mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

Climate of Hate: Who Could Not Have Seen This Coming?

When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?

Put me in the latter category. I’ve had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since the final stages of the 2008 campaign. I remembered the upsurge in political hatred after Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 — an upsurge that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. And you could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, that it was ready to happen again. The Department of Homeland Security reached the same conclusion: in April 2009 an internal report warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise, with a growing potential for violence.

Conservatives denounced that report. But there has, in fact, been a rising tide of threats and vandalism aimed at elected officials, including both Judge John Roll, who was killed Saturday, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords. One of these days, someone was bound to take it to the next level. And now someone has.

It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

Last spring Politico.com reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness — but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.

And there’s not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.

It’s important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It’s not a general lack of “civility,” the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there’s a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren’t the same as incitement.

The point is that there’s room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.

And it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.

Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.

And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.

Of course, the likes of Mr. Beck and Mr. O’Reilly are responding to popular demand. Citizens of other democracies may marvel at the American psyche, at the way efforts by mildly liberal presidents to expand health coverage are met with cries of tyranny and talk of armed resistance. Still, that’s what happens whenever a Democrat occupies the White House, and there’s a market for anyone willing to stoke that anger.

But even if hate is what many want to hear, that doesn’t excuse those who pander to that desire. They should be shunned by all decent people.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been happening: the purveyors of hate have been treated with respect, even deference, by the G.O.P. establishment. As David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, has put it, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.”

So will the Arizona massacre make our discourse less toxic? It’s really up to G.O.P. leaders. Will they accept the reality of what’s happening to America, and take a stand against eliminationist rhetoric? Or will they try to dismiss the massacre as the mere act of a deranged individual, and go on as before?

If Arizona promotes some real soul-searching, it could prove a turning point. If it doesn’t, Saturday’s atrocity will be just the beginning.

By: Paul Krugman: Op-Ed Columnist, New York Times-January 10,2011

January 10, 2011 Posted by | Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tea Bags, Wind Bags, and Moneybags

Born Again Baggers?: Joe Wilson, Jim DeMint, Rick Scott, Sharon Angle (clockwise from top left)

So let’s say you’re a Republican politician who’s been working the far right side of the political highway for years, getting little national attention other than the occasional shout-out in Human Events. Or let’s say you’re a sketchy business buccaneer with a few million smackers burning a hole in your pocket, and you’ve decided that you’d like to live in the governor’s mansion for a while, but you can’t get the local GOP to see you as anything more than a walking checkbook who funds other people’s dreams.

What do you do? That’s easy: Get yourself in front of the loudest parade in town by becoming a Tea Party Activist!

There has been incessant discussion over the last year about the size, character, and intentions of the Tea Party rank-and-file. But, by and large, the political discussion has passed over another defining phenomenon: The beatific capacity of Tea Party membership, which enables virtually anyone with ambition to whitewash his hackishness—and transform from a has-been or huckster into an idealist on a crusade.

After all, to become a “Tea Party favorite” or a “Tea Party loyalist,” all a politician has to do is say that he or she is one—and maybe grab an endorsement from one of many hundreds of local groups around the country. It’s even possible to become indentified as the “Tea Party” candidate simply by entering a primary against a Republican who voted for TARP, the Medicare Prescription Drug bill, or No Child Left Behind. It’s not like there’s much upside to distancing oneself from the movement. Most Republican pols are as friendly as can be to the Tea Party; and it’s a rare, self-destructive elephant who would emulate Lindsey Graham’s dismissal of it all as a passing fad (in public at least).

Here, we’ll take a look at two specific types of politicians who have been especially eager to embrace the Tea Party movement: the fringier of conservative ideologues, for one, and also the self-funded ego freaks who can easily pose as “outsiders,” because no “insiders” would take them seriously. Let’s call these, respectively, the windbags and the moneybags.

By “fringier” conservative ideologues, I mean those who have argued, year in and year out, sometimes for decades, that even the conservative Republican Party simply is not conservative enough. Many of these politicians would be considered washed-up and isolated, or at least eccentric, in an era when “Party Wrecking” was still treated as a cardinal GOP sin. But now it’s as if they’ve been granted a license to kill. One classic example of this type is South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, who was considered such a crank in the Senate that he was often stuck eating lunch alone as recently as 2008. His views, for example that Social Security and public schools are symbols of the seduction of Americans by socialism, were not long ago considered far outside the GOP mainstream. Now, in no small part because of his identification with the Tea Party Movement, DeMint has become an avenging angel roaming across the country to smite RINOs in Republican primaries, his imprimatur sought by candidates far from the Palmetto State.

