Saturday, April 25, 2009

Blame It On the Parents

-- by Sara

Some of the commenters below seemed confused or surprised by my asserting that conservative or liberal parenting styles could affect people's ideas about the prerogatives of authority, and of how they think about ideas like liberty, justice, and accountability.

A few thought the whole idea absurd. (It would be interesting to hear their alternative theories on how they think the dramatic worldview shift between conservatives and liberals comes about.)

Others pointed out, quite rightly, that the two parenting styles I described are hardly exclusive or hard-and-fast. Most parents go to the authoritarian side on some issues (and generally, it's those issues where they feel least in control themselves); and tend to be more liberal on others (generally, those where they feel more confidence in their ability to control the situation). George Lakoff made the same observation about how people mix-and-match the strict-father versus nurturant-parent models in their political thinking. It holds just as true here.

But it's also true that the conservative worldview is far more obsessed generally with the issue of control -- when in doubt, clamp down hard and fast -- and conservative parents would therefore lean to a more authoritarian parenting style. The liberal worldview tends to trust people and the world in general -- when in doubt, stand back and see what happens -- and this leads to a more open-ended sense of how to manage children.

Either way, though, the basic fact is this: Parenting is the first -- and far and away the most defining -- experience most of us have with power relationships. What we learn from that relationship teaches us a great deal about what we can expect from power for the rest of our lives. We may choose to revisit those assumptions as adults; but it's not easy, and requires significant re-trenchment of how you view yourself and the rest of the world.

I speak from first-hand experience. I grew up under a mostly-authoritarian parenting model, and can testify that its express goal is to break down the child's will, and turn him into a closely-conforming, unquestioning, and obedient follower of all forms of institutional authority. (This isn't speculation. Right-wing parenting books spell it out clearly; and my father reminded us explicitly and often that he'd taken on this sacred duty on our behalf.) Inherent in the authoritarian parenting style are several core lessons about power that, once internalized, will have reverberating effects for the rest of the child's life.

First, as a kid in this kind of household, you learn that your thoughts and feelings are untrustworthy -- and furthermore, that people in authority are not the least bit interested in your internal life, only in your external behavior. Stop crying. Don't give me any excuses. I don't want to hear any more from you. Just do what I tell you -- now. Or else. The message is that you can trust the rules, tradition, The Good Book, the boss, the preacher, or Daddy to tell you what's right; but you should never ever trust your own instincts or thought processes. This pretty effectively inhibits the development of your own internal authority.

Second, you learn that you're not entitled to have any physical or emotional boundaries. The authorities have an unlimited right to intrude on your thoughts, feelings, personal space, and even your body perimeter at any time, for any reason. You are not your own; you entire being is at the mercy of those set by God to rule over you. You must trust that whatever they do, they do for your own good -- even if the reasons aren't clear to you right now, and in fact may never be explained to you. They know best. Just go with that.

Third, you learn that the Authority is the Authority no matter what. It doesn't matter if Dad is abusive or Mom is manipulative or Grandpa gets drunk and molests you. Lakoff observed that conservative families define "family" as a dramatic set piece requiring people to take on and fulfill an ensemble of traditional roles; and they hold those roles absolutely sacred. The office of "Grandfather" is inherently demanding of respect, even when the person holding that office is a drunken pervert. You are out of line to question the behavior of your betters, even when their behavior is beyond questionable. He is in authority over you, and it's not your place to object to how he chooses to deploy that authority. So hush now. I don't want to hear another word against your Grandpa.

On some fronts, kids resist these lessons for a while; but they eventually give up and accept them as reality, and go on to live their lives well within the proscribed bounds. On others, they will harden into rebels who are impervious to reason, and will resist all attempts to tell them what to do. This is equally dangerous: since they don't have much practice making decisions or choosing their own behavior, these flights of resistance often end in stunning acts of self-destruction. (This pattern is the source of ten thousand jokes about Catholic high school girls being unleashed into college life.) On yet other fronts, they learn that they do have boundaries -- but only to the extent that they're personally willing to fight and able to defend them. The far-right affection for pugnacious rhetoric and a strong defense comes straight out of this -- as does acceptance of the idea that the weak will always be at the mercy of the strong, and that this is the right order of things.

