Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Unhinged: Unhonest

1: The Unbearable Lightness of Malkin

2: Eye of the Unhinged

3: The Unhinged Right

4: Hunting Liberals

5: Extremists? What Extremists?

Conclusion: Keeping Our Cools

The Poor Man made a noteworthy point the other day about an interesting facet of the conservative movement: "how even the tiniest example of wingnuttery is a near-perfect replica of the whole edifice, substantively consonant in every particular but scale."

Michelle Malkin's work, particularly her new book, Unhinged, is like that: a kind of embodiment in miniature, as it were, of the conservative movement as a whole. Just as Malkin ignores the clear presence of extremism within the ranks of conservatism and instead projects those tendencies onto her enemies, so too does the conservative movement as a whole.

And that, in the end, is the root of the problem.

Now, it's true that Unhinged is perhaps the most lightweight of all the liberal-bashing tomes that have been flooding the market. In a year or two, its publication will have been long forgotten, and its impact on the national discourse will have been negligible in any positive sense, in no small part due to its innate lack of honesty.

It's a forgettable propaganda tract in most regards. Why bother devote any time -- let alone a six-part series -- to examining it in the first place (as some of my readers have asked)?

Put simply, it's because Malkin and her book are crystalline examples of how the conservative movement works. She's certainly not the only one to be bellyaching about how nasty liberals are getting these days. It was a hot topic of conversation back in 2003, too. In fact, it's been part of the right-wing Wurlitzer's steady drumbeat for a couple of years now.

To say that this is a case of projection, as I've been explaining, is putting it mildly. But the most outrageous claim here is that the right polices and oversees its own:
"[T]he truth is that it's conservatives themselves who blow the whistle on their bad boys and go after the real extremism on their side of the aisle."[p. 9]

And while conservatives zealously police their own ranks to exclude extremists and conspiracy theories, extremism and conspiracy theories have become the driving force of the Democrat Party. [p. 169]

Does she provide any good examples of how conservatives zealously "blow the whistle on their bad boys"?

Well, no.

She did give us one clue in that appearance she made on Bill O'Reilly's show, wherein she continued on this theme:
O'Reilly: Do you see mainstream conservatives condemning Michael Savage?

Malkin: All the time.

O'Reilly: You do?

Malkin: Of course you do. In fact -- again, I think that this is something that the mainstream media does not recognize. It is in fact conservatives who are very outspoken in condemning fringe people, and people who are extremists on the right side of the aisle. The Trent Lott episode for example. A lot of mainstream conservatives were pivotal in decrying Trent Lott's remarks at Strom Thurmond's party.

Well, there are (as always) a few things missing from Malkin's narrative. Liberals (particularly the bloggers Josh Marshall and Atrios, who kept the story bubbling with a steady flow of revelations about Lott's neo-Confederate dalliances) played an equally critical role in l'affaire Lott. And there is also the matter of a White House that was eager to cut Lott off at the knees in that lovely internecine warfare the GOP sometimes engages in.

But give Malkin and conservatives credit where it's due. Certain conservatives did play a critical role in bringing Lott to ground for his remarks. Regardless of how principled their motives, they deserve credit for forcing his removal from the Senate majority leadership.

But it's not as though the resolution of the matter vindicated either the GOP or the conservative movement. Lott did, after all, retain his seat and much of his power and perks. More to the point, the GOP's rich associations with the extremist neo-Confederate movement -- which was at the nexus of the issue with Lott -- neither went away nor withered.

As I explained previously:
Lott was far from alone among Republicans in maintaining ties to neo-Confederates and other Southern racists. Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, chief sponsor of a 1997 bill to impeach Clinton, also made appearances before the CofCC, and over the years has had open associations with the populist-right John Birch Society, as well as a striking penchant for placing the militias’ issues -- gun control, tearing down the United Nations, fighting "globalism" -- atop his list. Ex-Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice maintained open ties with the CofCC and other neo-Confederate factions. And Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster -- who was President Bush's campaign chair in that state -- maintained an interesting relationship with white supremacist David Duke: He liked to buy Duke's mailing lists. (He also tried to conceal his purchase of the lists and was caught and fined for it.)

The South, however, was only one of many staging grounds for ostensibly mainstream conservative politicians to commingle with right-wing extremists. In fact, it happened in every corner of the country. In New Hampshire, Republican Sen. Bob Smith made open alliances with the Patriot/militia-oriented Constitution Party (indeed, he nearly ran for president on the party's ticket). Former Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, who chaired a natural-resources subcommittee and was one of the first to join Barr as an impeachment co-sponsor, had long associations with her home district’s militiamen -- and you can still buy her anti-environmental video, "America in Crisis," from the Militia of Montana. Former Republican Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas likewise made open alliances with several Texas Patriot groups, and defended their agenda in Congress. Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas continues to peddle pseudo-Patriot "New World Order" conspiracy theories to his constituents.

The connections with neo-Confederates and right-wing racial extremists continue to flourish unabated today -- a fact about which the right remains in denial. It manifests itself in places like right-wing academia, where a predilection for the racist League of the South prevails. It comes to roost in the cozen of Republican political candidates with extensive neo-Confederate backgrounds.

It's not as though these are simply obscure politicos. Among the Republicans playing footsie with the neo-Confederates is former GOP bigwig Haley Barbour, who successfully ran for the Mississippi governorship with the open (and mutual) support of the Council of Conservative Citizens. Given the opportunity to correct that course, Barbour happily played the role of divider instead. Being Republican, after all, means never having to say you're sorry.

The neo-Confederates, though, are only one of many facets of modern conservatism in which right-wing extremism has woven itself into the mainstream. Others include:
-- The Minutemen.

