Sunday, February 15, 2004

Disturbing undercurrents

I've written somewhat at length previously about the disturbing trend toward increasingly violent, eliminationist rhetoric being directed at liberals by some of the more wild-eyed segments of the "conservative movement."

But sometimes, some of the supposedly more upright and "respectable" segments of the right dally in the same waters, in ways that at times seem almost calculated to wink and nudge at the people who take this kind of talk all too seriously.

See, for instance, the latest offering from Peggy "I Believe in Miraculous Dolphins" Noonan, "The Democrats Have Had Their Fun. Now It's Time to Rumble".

Noonan paints a picture of elitist Democrats cruising the countryside in "limousines," while folks in the heartland have only just begun to fight. Throughout the piece, there is a violent subtext to Noonan's description of the coming election conflict -- Republicans are urged to "rumble," "join the battle," get "feisty and peppery, up for the battle." Battle, battle, battle.

As antiliberal rhetoric goes, of course, this is pretty mild. Noonan only hints at suggesting there might possibly be a violent component -- or undercurrent -- in the conservative movement's response should Democrats emerge as the favorites to win in November. (The closest she comes to saying it outright was this strange passage: "On CNN, Jane Fonda fired for her side. By the time you read this, someone will have fired at her. ")

Of even greater concern, though, is the kind of emerging conservative rhetoric that paints liberals not only as "desperate" but evil vermin who deserve to be exterminated. The most vicious recent example of this came from none other than Grover Norquist, in a piece he wrote for the American Enterprise Institute:
"Cornered Rats Fight Hard"

The piece is mostly a diatribe about the superiority of the Bush presidency and the mendacity of Democrats, but it concludes with this strange epigraph:
If the Democrats win the Presidency, they can veto Republican advances. If they lose, they don't eat. The very sinews of their political power will decay with increasing speed. The Democratic coalition will be weaker, shorter, and poorer in 2008 than 2004. This sense of desperation explains the "hatred" and vicious attacks on Bush.

This should not surprise us. Expect the crescendo to grow through 2004. The other team isn't being unreasonable. It is reacting rationally to a real threat to its ability to function. Anything short of placing snipers on the rooftops of D.C. would be an underreaction by the Left.

Cornered rats fight. Hard.

Incidentally, vermin references like Norquist's are a classic hallmark of fascist and white-supremacist propaganda, referring to the enemy in subhuman terms by way of suggesting the need for their extermination. In fact, the eliminationism is fairly explicit in this kind of rhetoric, even if it is not clearly stated.

But even more disturbing is his muddled remark about snipers in D.C.: Is Norquist actually suggesting that "the Left" won't even stop at assassination in its desperation to retain some vestige of power? That nothing short of shooting politicians will succeed for them anyway? Or is there a hint here that maybe some snipers on the rooftops might be needed to keep them in line?

What kind of national dialogue are we having when Sean Hannity can publish a book with a title that equates liberalism with terrorism as one of the great "evils" now confronting Americans? What, do conservatives now expect liberals to play nice when a lying, slandering traitor like Ann Coulter can smear a wounded veteran like Max Cleland, crudely misrepresenting the circumstances in which he lost three limbs -- and pay no consequences whatsoever to her ever-blossoming media/punditocracy career?

I read passages like this, from Rabbi Daniel Lapin -- the right-wing ultraconservative from my neck of the woods -- and wonder whether dialogue is even appropriate at this juncture:
"I am absolutely convinced that God is far from finished with the story of the United States of America," he said by way of summation. "First of all, [there's] the matter of the little battle that must be fought, just as it was in the 19th century." There were, and are, "two incompatible moral visions for this country. We had to settle it then. We're going to have to settle it now. I hope not with blood, not with guns, but we're going to have to settle it nonetheless. The good news is that I think our side is finally ready to settle it. Roll up its sleeves, take off its jacket, and get a little bloody. Spill a little blood. We'll settle it. And we'll win. And then there's no holding us back."

It is not hard to understand why liberals -- and centrists too -- are angry. Most of all, we're angry because of what these ideological powermongers are doing to our country.

And where are all those decent, reasonable conservatives we all hear so much about? How is it that they can remain politely mum when this kind of rhetoric is being inveighed in their name?

Just wondering.

Because, you know, this isn't just a game. Words have real power, and ideas like these, talk like this, all make it much easier for the more unstable and violence-prone actors in society to act out. It produces scenes like a middle-aged Oregon woman being told in a pancake house: "I hate all you f*ing Democrats. You f*ng deserve to be die. Hopefully we can kill the f*ing bunch of you soon..." It unleashes ugliness like the threats directed at a driver with the temerity to sport a Howard Dean bumper sticker while driving through the rural South.

Of course, maybe that's what they intend. Maybe that's why both Noonan and Lapin compare the 2004 election to the Civil War. Why give the Grover Norquists the benefit of any doubt? At this point, the ruthlessness of the pack of ideologues who have taken over our political system is apparent at every turn, and no tactic -- no smear campaign, no intimidation -- regardless of its destructiveness, should surprise anyone on the other side.

But let there be no mistake this time around -- the forces arrayed against the conservative movement are in fact quite united in their determination to remove this gang from power.

The next six months will be fascinating to watch. Let's hope it doesn't take a frightening turn.

[Thanks to mondo dentro for the Norquist link.]

[Cross-posted at The American Street and updated here with Lapin material. Thanks to Bryant at Population One.]

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