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“None Dare Call It Treason”: Combining Extremist Language About Opponents With Violent Language About Political Options

As Brother Benen notes this morning, the National Rifle Association’s new president, James Porter of Birmingham, Alabama, likes to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment as a way to ensure the American people will be able to “resist tyranny”–i.e., shoot and kill law enforcement officers, members of the U.S. armed services, and presumably anyone else (you know, like their neighbors) who might disagree with their definition of their essential “liberties”–at some undefined point in the future. And while I’ve not yet seen evidence of him calling Barack Obama a “tyrant” (though he has called him a “fake president”) I’d be shocked if it doesn’t exist.

So let’s put it this way: Porter seems to be highly representative of the amazingly common type of contemporary “conservatives” who combine extremist language about their political opponents with violent language about their political options–who in effect point their guns at “liberals” while making it known they and they alone will decide what “liberties” to surrender, democracy or laws be damned.

It makes it worse that Porter is one of the old boys who thinks it ha-larious to refer to the American Civil War as the “war of northern aggression” (as “we” put it “down south,” he said to a New York crowd recently). Since that war, whatever else it represented, was without question an armed revolution against the government of the United States, you have to wonder if the Confederacy–or as it was commonly referred to in the north for many decades, “the Rebellion”–is Porter’s model for defense of oneself against “tyranny” (you may recall that John Wilkes Booth shouted “Sic semper tyrannus“–“thus always to tyrants”) after shooting Lincoln.

Am I perhaps being unfair to these people in suggesting that they are behaving like America-haters and are flirting with treason? I don’t think so. Porter and those like him could dispel this sort of suspicion instantly, any time they wanted, by just saying: “Let’s be clear: the kind of ‘tyranny’ we are arming ourselves to forestall is something entirely different from anything Americans have experienced since we won our independence–a regime engaged in the active suppression of any sort of dissent, and the closure of any peaceful means for the redress of grievances. We’re not talking about the current administration, or either major political party, as presently representing a threat of tyranny.”

I’m not holding my breath for any statements like that to emerge from the NRA, or indeed, from the contemporary conservative movement. It’s ironic that people who almost certainly think of themselves as patriots–perhaps as super-patriots–are deliberately courting the impression that loyalty to their country is strictly contingent on the maintenance of laws and policies they favor, to be achieved if not by ballots then by bullets. Republican politicians should be repudiating such people instead of celebrating them, accepting their money and support, and even adopting their seditious rhetoric.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 6, 2013

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Could Possibly Go Wrong”: Gun Advocate Plans July 4th March In Washington, With Loaded Guns

A former Marine, candidate for Congress, and self-defined libertarian radio talk-show host has sparked some controversy over a Facebook event gone viral. Adam Kokesh, host of Adam vs. The Man, created an event on Facebook entitled, “Open Carry March on Washington #OpenCarry130704” to promote an individual’s Second Amendment rights. In a July 4 march from Virginia to D.C., the participants will pass Congress, the Supreme Court, and the White House—all while carrying their loaded guns.

According to the Facebook page, over 30,000 people have been invited, more than 1,500 have confirmed they will attend, and nearly 1,500 have declined — and the numbers are continuing to grow.

Virginia’s lenient gun laws grant protestors the right to publicly load their guns within state lines. Since Washington, D.C. has strict gun laws, law enforcement may be able to arrest any Open Carry March participants if they cross state lines with their loaded guns.

The description on Kokesh’s Facebook page states, “This is an act of civil disobedience, not a permitted event. We will march with rifles loaded & slung across our backs to put the government on notice that we will not be intimidated & cower in submission to tyranny. We are marching to mark the high water mark of government & to turn the tide. This will be a non-violent event, unless the government chooses to make it violent.”

Kokesh said that the event website needed 10,000 supporters and at least 1,000 confirmed marchers by June 1st for the march to take place. This goal was met Monday afternoon, when Kokesh posted an update confirming that he’d reached the required number. “Now that it’s undeniable that this is going to happen, allow me to make clear how. There will be coordination with DC law enforcement prior to the event,” he wrote. “Failing to provide that commitment to safety, we will either be informed that we will only be allowed up to a certain point where we would be arrested. If this is the case, we will approach that point as a group and if necessary, I will procede [sic] to volunteer myself to determine what their actual course of action with someone crossing the line will be at which point fellow marchers will have the choice of joining me one at a time in a peaceful, orderly manner, or turning back to the National Cemetery.”

Kokesh is a former Marine who received a general discharge, one step below an honorable discharge, after wearing his uniform to an anti-war protest. His radio talk show on Russia Today, a Russian-sponsored network that is critical of American policies, was canceled after he supported and fundraised for Representative Ron Paul’s (R-TX) presidential campaign. Kokesh stands for anti-government policies and his past run-ins with authorities show he is not afraid to make a statement for the sake of his political cause—in fact, two of his latest tweets include: “It’s time to abolish the US federal government,” and “When the government comes to take your guns, you can shoot government agents, or submit to slavery.”

There is no doubt that Kokesh’s views have become a bit extreme and radical—marching across Washington D.C. militia-style is just one way his ideology is sadly rubbing off on right-wing gun nuts across the country who relentlessly believe the government is trying to take away their guns. It is still uncertain if Kokesh will actually go through with the march, or if the event will achieve what he hopes. After all, arguing to uphold one law he enjoys by breaking another and triggering arrest wouldn’t make him a hero or patriot — it would make him a criminal.

 

By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, May 6, 2013

May 8, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Winning The Argument”: Reagan Wanted To Shrink Government, Today’s Republican Party Wants To Destroy It

In his bid to be remembered as a transformational leader, President Obama is following the playbook of an ideological opposite, Margaret Thatcher. First you win the argument, she used to say, then you win the vote.

Obama is gradually winning the argument about what government can and should do. His State of the Union address was an announcement of that fact — and a warning to conservatives that, to remain relevant, they will have to move beyond the premise that government is always the problem and never the solution.

It’s ridiculous for critics to charge that Tuesday night’s speech was not sufficiently bipartisan. Repairing the nation’s infrastructure is not a partisan issue; bridges rust at the same rate in Republican-held congressional districts as in Democratic ones. The benefits of universal preschool will accrue in red states as well as blue. Climate change is not deterred by the fact that a majority of the Republican caucus in the House doesn’t believe in it.

There is no bipartisan compromise between “do something” and “do nothing.” Obama’s reelection reflected the progress he has made in convincing Americans that “do something” is the only option — and that “do nothing” leads inexorably to decline.

Thatcher’s reshaping of British politics and governance is instructive. The Iron Lady came to power at a time when Britain was sinking. The ideological pendulum had swung too far to the left, and the nominally socialist Labor Party, architect of the modern British welfare state, was out of ideas. Thatcher’s Conservative government roused the nation from its torpor. She was an enormously polarizing figure, and much of what she did — fighting the unions, privatizing state industries and public housing — met with bitter resistance.

Today, Britain remains one of the wealthiest countries in the world and continues to play a major role in international affairs. London is arguably the world’s preeminent financial center. I doubt any of this would be the case if Thatcher had not won the argument about how her nation should move forward.

When Obama took office, the United States was in a similar funk. Ronald Reagan’s conservative ideas had been corrupted by his followers into a kind of anti-government nihilism. Reagan wanted to shrink government; today’s Republican Party wants to destroy it.

Obama assumed leadership of a country in which inequality was growing and economic mobility declining, with the result that the American dream was becoming less attainable. It was a country whose primary and secondary schools lagged far behind international norms; whose airports, roads and bridges were showing their age; and, most important, whose path to continued prosperity, in the age of globalization and information technology, was not entirely clear.

Obama’s State of the Union speech was a detailed reiteration of his position that we can and must act to secure our future — and that government can and must be one of our principal instruments.

To understand why Americans reelected Obama in November and sent more Democrats to both houses of Congress, consider the Republican response to the president’s address, delivered by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Never mind the unforgettable moment when Rubio stooped almost out of sight and reached for a bottle of water, all the while trying to look straight ahead at the camera like John Cleese in some Monty Python sketch. I felt genuinely sorry for him — and appalled at the Republican Party’s incompetence at basic stagecraft. First they give Clint Eastwood an empty chair to perform with at the convention, and now this?

Even more unfortunate, in the end, was the utter lack of ideas in Rubio’s speech.

“More government isn’t going to help you get ahead, it’s going to hold you back,” Rubio said. Yet he also said that he never would have been able to go to college without government-backed student loans. And he spoke touchingly of how Medicare paid for the care his father received in his final days and the care his mother needs now.

I expected him to try to reconcile this contradiction. Instead, he went back to portraying government as something to be tamed rather than something to be used. To a majority of Republican primary voters, this makes sense. To the electorate as a whole, it might have made sense 30 years ago — but not today.

Margaret Thatcher never won the hearts of her many opponents. But by winning her argument, she shaped a nation’s future. There’s an increasing chance that historians will say the same of Barack Obama.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 14, 2013

February 16, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, State of the Union | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tea Party Absolutism”: The High Cost Of Hating Government Levies An Enormous Unnecessary Cost On Everyone Else

The tourniquet applied by the outgoing Congress to the economy allows a two-month breather before we are consumed by the next deadline. The president and his party can allow themselves a brief moment of celebration for imposing higher taxes on the richest Americans, but the next stage in fixing the nation’s fiscal problems may not be as easy. By the end of February, lawmakers must find enough cuts in public spending to allow the debt ceiling to be raised. Two more months of uncertainty will prevent businesses and consumers from making spending decisions that would bolster the economic recovery.

The devil is not so much in the detail of the arguments to come as the big picture that frames the debilitating running debate. While the difference between the sides is ostensibly over taxes and public spending and borrowing, the more profound division is over where government should begin and end. For many of the Republican Party’s Tea Party insurgents, the choice is even more fundamental: whether there should be a government at all. Their unbending position, demanding an ever-diminishing role for the federal government, has levied an enormous unnecessary cost on everyone else.

Since Republicans regained control of the House in the 2010 mid-terms, when the Tea Party tide was in full force, they have attempted to freeze the size of government, coincidentally putting a brake on economic recovery. They have vetoed attempts at further economic stimulus, encouraged America’s economy to be downgraded by the ratings agencies by threatening not to extend the debt ceiling, and tried to veto any and every tax increase in the fiscal cliff talks. Their aim is to shrink government by starving it of funds. Such uncompromising absolutism has led to the dampening of business confidence and investment that would have created jobs.

It is not just the economy that has suffered from the absolute positions held by the anti-government rump in the GOP. Their insistence that the Founding Fathers intended us to be allowed to carry guns of any sort, including the rapid-fire assault weapon that killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, last month, continues to hamper attempts to curb the nation’s murderous gun violence. Ghosts from the eighteenth century are preying on our school-children, abetted by those who believe that compromise on amending our gun laws is surrendering to the forces of big government. Such unbending absolutism costs human lives.

Similarly, suspicion of government is behind the growth in home schooling, that narrows the education of children, deprives them of a sense of community, and diminishes their social skills. It came as little surprise to read reports that the Newtown shooter was kept home from school by his mother, a “survivalist” or “Doomsday Prepper”, who stockpiled food and guns because she expected an imminent economic apocalypse. Such paranoia about the role of government is a recurring theme in our society’s most appalling massacres, from the bombing of the Federal Government Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 by the anti-government militiaman Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168, including 19 children, to the FBI siege of the anti-government Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas, in 1993, that left 76 dead.

Hostility to government also ensures that health care is unnecessarily expensive. The average cost of American health care is $8,233 per person per year, the most expensive in the developed world. In comparable Western countries such as France, which has a private health insurance mandate administered by the state, it is $3,974. In Britain, which for 65 years has enjoyed a taxation-funded national health system, it is $3,433. As much as Americans may prefer to believe that they have a health care system second to none, there is little discernible difference between the quality of health care provided, nor the efficacy of the medicine administered in the three countries, while dealing with the health insurance bureaucracy here is considerably more time-wasting, expensive, and irritating.

Changes in demography, with Americans living longer and using more medical resources to enjoy a tolerable quality of life, mean that health care costs will continue to rise unless reforms are made. The easiest way to reduce American health care costs would be for the federal government to provide a “single payer” alternative to compete with the near-monopolistic private health insurance companies. But such a system is considered an abomination by absolutists who demand that the federal government should keep out of healthcare. The harsh alternative is to cut the amount of care the system provides to the elderly. Again, an unbending attitude to the government’s role and responsibilities comes at an exorbitant cost.