Then there’s the new House Tea Party Caucus, chaired by Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, best known for suggesting that House Democrats be investigated for treason. Its members include a rich assortment of long-time conservative cranks, including Steve (“Racial profiling is an important part of law enforcement”) King, Joe (“You lie!”) Wilson, Paul (“We’ve elected a Marxist to be President of the United States) Broun, Dan (Vince Foster Was Murdered!) Burton, and Phil (National Journal’s Most Conservative House Member in 2007) Gingrey. The key here is that these are not freshly minted “outsiders”: Burton has been in Congress for 28 years, Wilson for ten, King and Gingrey for eight. The oldest member of the House, Ralph Hall of Texas, who has been around for 30 years, is also a member of the caucus.

Even some of the younger Tea Party firebrands didn’t exactly emerge from their living rooms on April 15, 2009, to battle the stimulus legislation and Obamacare. Marco Rubio of Florida, after all, was first elected to the state legislature ten years ago and served as House Speaker under the protective wing of his political godfather, Jeb Bush. Sharron Angle first ran for office 20 years ago, and was elected to the Nevada legislature twelve years back. And of course the Pauls, father and son, are hardly political neophytes—they have just begun to look relevant again because the Tea Party movement has shifted the GOP in their direction

And, in addition to the hard-right pols who’ve emerged into the sunshine of GOP respectability, the “outsider” meme surrounding the Tea Party movement has also created running room for well-funded opportunists—the “moneybags.”

These are epitomized by Rick Scott of Florida, who probably would not have passed the most rudimentary smell test in a “normal” election year. While there are always self-funding egomaniacs running for office—California’s Meg Whitman comes to mind along with Connecticut’s Linda McMahon—the former hospital executive presents a unique test case for the whitewashing power of Tea Party identification. He has managed to overcome a deeply embarrassing embroilment in the largest Medicare fraud case in history by taking his golden parachute from Columbia-HCA and becoming a right-wing crusader against health care reform, helping to make that a central cause for the Tea Party movement. (Scott was forced out of his position as head of the for-profit hospital chain, which he tried to build into the “McDonald’s of health care,” and the organization was fined $1.7 billion for overcharging the federal government.)

Pushed out of his job after the fraud decision, Scott decided to found the Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR) group that exploded onto the national scene early in 2009 with a series of inflammatory TV ads attacking health reform, employing the same firm that crafted the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth spots against John Kerry in 2004. CPR also played a major role in organizing the town hall meeting protests in the summer of 2009, which marked the Tea Party movement’s transition from a focus on TARP and the economic stimulus bill to a broader conservative agenda.

So when Scott (a Missouri native who moved to Florida in 2003) suddenly jumped into the Florda governor’s race early in 2010, the cleansing power of tea had already transformed his image among conservatives, making his improbable campaign possible.

On the wrong side of this dynamic was Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a former congressman and sturdy, if conventional, conservative who had paid his dues by twice running unsuccessfully for the Senate. McCollum had apparently all but locked up the nomination when Scott, in mid-April, leapt into the ring with ads calling himself a “conservative outsider” who would “run our state like a business,” while tarring McCollum as the candidate of “Tallahassee insiders” responsible for “the failed policies of the past.” Then came a torrent of advertising from Scott ($22 million by mid-July, more than anyone’s ever spent in Florida in an entire primary/general-election cycle) blasting McCollum for alleged corruption, for insufficient hostility toward illegal immigration, for being soft on abortion providers. The assault voided a lifetime of McCollum’s toil in the party vineyards, vaulting the previously unknown Scott into the lead in polls by early June. Worse yet, from a Republican point of view, Scott drove up McCollum’s negatives, and increasingly his own, to toxic levels, handing Democrat Alex Sink the lead in a July general election poll. And now McCollum, fighting for his life, is striking back, drawing as much publicity as he can to Scott’s questionable past, especially the Medicare fraud case against Columbia-HCA.

So the question is: Would Rick Scott have been in a position to carry out what is beginning to look like a murder-suicide pact on the GOP’s gubernatorial prospects if he hadn’t been able to identify himself as an “outsider conservative” with close ties to the Tea Party? That’s not likely, but it’s no less likely than the remarkable epiphanies that have made career pols of marginal relevance such as Jim DeMint and Sharron Angle into apostles of an exciting new citizens’ movement. So the next time you hear a candidate posturing on behalf of the Tea Party, squint and try to imagine what they were like in their former lives. Many of them have only found respectability through the healing power of tea.

By: Ed Kilgore-The New Republic, Aug 5, 2010

August 7, 2010 Posted by | Tea Party | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: