going on when the Voice On Loan From God hit me.

There are, I suppose, things that you have to admire about Rush Limbaugh, and one of them is his voice. It is absolutely distinctive. I can hear it through a rolled-up car and know who the driver is listening to. But that afternoon in early March 1996 I heard him talk and it came as something of a revelation.

I actually have made a habit over the years of listening to Limbaugh because I want to know what he's saying. More to the point, I spend a lot of time driving around rural backcountry, and you have to know that Limbaugh is just about the only constant thing you can find on the radio out there. There's country music, but in the open range even it can be spotty reception-wise. Rush, however, is everywhere.

He is inescapable. He seems to be on at nearly all times of the day too. And sometimes the country music (especially the gawdawful crap they call 'new country') gets bad, and the tape collection gets old, and listening to Rush rumble away in that nice baritone is not all that bad to listen to, especially if I'm in the mood for the artistry of his awfulness. He makes me laugh, though not in ways he intends, I'm sure.

There wasn't anything new or remarkable about that day's broadcast. It just answered a question I had been trying to understand.

I was in Billings because a few days before, the FBI had arrested two leaders of the Montana Freemen at their compound near Jordan, Montana. I attended their initial hearings at the federal courthouse, drove up to Jordan for a day, then drove back to Billings for more courtroom action at the arraignments.

This was quite a bit of driving, especially with the ice and snow storm that had come through about a week before and was continuing to pile up. However, these had become familiar roads to me. I had been out this way only two months before, talking to people in Roundup and Jordan about the eruption of the Freemen on the local scene and trying to get a sense of what was happening to these rural societies.

Mostly I was trying to get a handle on the seething, venomous hatred of the government that was seeping out in the bile of movements like the Freemen, but was much, much more widespread. Almost literally anyone you talked to in rural America was bitter with their hatred of the "gummint" in nearly all of its forms, particularly the federal one. Certainly it had been on full display in the federal courtroom in Billings, where LeRoy Schweitzer and Dan Petersen had done their best to disrupt the hearings with their insistence that the entire proceedings against them were illegitimate.

I was no stranger to feelings of hatred of the government, for reasons I explained in In God's Country [short version: federal bureaucrats were responsible for the death of a great-aunt with whom I was close]. But this went beyond even that. It was blind, irrational, utterly visceral hatred that went beyond even the worst things I had heard from the mouths of Birchers when I was growing up. In fact, it reminded me of talk I had heard in only one other place previously: the Aryan Nations compound in Hayden Lake. The conspiracy theories, the pseudo-legal 'constitutionalism', as well as the barely concealed race-baiting and anti-Semitism were all present. The only thing missing was the usual accompaniment of Nazi worship and cross-burning.

The thing about government-bashing out West is that nearly anyone who has lived here for any length of time, particularly if they have deep family roots, has directly benefited from government programs that are in fact responsible for their very presence on this land. It's a decidedly mixed bag that has always created a love/hate relationship between the government and the ranchers and farmers who have been its main beneficiaries, and sometimes its victims.

In eastern Montana, for instance, this goes back to the homesteading programs of the post-1910 period sponsored by the federal government, in close cooperation (as it were) with the railroads. These were essentially scams which helped fill out millions of acres of empty space in the West but which more often than not proved financially disastrous for the homesteaders. [For a terrific account of this, read Jonathan Raban's Bad Land: An American Romance.]

The federal government builds our roads, pays for our schools, constructs our water-supply and irrigation systems and the dams that make them go. We're actually terribly dependent on the gummint, which chafes rather nastily against Westerners' own deeply mythologized self-reliance and independence.

The sheer venom that was emerging from the Patriot movement, however, was in another universe. Built around cockamamie theories and wild-eyed fire-breathing rhetoric, and unmoored from any real semblance of reality, it was so wildly out of left field that it was an incongruous thing to be taking root in a place like Montana where common sense was most often the real coin of the realm. It was a disturbing thing to see how many people with ordinary working-class, agricultural backgrounds -- people who before had always been normal contributors to society, sometimes, as in the case of a couple of at least one elderly Freeman, Emmett Clark, with a rock-solid reputation in the community -- were being drawn into the Patriot movement and embracing at least its rhetoric, if not its agenda.

How had this happened? What was encouraging people to make this leap? I was puzzling over this that day in Billings, tootling around in a front-wheel drive Chevy that actually handled the snow just fine, and listening to Rush on the radio.

On that day, I had decided to try listening to Rush as though I were someone like Dan Petersen or some other working-class stiff from Jordan -- not particularly educated, prone to a visceral kind of patriotism and similar politics, and insistent on my identity as an independent Westerner. Doing that, I got an answer, or at least part of one.

Limbaugh was holding forth that day on the subject of federal bureaucrats who he claimed were attempting to ignore the will of the people on matters relating to control of federal lands as well as the tax bureaucracy. At the apex of the rant, Limbaugh began speculating about the motives of these bureaucrats: they didn't care about "democracy"; they would probably just as soon dispose of it, and any kind of responsiveness to the public, altogether if given the opportunity; they would be happier in a dictatorship, which was what they were establishing anyway, Rush informed us.

Suddenly I had a very clear picture about how hatred of the government had reached such illogical and hysterical heights. Americans were being told, relentlessly and repeatedly, that not only was government a bad thing, it was inherently evil, indeed conspiring to take away their freedom and enslave them. The person telling them this was a mainstream conservative. He was giving them essentially the same message being spread by the Freemen and militias, but this time with the mantle of mainstream legitimacy. Rush was taking people up to the edge of Patriot beliefs and more or less introducing his listeners to them. And if they were people like those in Montana (or anywhere else the Patriot movement set up shop, which was largely every corner of the country), who already Patriots for neighbors, they would take the next step themselves.

Limbaugh's defenders, like Ann Coulter's, will no doubt defend this kind of talk as simple hyperbole intended to emphasize his point and inject some humor. That of is utterly disingenuous; why say something if at some level you don't mean it? Moreover, it overlooks the effect that it has on their audiences, who may not be as sophisticated or as inclined to distinguish the hyperbole from the supposedly reasonable discourse. Indeed, the bulk of Limbaughites I have met tend to take his every utterance as virtual Gospel.

Thus, Limbaugh might claim that he's merely being critical of government, but this rhetoric treads beyond such perfectly acceptable (in fact desirable) robust political speech, to the kind that argues for the overthrow and utter dismantling of the system. And that is, if anything, the dividing line between being a politically active citizen and being an extremist, right or left. Limbaugh blurs that line constantly.

It was this kind of irresponsible demagoguery to which President Clinton referred in his remarkable address in Minneapolis a few days after the Oklahoma City bombing:
In this country we cherish and guard the right of free speech. We know we love it when we put up with people saying things we absolutely deplore. And we must always be willing to defend their right to say things we deplore to the ultimate degree. But we hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. You ought to see -- I'm sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today.

Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility on the part of the American people.

If we are to have freedom to speak, freedom to assemble, and, yes, the freedom to bear arms, we must have responsibility as well. And to those of us who do not agree with the purveyors of hatred and division, with the promoters of paranoia, I remind you that we have freedom of speech, too, and we have responsibilities, too. And some of us have not discharged our responsibilities. It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.

If they insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties. When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it. The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable. So exercise yours, my fellow Americans. Our country, our future, our way of life is at stake.

Though Clinton certainly never identified Limbaugh as one of those "angry voices," almost immediately Limbaugh responded with cries of censorship and claims that Clinton was attempting to silence him. The protests have continued so steadily that the claim that Clinton blamed Limbaugh has become a stock theme about the supposed perfidy of liberals.

Indeed, Ann Coulter herself continued this meme in her book, nder: Liberal Lies About The American Right,92-93: "When impeached former president Bill Clinton identified Rush Limbaugh as the cause of the Oklahoma City bombing, he unleashed all the typical liberal curse words for conservatives. He blamed 'loud and angry voices' heard 'over the airwaves in America' that were making people 'paranoid' and spreading hate."

The, er, lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Of course, Clinton did not name anyone, even though the voices he probably had more in mind were those belong to the likes G. Gordon "Head Shots" Liddy and some of the more vicious Patriot types like Chuck Harder, who constantly hawked Patriot conspiracy theories outright, alongside a full dose of rhetoric about the violent resistance of federal agents. But in fact Clinton used very general terms probably because he recognized the reality as well, which was that characters like Limbaugh and his fellow movement arch-conservatives have been irresponsible as well -- perhaps not to the same degree, except for the fact that the reach of transmitters like Limbaugh is so massive.