Conservative theologians have devoted themselves to explaining why government interference is a bad thing. For Milton Friedman, the American system of government was so monetized from the moment the Republic was founded, and so open to corruption, that he always advocated small government – at least in the United States. For the Austrian thinker Friedrich Hayek, writing in his influential masterwork The Road to Serfdom, a burgeoning state could lead to tyranny. To be fair to Hayek, who wrote his topical tract as World War II was drawing to a close, he was principally concerned that free enterprise might continue to be stifled by the imperatives of the wartime command economy once peace was declared. In The Road to Serfdom, in a passage often ignored by contemporary conservatives, he insisted that all governments should provide a generous safety net for the needy, homes for the homeless, and universal health care.

Tea Party members owe less to conservative thinkers such as Friedman and Hayek than to uncompromising proponents of the untrammelled free market such as the libertarians Ayn Rand and Ron Paul. When the new Congress comes to head off another fiscal cliff crisis at the end of next month, it will take courage from the Republican leadership to keep their extreme wing in check. If they fail to do so and they demand too deep cuts to public spending too quickly, they will not only cause the American economy to return to recession but may find that the middle ground voters who decide elections will add together the vast cost of their allies’ absolutist intransigence and keep them in opposition forever.

 

By: Nicholas Wapshott, The National Memo (originally appeared at Reuters.com), January 7, 2013

January 8, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Teaparty | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Deal Here Mr. Romney”: Why America Doesn’t Need A “Financier In Chief”

During the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney returned to one of the original themes of his campaign – namely that his financial experience at Bain Capital qualifies him to solve the problems of a nation plagued by unemployment and debt. Ridiculed and reviled in millions of dollars of advertising by his political rivals, from Newt Gingrich to Rick Perry to President Obama, Romney’s private sector career remains his central argument for electing him on November 6.

Today Peter A. Joseph, a respected and experienced figure in the private equity business as well as a civic activist, scrupulously debunks that argument on the New York Times website.

Over the past three decades, Joseph founded two private equity firms, gaining considerable insight into Romney’s success at Bain as well as the differences between political leadership and investment savvy. While not unsympathetic to the pressures Romney faced at Bain or his industriousness in overcoming them, Joseph says those financial triumphs have no special relevance to the Oval Office.

The role of the private-equity financier, he notes, has very little to do with being a “job creator”:

A businessman seeking to optimize profitability will look to lower labor costs by reducing headcount, whether through technology, outsourcing, or rationalization. This is right out of the basic playbook. It is not the mission of the financier to create jobs. In fact, his mission is often to do just the opposite.

Joseph gently tweaks Romney for indulging in harsh anti-government rhetoric when so much of his and Bain’s wealth derive from investing the pensions of teachers, cops, firefighters and other public-sector employees. (He might also have noted Romney’s venomous hatred of the very unions whose contractual power enabled him to get his hands on their accumulated assets.) He also suggests that Bain and other private-equity outfits have ripped off their clients, including the workers, through inflated fees:

Romney constantly derides big government, but government is made up of individuals, whose pension funds helped make him and Bain unimaginably rich. There is no doubt that these pension funds sought the higher returns offered by private-equity investing. But as the private equity business grew, the public pension funds and other capital providers have gotten the short end of the stick. They have not completely shared in the value of the franchise that is created in part by their investment in the industry. It seems odd to hear Romney criticize big government without any acknowledgment that he has made much of his fortune managing the retirement funds of many public employees.

Joseph concludes by contrasting the qualifications of a private-equity financier with what is required from a president of the United States, which don’t have much in common:

Romney’s financial success is admirable and enviable, but it came by following the mantra of increasing cash flow, cutting jobs and minimizing taxable income. Though the Obama campaign has tried to exploit this with millions of dollars in anti-Bain ads, the real issue is how Romney’s experience relates to a president’s need to balance budgetary responsibility with the heavy lifting required to address our collective concerns, our common obligations. We have heard a lot about pragmatism and practicality, but I can assure you that compassion and broader social concerns rarely make it into an investment memo. If Romney really wants to push his Bain experience, Americans will have to decide whether the answers to the problems facing them are best provided by a financier president.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, October 19, 2012

October 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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