Liberal parenting teaches almost exactly the opposite lessons. Kids are taught, by example and by their interactions with their parents, to value their own thoughts and feelings, and to trust those perceptions in their own decision-making. This allows a strong sense of internal authority to develop.

One of the major tasks of that authority is to set and defend personal boundaries. Liberal kids are raised with a precocious confidence in their own boundaries. They're told that they have inherent rights -- to their thoughts, their feelings, their convictions, their personal privacy, and their own bodies -- that nobody, not even their parents, is permitted to violate. Sometimes, parents have to anyway -- the kid needs a tetanus shot, whether she wants one or not -- but never without an objectively good reason, even if the kid might not understand that reason until much later.

They're also raised to believe that those in charge have a duty to help individuals defend their personal boundaries. You can see this difference reflected in adult attitudes toward crime and punishment. Conservatives want guns, because they're taught (literally at their daddies' knees) that authority can and will violate their boundaries at a whim. Liberals want cops and courts because their parents taught them, by their own example, that authority has an obligation to help the weak defend their rights against the stronger. Furthermore, an authority can only violate someone's boundaries if it has a very strong overriding reason to do so; and then only within the limits of very strict rules. If it violates those rules, it forfeits its legitimacy, and should not be obeyed.

Liberal parents do expect to be obeyed; but their model draws a big distinction between "authoritarian" and "authoritative." Government power derives from the consent of the governed; so true authority -- even parental authority -- must on some level be earned by the parent's own trustworthy conduct. Our kids are taught to respect the office only if the individual holding that office is worthy of respect. If Grandpa gets drunk and abuses you, you have a responsibility to speak up -- and a right to expect the adults to defend you. Mom is worthy of respect not just because she's Mom, but because she's the one who can be counted on to take you seriously, and then take steps to protect you. That's Good Authority in action.

Being raised in one model and learning to parent in the other has been one of the bigger growth experiences of my life. Overall, I've found the liberal model far more effective -- both in creating a happy day-to-day home life, and also in the kind of people it ultimately turned out. My authority derives, almost completely, from the fact that my children and I have a very long history of mutual respect. It only grows stronger with age -- a very useful thing now that I'm parenting two teenagers who both tower over me.

It's a much more powerful kind of authority than my father held over me at a similar age. The showdown fistfight between father and teenaged son is a cliche in authoritarian parenting. It's a reflection of the fact that parental authority based on external control necessarily begins to wane as kids approach adulthood. There's no other way for this to play out. When the belt and the tantrum no longer work, the parents begin to lose power. In many authoritarian families, this season of separation is a very ugly time, because these parents never expected they'd have to let go. They're caught completely off-guard by the shifting power dynamic, and fight their kids' bids for independence tooth and nail before they're finally, grudgingly, forced to accept defeat. The battle often leaves lifelong scars on both sides. (My father cut off my college funds when I was 19, and we didn't speak again for over two years. Stories like this are extremely typical in conservative families.)

But in the liberal model, the transition proceeds far more gently. I can't whup my kids, and they know it. But they do know that for 16 and 18 years, respectively, Mom has always wanted only the best for them -- and that 95% of the time, she's has been mostly right about how to achieve that. It's a record that, at this late date, is hard to refute; so they're usually willing to at least hear me out. Furthermore, I've almost never been a hardass without having a damned good reason to be. Even when everything in them wants to rebel, they have to admit that even when I'm tough, I'm usually fair.

Heading toward adulthood, my kids hear their own internal authorities loud and clear, in what sounds like their own voices -- but the words falling out of their mouths, unconscious and unbidden, are very often mine. (Hearing them return to me this way is a delicious experience.) Over they years, they've also developed some acumen at anticipating my likely objections and figuring out when and how to disagree constructively. I don't always like their conclusions, but I admire their ability to predict and address my concerns. They choose their own authorities. They are their own authorities. The kids are all right.