-- Anti-environment extremists.

-- Anti-abortion extremists.

-- Eliminationist thuggery.

-- Religious extremists.

-- Talk-radio hatemongers.

And that's really just scratching the surface.

Meanwhile, let's not forget the American right's newfound infatuation with Joe McCarthy. First it was Jonah Goldberg, then Ann Coulter, and now this. Pretty soon we'll hear it coming out of Sean Hannity's mouth too: "Joe McCarthy was not so hot in the way he went about doing things, but he was right."

The absorption of so many extremist elements into the conservative "mainstream" has wrought nothing less than a reconfigured "conservative movement" that only vaguely resembles genuine conservatism. Fiscal restraint? Bah! International restraint? Fooey! Civility and interpersonal restraint? Fuggedaboutit! The "conservative movement" of 2005 is nothing less than the ascendancy of the old right-wing John Birch Society mentality: the paranoia, the demonization, the wild-eyed ... unhingedness.

That mainstream conservatism is being swamped by its extremist elements is a problem for everyone: genuine conservatives, moderates, liberals. Because the way it's happened involves a course that will lead the nation into truly dark times.

By absorbing so many extremist elements, the conservative movement has itself become more extremist. Many of these elements -- particularly the racists and neo-Confederates -- would eventually wither and fade from society if they weren't being sustained. And what's sustaining them is the access to power and influence they enjoy within the conservative movement. Moreover, that access is growing. And that's bad news for everyone (except, of course, those extremists).

The work of "transmitters" like Malkin, Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh in bridging the former gaps between extremist elements and the mainstream right is essential in creating the opportunities for that access. Their role is to provide media cover -- a constant barrage of talking points, wielding words as weapons in a propaganda war -- for the advance of this extremism.

We've known for some time, really, about the right's propensity for projection. I mean, who can forget the claims in early December 2000 that it was Al Gore who was trying to steal the election? Malkin's thesis that the left has been taken over by a cast of eye-rattling loons is of a piece with this: You can always get a good idea where the right is headed (if it's not already there) by what it's currently accusing the left of doing.

Nonetheless, that doesn't let liberals off the hook, either.

Now, Malkin's book doesn't present any substantial evidence of genuine extremist elements gaining significant influence within mainstream liberalism (and it's always worth remembering that liberalism is not a discrete movement in the way that conservatism has become). What she does document is some kookery among certain left-wing individuals, and some reactive ugliness (see, especially, the Randi Rhodes material) that is apologized for, but not forgiven.

The only left-wing extremist movements of any note in 2005 -- the animal rights/eco-terrorist extremists particularly, though the anarchists and anti-globalists who helped make the WTO demonstrations a fiasco also fit the bill -- do not have any kinds of significant footholds or influence within the Democratic Party.

But Malkin does document some genuinely ugly personalities floating among the ranks of liberals. Even if her footwork and methodology are shoddy and questionable, there are enough genuine samples to make a valid point. I think reading some of the e-mails sent her way, as well as some of the comments posted on blog threads, has to leave anyone with a simple sense of decency shaking their head.

I don't think it's fair to characterize the left as being represented by these kinds of voices, any more than I think it's appropriate to argue that the entire right is embodied by folks like the Border Ruffian

But I do think it's fair to argue that people on the left, if they genuinely stand against such things as xenophobia, racism, and misogyny, have an obligation to speak up against this kind of talk, these kinds of attacks.

People who read this blog know I have no tolerance for such comments here, and certainly have never indulged them.

And I'm frequently appalled and disgusted by some of the voices I hear on the left. The lamentable "Fuck the South" screed was a classic case: spleen-venting that feels good for a moment or two, and leaves the taste of dry ashes in your mouth. Because you know that in the end, it's an argument for writing off your fellow Americans.

That's what they do. And besides, it's counterproductive: a recipe for permanent loserdom.

Even more sickening for me personally are the anti-Asian slurs (with an exponential factor in the sexual ones) directed Malkin's way. Having studied, up close and personal, the history of anti-Asian bigotry in this country, for me these kinds of remarks always mark the person making them as a bigot to be scorned, regardless of their political affiliation.

And you know, I might speak out against these voices more often if I thought there was any likelihood I'd see conservatives similarly speaking out against their extremist and "unhinged" elements.

You remember. The condemnation that Malkin claims happens all the time -- and for which she can provide no clear examples.

Because that's the way the game is played now, thanks to the hardball Rovean Right. Fair play and decency are signs of weakness to be exploited. Admit to a failing and it will be trumpeted. That's why Republicans never, never, say they're sorry. (See Dick Cheney for the consummate example of this.) They just stay on the attack. Their own worst propensities become a charge to make against the opposition.

Regardless, in the face of all this, I think it behooves liberals to remain true to their principles and eschew threats, violence and violent talk, and especially racist, xenophobic or sexually crude remarks.

I believe in fighting, and fighting hard, but I don't believe in losing my cool, either. It's a waste of energy -- not just yours, but everyone else's. Because, as Malkin's book well demonstrates, it provides them ammunition for distracting our attention from what's really happening: the spread of extremism within the mainstream right.

So I think it's worthwhile to decry behavior of the kind Malkin documents, and I intend to do so more often. I seem to recall that, whenever the remarks of the kind Malkin cites have appeared on liberal threads, they generally have been met with a chorus of disapproval (which, once again, Malkin neglects to mention).

That doesn't excuse them. But using them to represent a "trend" in liberalism -- while pretending that no such trend exists among conservatives -- is simply dishonest. No "un" about it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to return to reading something genuinely substantial and meaningful. I'd recommend everyone else do the same.

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