And the bitter truth, for people like Limbaugh, is that Clinton was right: Words have consequences. When you carefully tailor memes and ideas that promote an essentially extremist worldview to fit a mainstream audience, you're spreading poison into the community that can have extremely violent consequences. Anyone who's read American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing has a pretty clear picture of how closely McVeigh's hatred of the government was fanned by both extremist and mainstream voices. And it was to all these voices which Clinton alluded.

Limbaugh's protests notwithstanding, it is not hard to see that while, of course, Limbaugh cannot be blamed directly for Oklahoma City, neither can he be wholly absolved. Whining does not relieve him from the responsibility for his words. Timothy McVeigh, and the wave of Patriot domestic terrorists who followed him, did not occur in a vacuum. They were creatures in a milieu in which Limbaugh and other ostensibly "mainstream" media, political and religious figures helped transmit and reinforce extremist ideas that, when nursed with a violent predisposition, became extremely volatile in real life.

These transmissions have a twofold effect, as I've mentioned earlier: They not only inject extremist ideas into the mainstream, but they brings the two sectors closer together.

Take two neighbors, Joe and Bill. Joe is a good taxpaying family man and a Republican precinct committeeman. Bill is a Patriot who attends Preparedness Expos and "common law court" meetings and has declared his "sovereign citizenship." Now, contrary to popular myths, most Patriots in fact are indistinguishable from any other average American -- they hold jobs, raise kids, carpool, attend church. And so in most respects, Joe and Bill get along fine, as most neighbors might, though Joe thinks Bill's ideas are kooky. Then he starts listening to Limbaugh, and after awhile, he begins to think that maybe his government-hating neighbor isn't so kooky after all.

Meanwhile, Bill listens to the same broadcasts and begins to believe that maybe mainstream Republicans are finally starting to "get it." The next time he and Bill talk over the fence, they find they have more to talk about. Pretty soon Joe is heading off with Bill to a Preparedness Expo, while Bill starts volunteering to work as a "poll watcher" for the Republicans in the next elections.

The result is that right-wing extremists wind up exerting a gravitational pull on mainstream conservatism -- and by extension, the whole political continuum -- that far exceeds their actual size or, for that matter, political viability. That the entire spectrum has shifted steadily rightward in the past 10 years and more could not be more self-evident. And at times, it has come with devastating results, as at Oklahoma City.

If nothing else, Oklahoma City should at least have been a signal to Limbaugh that it was time to tone down the rhetoric, to stop demonizing government employees and federal officials. That, as we have seen, has never occurred. Anti-government bile is still a constant of his radio rants, as anyone reading the transcripts at Web sites like Rush Transcript [] can see for themselves. Certainly it was that day in Billings, which was nearly a year after Oklahoma City.

However, since the election of George W. Bush, Limbaugh's anti-government venom is largely reserved for liberal officials. In general, Limbaugh has now shifted his focus from demonizing the government to demonizing anything liberal. Of course, this sentiment has always been part of his schtick, but in recent months he has been stepping it up another notch. Not only are liberals to be opposed politically, they are in fact treasonous. This was explicit in his attacks on Sen. Tom Daschle, the leader of the Senate Democrats, and was a continuing theme as antiwar protests grew in volume and intensity, referring to dissenters as, among other things, "anti-American, anti-capitalist Marxists and Communists."

This is extremely dangerous talk, and not merely because it is divisive. It actually threatens to simultaneously harden the growing alliance between extremist and mainstream conservatives, and create a milieu in which violence against dissenters becomes acceptable. It is when we see this kind of coalescence that we are in real danger of seeing fascism blossom in America.

Of course, Clinton in fact made abundantly clear that day that the proper response is not to shut down those irresponsible voices, to try to silence them. That would be adopting their tactics, and put us on their moral plane.

Let Limbaugh and his cohorts have their say. And let the rest of us be there to counter his disinformation with facts, his false memes with a clear dose of reality.

But pretending that he's only an "entertainer" -- or for that matter that he really is wholly mainstream -- is no longer an option.

Next: Dualist Receivers