I could no more have had those conversations with my dad at that age than I could have rollerskated on Neptune. It wasn't until I was in my 20s, and we finally reconciled on an equal footing as adults, that that kind of relationship became possible.

Americans like to think of parenting as an intensely private, individualized activity that doesn't have much connection to the larger worlds of work, politics, culture, or society in general. The truth is that parenting is the work of the world, inasmuch as it shapes the essential attitudes and beliefs that all of us bring to every aspect of our adult lives. Our homes are the gardens in which the future of the world is grown. Of course it matters what we plant there.

I'm not arguing that parenting philosophy is the only thing that makes us conservative or liberal. There's ample evidence that there's a genetic component that makes some children more fearful (and hence conservative); and others more trusting or bigger risk-takers (and thus more liberal). And I'm Exhibit A for the argument that we can also choose as adults to change our beliefs and attitudes, overriding the effects of both nature and nurture to at least some degree.

So none of this is absolutely determinative. But Hannah Arendt, Alice Miller, David Hackett Fischer, and George Lakoff have all argued persuasively that what our parents teach us about power has a resounding effect on how we relate to power as adults. If we want to create a progressive world, we have to start by teaching the kids that they have the right to listen to their own voices, recognize and defend their own boundaries, and choose which authorities they will invest with their respect and submission. Democracy, like everything else, starts at home.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Truth About Consequences

-- by Sara

Run your bank into the ground? Hey, it was our fault for not keeping a better eye on you. Here's some cash. Since you're rich guys, we trust you to do the right thing going forward, so we're not going to bother you with a bunch of rules and oversight—but you promise to be good now, 'K?

Also, you Bush guys and CIA operatives who thought torture was a fine idea? Yeah, we know we've signed a bunch of treaties that unequivocally require us to bring you up on charges; but we're looking forward now, not back, so, y'no, whatever. It was pretty ballsy of a few of you to actually admit to committing war crimes in public. We know from "audacity" (it's our middle name, in fact), and that was audacity with the gain turned up to 11. I mean, really: We're impressed. Shocked and awed, even. But we're not gonna hassle you about ancient history, because it's so much more important that we keep our eyes firmly on the future. Just promise you won't do it ever ever again, all right?

It's interesting to watch the Democrats trying to work some life back into their long-neglected oversight muscle. Thirty years of conservative misrule have muddled Americans' understanding of words like responsibility, accountability, discipline,and punishment to the point where nobody knows that they mean any more—and don't seem to want to know, either. The social conservatives go on and on about the evils of postmodern morality and situational ethics; and on this score, I can't quite summon myself to disagree. It's been as though nobody on Planet Washington ever had a parent who was able to explain right from wrong, or demonstrate the role cause-and-effect plays in the ethical universe. It's like a moral-gravity-free zone.

Stuff happens. Whatever.

I am neither an ethicist nor a philosopher. But I am a mother, and know a thing or two about disciplining children. (I've got a freshly grounded teenager pouting upstairs right now who would be delighted to tell you all about it. At length. With loud choruses of what a Mean Mommy I am. What he doesn't know is: I take that tune as a clear sign I've done my job right.) And, as an observer of the differences between conservatives and liberals, I know that our attitudes toward discipline—whether it's children or adults who are being called to account—is one of our core areas of disagreement.

Understanding that difference may explain something about how we got here.

For conservatives, the goal of discipline is to assert the power of external authority. In their worldview, most people aren't capable of self-discipline. They can't be trusted to behave unless there's someone stronger in control who's willing to scare them back into line when they misbehave. Don't question the rules. Don't defy authority. Just do what you're told, and you'll be fine. But cross that line, dammit, and there will be hell to pay.

In this view, the whole point of punishment is for greater beings (richer, whiter, older, male) to impress the extent of their authority upon lesser beings (poorer, darker, younger, female). I'm in control, I make the rules, and I'm the only one of us entitled to use force to get my way. Since emotional and/or physical domination is the goal, the punishments themselves often use some kind of emotional or physical violence to drive home that point. Spanking, humiliation, arrest, jail and torture all fill the bill quite nicely. I'm not interested in what you think. Do as I say, or I will be within my rights to do whatever it takes to make you behave.

Note, too, the hierarchical nature of this system. Those at the top of the heap enjoy the freedom that comes with never being held accountable by anyone. This exemption is implicit in conservative notions of "liberty," and is considered an inalienable (if not divine) right of fathers, bosses, religious leaders, politicians, and anyone else on the right who holds power over others. The privilege of controlling others' liberty, without enduring reciprocal constraints on your own, is at the heart of the true meaning of "freedom."

Liberal parenting books, on the other hand, talk a lot about "logical and natural consequences." Since liberals believe that most people are perfectly capable of making good moral choices without constant oversight from some outside authority, the goal of discipline is to strengthen the child's internal decision-making skills in order to prepare him for adult self-governance.

Wherever possible, parents are encouraged to do this by letting misbehaving kids live with the natural consequences of their own bad choices. I'm not mad at you. I still love you. But you spent all your allowance on Tuesday, and now you get to be broke until Saturday—and I'd be lying to you if I let you think that the world works any other way. Since you two can't figure out a peaceable way to share that toy, I'm going to take it away. Now that you've annoyed the bus driver to the point where the principal had to call me and put you off the bus for a week, you're not going anywhere else for a while, either—including that big event this weekend you've been looking forward to for the past two months.

Ah...I've said too much. But you get the point: Conservative discipline is all about reinforcing power hierarchies and achieving control through "respect" (that is: fear), and liberal discipline is about teaching accountability and reinforcing the consequences of one's own choices. And I think the muddle we're hearing out of Washington these days is based on the seriously crossed wires between these two ideas of accountability. We're all using the same words, but we're also all hearing very different things.

Let's be clear: Our system of laws was built entirely on the liberal model. The objective of a hearing, investigation, or trial is to dispassionately discover the facts of the matter, and make sure that the consequences are as natural and logical (read: fair) as possible. We're not judging your inherent worth, just your actions. We are forbidden from using force, or punishing you just to prove to you that we can. We have a sacred obligation to ensure that the consequences are more or less proportional to the crime. A good chunk of our Bill of Rights is devoted to making sure the conservative notion of punishment—the arbitrary exercise of power for power's sake—doesn't ever become part of our system of justice.

Given that, we need to be very concerned that the Democrats, as the liberal party, have apparently completely forgotten how any of this is supposed to work. These days, when you broach the subject of holding someone accountable, they physically seize up. You can actually see the wave of terror gripping their bodies. Over the past 20 years, they've completely internalized the conservative frame that "accountability" can never be anything but an ugly partisan witch hunt designed mainly to take out enemies and bludgeon the other side with the full fury of state power. The idea that such moments might be (and, in fact, very often have been) something noble, fine, cleansing, and healthy for the country is almost beyond their comprehension. Pecora? Truman? Ervin? Church? That was a long time ago. We couldn't possible do that sort of thing any more.

When you think about it, it's not hard to see how this dangerously uniform bipartisan consensus against creating actual "accountability moments" came about. The bracing revelations of Watergate were followed by the Church investigations and Iran-Contra—all of which were liberal-style open inquiries that sought nothing more than to establish the truth and restore justice, but shook conservatives to the core. What the Democrats saw as doling out logical and natural consequences (break the law, go to jail—what's so hard about this?) the conservatives experienced as being on the receiving end of an authoritarian-style punitive smackdown. They were powerful people, above punishment. This wasn't ever supposed to happen to them. (How dare they challenge our authority?) Being who they were, they couldn't help seeing it as anything other than pure payback, a raw demonstration of power. And the only appropriate response was to show the Democrats how very, very out of line they were—by disciplining them in the conservatives' preferred way, with a show of unrepentant and overweening force.

Which, of course, led to the full frontal assault on Bill Clinton. They had to teach that boy who was boss, and get him back in line. The Democrats, in turn, were so stunned by the ferocity of the whole thing (there was nothing logical or natural about any of it) that they decided, en masse, to make sure it never happened again.

Unfortunately, they did this by giving up and swallowing the conservative frame whole. Yep, we get it now: "accountability" is only ever a synonym for "ugly brutal partisan persecution," and we don't want any part of it. Even more unfortunately, this abdication happened just in time for the arrival of George W. Bush—who, as his own parents might be the first to tell you, is the one president in history most likely to grab hold of that lack of oversight and run with it all the way to the end zone, thus clinching the all-time record for Most Fascist President.

I don't have research on this, but I'm pretty sure that after eight years of the most lawless presidency in history, most of us had "restoring real accountability" fairly high up on the Hope and Change list when we cast our votes for Barack Obama. We were craving that even-handed, reasonable, cleansing moment—a season of transparency that would show us where we went wrong, let some air and light into the wounds, and allow us to begin to heal. He sounded for all the world like the kind of morally serious person who understands the difference between right and wrong—and between that kind of old-fashioned even-handed inquiry that simply finds what it finds and deals with miscreants without fear or favor, according to the demands of the law; and a partisan witch hunt that's conducted for no higher purpose than terrorizing your opponents into submission with naked displays of unchecked power. He seemed like just the guy to do it.

So the last thing we expected was to hear him warbling that same terrified-Democrat line, starting within days of his inauguration. Fortunately, as outrage over the torture memos spreads, both the President and Congressional Democrats seem to finding their moral feet again. And not a moment too soon, either—because if they blow this one, it's nothing short of the end of America as we know it.

When the administration says that "we're not looking backward" and "we're not out to assign blame or punish anyone," what it's really saying is that there no longer any real relationship between cause and effect in our government. The very idea of consequences has absolutely no meaning. If you have access to enough money and/or power, there is nothing you can say or do, no amount of money you can steal, no lie perfidious enough, no fraud brazen enough, no treason heinous enough, to get you so much as called up before a hearing to explain yourself.

And that's a truly frightening development. A government that cannot fairly, honestly, transparently hold people to account—where, in fact, nobody can apparently even imagine that such a thing might be possible—is by definition, no longer a government of laws, because the law depends on a strong relationship between cause and effect. When our leaders have so thoroughly internalized the idea that the only possible use of justice is to use government force to seize political advantage or economic power over other people, we've pretty much irrevocably passed the point where we are now a government of men. When even liberals resign themselves to those medieval conservative ideas about justice as our new national norm, they have failed the country—and we have ceased to be America.

The truth about consequences is this: There can be no restoration and reconciliation until people are reassured that the outcome will actually matter, that the real story will be told, and that people will be held accountable for their choices. They are also the very definition of justice, and the necessary precondition of freedom. The most important change we need right now is leaders with a quickening sense of liberal discipline—including the self-discipline and moral courage to stop looking the other way.

Crossposted at Blog For Our Future

Monday, April 20, 2009

Conservatives Are Trying To Whitewash Far-right Terrorists Out Of Our Memories

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

Yesterday was one of those anniversaries many of us try to put out of our minds. Conservatives these days seem to be trying especially hard.

But for some of us, those memories still burn:
It was 14 years ago when Doris Battle's parents were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, just two of the 168 people who died during the nation's worst domestic terrorist attack.

Battle was among 400 people who gathered Sunday to observe the 14th anniversary of the bombing of the nine-story Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, an attack that also injured hundreds of people. The explosion of a truck loaded with 4,000 pounds (1,800 kilograms) of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil tore the face off the building and caused millions of dollars in damage to other downtown structures.

