Politics by Other Means


If a widely-circulated photograph of the 9/12 anti-government demonstration in Washington, D.C. could be believed, protesters jammed the National Mall all the way from the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument. Event instigator and FoxNews host Glenn Beck was joined by other conservative pundits in estimating the crowd at 1,000,000-2,000,000.

Impressive if true, but it wasn’t. The supposed photographic evidence dated from the 1997 Promise Keeper’s rally. Pulitzer Prize winning fact checker Politifact.com quoted a public affairs officer for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Department as saying that the crowd only filled the area between the Capitol steps and Third Street, the area around the reflecting pool. The grounds of the Washington Monument begin around 15th Street. The same official guesstimated attendance at 60-75,000.

It seems that conservative claims were a bit inflated.

The politics of dirty pool
We’re getting used to it. We’ve been fed fake Kenyan birth certificates, euthanasia scares and charges that Democrats might use voter IDs to deny Republicans medical treatment. Or maybe rationing decisions could be based on age or race.

Similar tactics were employed against then presidential candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 electoral cycle. It was dubbed the “kitchen sink” strategy. Opponents propagated attacks, no matter how outrageous or unsupported, and continued any that generated media coverage or heightened public fear. A steady barrage of new charges distracted attention from the exposure of previous falsehoods. Then and now the result is a derailment of responsible debate.

If confusion and fear stalemate Washington or gut Democratic proposals, government looks incompetent. Republicans figure that sabotage is a winner—and that the party can shut down conservative mayhem when it re-takes power.

The Obama administration is only now beginning to grasp this stark reality and has yet to devise an effective means of coping with it.

Let’s step back and see conservative strategy for what it is: the intellectual equivalent of guerrilla war. Inflammatory charges take the place of roadside bombs but the effect is similar. A nation is prevented from conducting its business. People suffer. Conservative leaders hope that popular sentiment will hold the government, not them, responsible.

Insurgencies are relatively small and mobile. Sitting governments are not. President Obama’s advisors face many of the same problems as our generals in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Insurgents cast denunciations of their activity—or prosecution of Bush officials they supported in office—as tyrannical. Thankfully, so far, progressives and Democrats have largely resisted the temptation to retaliate in kind. Moral high ground is worth preserving. But failure to respond to Republican charges appears weak, as does an administration chronically playing defense against hit and run foes.

Constitutional challenges
Wild claims and charges only represent the most polite aspects of the conservative attack. Tea Party sympathizers in several states are attempting to gin up confrontations between states and the federal government.

Thirty-seven state legislatures have considered or adopted “State Sovereignty” resolutions. These claim state authority “over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States.” One of Sarah Palin’s last gubernatorial acts was signing an Alaska sovereignty resolution. A North Carolina resolution, HR 849, died in committee this year.

In essence these resolutions set states up for a wholesale “nullification” of federal mandates in areas not specified by the Constitution. We fought a Civil War over that interpretation of the Tenth Amendment. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy used National Guard troops to counter it in the segregated South.

But conservatives are eager to have another go. Six states are taking steps to block “national healthcare” mandates in their states. Some Georgia legislators propose the same. Oklahoma drew a Justice Dept. threat to withhold federal funds for making English the official state language. Tennessee and Montana passed laws exempting firearms made and used within those states from federal gun laws. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was not amused. It sent letters to holders of federal firearms licenses that federal law still applies.

Last spring, Texas governor Rick Perry went further, dropping hints about Texas independence at a teabag demonstration. A Daily Kos poll found Texas Republicans evenly split on whether Texas would be better off as an independent nation.

Bullets and blood
Earlier this year Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano endured a firestorm over an intelligence report on domestic rightwing terrorism. The assessment concluded that, “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.”

The radical right has a robust and continuing history of violence against people. The 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City remains the deadliest homegrown act of terrorism in US history. The bomber was a combat veteran of Operation Desert Storm.

Domestic hate groups, mostly rightwing, are proliferating. The Southern Poverty Law Center recognized 926 hate groups in 2008, up from 602 in the year 2000. 

Sales of guns and ammunition have boomed since it became apparent that Obama might win the White House. Assault rifles and handguns are especially popular. Guns now appear outside presidential speaking engagements.

Radical conservative military and law enforcement personnel are organizing, half-underground, to support guns and state sovereignty. The Oath Keepers swear to refuse orders they believe to conflict with the Constitution.

Rightwing violence may not be limited to isolated lone wolf shooters and secret militias much longer. The National Association of Rural Landowners, NARLO, a bronze level organizational sponsor of the 9/12 March on Washington, predicts overthrow of the federal government in a video titled “The Coming Civil War.” NewsMax, the conservative online news and opinion site, recently featured a column from regular contributor John L. Perry suggesting the possibility of a military coup. “Military intervention is what Obama's exponentially accelerating agenda for ‘fundamental change’ toward a Marxist state is inviting upon America,” Perry opined. “A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama's radical ideal is not acceptable or reversible.” Reader complaints led NewsMax to take down the column.

Republican lawmakers and conservative media personalities had a telling response to the Homeland Security intelligence assessment. They attacked Napolitano and grossly misrepresented the report. House minority leader Rep. John Boehner was quoted as saying the assessment applies to, “about two-thirds of Americans who might go to church, who may have served in the military, who may be involved in community activities…I just don’t understand how our government can look at the American people and say, ‘You’re all potential terrorist threats.’”

A battle for the national soul
The shame of this for ordinary Americans is paralysis of government at a time when our country has serious problems. None of them, including legitimate conservative concerns, can be effectively addressed until the insurgency at all levels is neutered. Liberals can fight conservatives but can’t clean house for them.

Conservative heavyweight William F. Buckley recognized a similar problem with the radical right in the early 1960s. He read the John Birch Society and like-minded extremists out of conservatism. The NewsMax response to Perry’s flirtation with the idea of a coup was welcome, though one wonders how such a thing could have passed editorial inspection in the first place.

Pending the appearance of a new Buckley it’s probably best to assume that all allegations and claims promoted by conservatives are bad faith efforts to sabotage the United States until proven otherwise.

—Michael Hopping
copyright © 2009 all rights reserved



Copyright © 2007 michaelhopping.com

Asheville, NC