"I can't go home and see him anymore," Battle said of her father, Calvin Battle, who died with her mother Peola when the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed on April 19, 1995. And Battle said the passage of time has not diminished the loss she still feels.
And yet, erasing the very memory of the worst act of homegrown terrorism ever committed on American soil -- and until 9/11, the worst such act ever -- seems to be what movement conservatives have been doing all week.

Ever since word emerged earlier this week about the Department of Homeland Security's internal-assessment bulletin about domestic terrorism, the mainstream right has been wallowing in paranoia about the possibility the report might have meant them.

Moreover, no amount of rebuttal -- even from the DHS secretary herself -- is good enough for them.
Yet if you read the report, it couldn't be clearer that it is concerned almost exclusively with far-right extremists: neo-Nazis, skinheads, anti-abortion bombers, and their assorted fellow travelers. What the teeth-gnashing from the right suggests is that they recognize themselves, and their influence, all too readily in the thugs and terrorists who take their beliefs and twist them into something violent.

Guilty conscience, much?

Prime example: There was Bill Bennett, that right-wing moral icon, telling John King's "State of the Union" panel yesterday on CNN that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano's clear explanation wasn't good enough.

It's bad enough that he can't even get his facts straight. What's especially noteworthy is the way he airbrushes out the very real existence of actual domestic right-wing terrorist groups:

KING: Bill, she says they have intelligence and active investigations of this possibility. Do you take her at her word?

BENNETT: She wouldn't give you one bit of evidence. You asked her for the names of any groups, any organizations. You pressed her on it -- nothing.

When they put out a report on certain left-wing organizations back in January, there were some specifics. There are no specifics here, except they target veterans. They say look out for veterans being recruited and look out for people who are opposed to abortion and immigration.
Of course, as we explained recently:
[Bennett] is right that the DHS was much more specific in its similar bulletin about left-wing extremists. But there's a reason for that: Far-right extremists absurdly outnumber eco-terrorists, by an exponential factor. It's easy for DHS to list ELF and a handful of other far-left groups capable of acts of terrorism because that's about all there are. On the other hand, there are over 900 hate groups in the SPLC's database, including a large number of them outfits fully capable of (in fact, some essentially built around) inflicting violence on the public. If [Bennett] (and Michelle Malkin, who's made a similar claim) wanted more specifics in this bulletin, there'd have been quite a bit of ink and space wasted listing them all. If [Bill] wants a few, let me give him just those in New York state... There are 25 of them there. Or just look around a little: Do the names National Socialist Movement, or National Alliance, or Stormfront, or White Aryan Resistance, or Aryan Nations ring a bell anywhere?
Finally, and most on the tip of wingnut tongues, is the claim that the report "singles out" all returning veterans as potential recruits for right-wing extremists. In reality, the report only singles out returning veterans who become active in violent hate groups.

Does the report say to "look out for people who are opposed to abortion and immigration"? No. Here's what it does say:
Rightwing extremism ... may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.
Bill Bennett seems to believe this is beyond the pale, as though such a statement is not thoroughly based in reality. Apparently, he's never heard of the Army of God, or American Border Patrol.

Somehow, Eric Rudolph has escaped down the memory hole, along with those Alabama militiamen who were planning to slaughter Latinos just last year.

Either he's forgotten about these cases and the many others like them, or he wants everyone else to.
Because forgetting about it gives him a handy excuse to whip up a little more paranoia among the troops:
Boy, I better check my mail. I better check, you know, my -- my bathroom. This was a real overstep. She almost has apologized for this. I know they have to realize they went too far.

I hope the secretary of homeland security realizes that radical Muslims in this country, people who were associated with Al Qaida, are a much more serious threat than people who oppose abortion and illegal immigration.
Well, there's no doubt that Al Qaeda is the far more lethal threat. However, that doesn't mean domestic terrorists aren't a threat to the life and limb of hundreds if not thousands of Americans as well:
It's true that, generally speaking, domestic terrorists are neither as competent nor as likely to pose a major threat as most international terrorists, particularly Al Qaeda. ...

Nonetheless, given the right actors, the right weapons, and the right circumstances, they remain nearly as capable of inflicting serious harm on large numbers of citizens as their foreign counterparts. This is especially true because they are less likely to arouse suspicion and can more readily blend into the scenery.

Most of all, what they lack in smarts or skill, they make up for in numbers: Since the early 1990s, the vast majority of planned terrorist acts on American soil -- both those that were successfully perpetrated and those apprehended beforehand -- have involved white right-wing extremists. Between 1995 and 2000, over 42 such cases (some, like Eric Rudolph, involving multiple crimes) were identifiable from public records.

Some of these were potentially quite lethal, such as a planned attack on a propane facility near Sacramento that, had it been successful, would have killed several thousand people living in its vicinity. Krar's cyanide bomb could have killed hundreds. Fortunately, none of these plotters have proven to be very competent.
As the SPLC reported a few years ago, they were able to count over 60 serious cases of homegrown, right-wing domestic terrorism in the 10 years after Oklahoma City.

A sampling:

-- May 20, 2005: Two New Jersey men, Craig Orler and Gabriel Garafa, who allegedly belong to neo-Nazi and skinhead groups, were charged with illegally selling to police informants guns and 60 pounds of urea to use in a bomb.

-- Oct. 25, 2004: FBI agents in Tennessee arrested Demetrius "Van" Crocker after he allegedly tried to purchase ingredients for deadly sarin nerve gas and C-4 plastic explosives from an undercover agent. Crocker, who was involved with white supremacist groups, was charged with trying to get explosives to destroy a building and faces more than 20 years in prison.

-- April 10, 2003: The FBI raided the home of William Krar, of Noonday, Texas, and discovered an arsenal of more than 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 65 pipe bombs and remote control briefcase bombs, and almost 2 pounds of sodium cyanide, enough to make a bomb that could kill everyone in a large building. Krar, reportedly associated with white supremacist groups, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for possession of a chemical weapon.

From almost the day after Oklahoma City, mainstream right-wingers have tried their damnedest to downplay the meaning of the bombing. The conventional wisdom on the right now is that it was an "isolated incident" involving a mentally disturbed man (though there was never any evidence Tim McVeigh was psychiatrically ill), rather than the logical end result of more than a decade's worth of fearmongering about the federal government on the part of the American Right generally, and particularly fevered rhetoric from the "Patriot" Right. The denial has been especially thick insofar as any discussion of how the bombing reflected on the irresponsibility of their own reckless rhetoric.

Shortly after the bombing, Bill Clinton said this:
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.
For saying that, Clinton was denounced by Rush Limbaugh and a host of right-wing talk-show hosts for ostensibly trying to "blame conservatives for the Oklahoma City bombing." Indeed, the claim that he did so is now an established part of right-wing lore.

But Clinton was right, and they were wrong then, and remain wrong today. There is too much at stake, and their frivolous fearmongering over the serious work of keeping Americans safe from all kinds of terrorist acts must not be permitted to stand.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Michael Steele works up a nice head of paranoia over the fake DHS controversy

-- by Dave

Well, we knew that the fake controversy over the Department of Homeland Security's domestic-terrorism report was really all about whipping up paranoia among the Republicans' right-wing-populist footsoldiers.

But we really didn't expect their leading officials and pundits, like Michael Steele and Sean Hannity, to be hearing the black helicopters whupping overhead already:

Steele: You know, they've got their eye on the 3,000 Americans who assembled in Indiana last night, in Evansville, Indiana, to profess their continued effort to save the life of the unborn. Sarah Palin and myself and 3,000 other Americans who're concerned about the life issue were gathered there. And I'm sure there was somebody in the room with a notepad and a camera taking snapshots and writing down names.

Of course, Steele is just doing his part. The more paranoiac, the merrier.

I'm realizing why so many people at the Seattle Tea Tantrum were looking at me so suspiciously. It wasn't that they thought I might be liberal; it was that they thought I was a DHS agent.

Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.