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“Freelance Insurrectionists”: Is The Oregon Standoff The Inevitable Result Of Anti-Government Rhetoric?

Out in Oregon, the Bundy clan has begun another heavily-armed standoff with the government, seizing control of a building at a wildlife refuge and talking about laying down their life for liberty, presumably in some kind of gruesome battle in which plenty of law enforcement officials are killed along with the martyrs to the anti-government cause. Most of the Republican presidential candidates have so far avoided saying anything about this event, but liberals are raising the question of how much responsibility the Republican Party and its leaders bear for this kind of radical right extremism.

It’s a complicated question, but the answer is: not as much as their most fervent opponents might claim, but not so little as they’d like.

This latest standoff is led by Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy and leader of what seems to be a band of freelance insurrectionists. If you’re having a conflict with the federal government, they’ll load up their weapons, come to your location, and set up a confrontation with law enforcement, whether you want them to or not.

You can read elsewhere about what led up to this standoff, but it has to be understood in context of the last one, when rancher Cliven Bundy got into a conflict with the United States government over grazing fees. The problem was that Bundy wanted to use public land to graze his cattle, but didn’t want to pay the fees that every other rancher does, since as he said at the time, “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.” Anti-government activists flocked to the standoff, pointing guns at government officials and talking of insurrection. Two of those present at the event would soon after go on a shooting rampage in Las Vegas, murdering two police officers and a bystander.

At the time, some Republican politicians, including Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, said that whatever Bundy’s gripe with the government, he ought to follow the law. But others were far more indulgent. Ben Carson supported the protest. Ted Cruz blamed it on President Obama, calling the standoff “the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on.” And Rand Paul not only supported their cause but later had a friendly sit-down with Cliven Bundy. Donald Trump took a middle position, saying that laws should be followed, but that when it came to Bundy, “I like him, I like his spirit, his spunk and the people that are so loyal…I respect him.” (For more details on these reactions, go here).

But most critically, during the standoff Cliven Bundy and his supporters became heroes of conservative media. Sean Hannity practically made Bundy his Fox News co-host for a couple of weeks. Their bizarre claims about the government and the means they were using to lodge their complaints — an armed standoff — were validated and promoted again and again by the media outlets conservatives rely on for their news. It was only when Cliven Bundy turned out to be an unreconstructed racist, of the kind who begins sentences with “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” that Fox and the Republicans who supported him finally distanced themselves from him.

Even if they hadn’t been so aggressively supported and promoted by elite conservative figures and institutions, the Bundys’ actions can be viewed as an outgrowth of conservative rhetoric over the years of Barack Obama’s presidency. From the moment he was elected, conservatives said that Obama was not legitimately the president (many of them charged that he wasn’t born in the United States). Virtually everything he did was given a given a dark and sinister spin, with the constant refrain that Obama was a tyrant who had not only usurped power but would shortly turn the United States into a terrifying nightmare of statist oppression. The line between mainstream rhetoric and that of the radical fringe disappeared, with popular television hosts and backbench Republican House members spouting conspiracy theories about FEMA concentration camps and the Department of Homeland Security stockpiling ammunition in preparation for some horrific campaign of repression. Nearly every policy with which conservatives disagreed was decried as the death of freedom itself.

Anyone who took all that literally and believed that the people saying it were actually sincere could well have concluded that armed insurrection was indeed an appropriate response to what was plainly a coup from the enemies of freedom within the government, led by a despot who was literally trying to destroy America. Now combine that with the way so many Republicans talk about guns — not just as a tool of self-protection, but as something whose essential purpose is to intimidate government officials. Second Amendment purists, some of whom are running for president, regularly justify their enthusiasm for loosening gun laws as a way to keep tyranny in check, by showing that gun owners are willing to fight against their government, should it become necessary. As Ted Cruz has said, “The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution isn’t for just protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice. It is a Constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny — for the protection of liberty.”

So on one hand, Republicans regularly say that we need so many guns in civilian hands in case it becomes necessary to wage war on the government, while on the other hand they say that Barack Obama’s government has become tyrannical and oppressive, and freedom is all but destroyed. So why is anybody surprised when people like the Bundys put those two ideas together?

It doesn’t stop there. Republicans were similarly divided on Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who decided that because she doesn’t support same-sex marriage, she could defy the Supreme Court and refuse to grant marriage licenses to anyone in her county. Davis got full support from five of the Republican presidential candidates, while six opposed her move and the rest came down somewhere in the middle. But the point is that a meaningful contingent of elite Republicans said that when you don’t like the law, you can pretend the law doesn’t apply to you, even if you’re sworn to carry it out.

These days, every lunatic corner of the right can find respect and validation from at least some of the most prominent and respected figures in Republican politics and conservative media, at the same time as people are encouraged to strap on their AK-47 when they go down to the supermarket.

Today, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both condemned the actions taken by the insurrectionists in Oregon. There are surely plenty of other Republicans who are disgusted by the Bundy clan and actions like this standoff, so it wouldn’t be fair to blame the whole party for the rise of this kind of armed right-wing radicalism. But you also can’t say anti-government rhetoric had nothing to do with it.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, January 4, 2016

January 5, 2016 Posted by | Ammon Bundy, Conservative Rhetoric, Oregon Militiamen | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Getting In Touch With His Inner Dick Cheney”: Can Marco Rubio Bomb His Way Back Into The Right’s Good Graces?

Yes, it’s suddenly a fine time once again to be a Republican super-hawk, what with the GOP rank-and-file getting back in touch with their inner Dick Cheney, and even Rand Paul getting all macho about “destroying” IS. At that neocon fortress, the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes can’t help but gloat.

The Republican flirtation with dovish noninterventionism is over. It wasn’t much of a fling.

No, it wasn’t.

Hayes quickly warms to the idea that this new mood of joy in blowing things up overseas as well as at home will be a big factor in 2016. And though he mentions Paul’s back-tracking and some upcoming “big” speech by Bobby Jindal on defense (presumably because his effort to be the most ferocious Christian Right figure in the campaign hasn’t much worked), Hayes has no doubt who the biggest beneficiary will be:

Among the most-discussed prospective candidates, the reemergence of these issues probably benefits Marco Rubio as much as anyone. Rubio, who serves on both the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, has made a priority of national security since his arrival in Washington in January 2011. And it was a point of emphasis for him in the 2010 campaign that sent him to Congress.

According to several people close to Rubio, the senator has not made a final decision about whether he’ll run for president in 2016. But a recent interview made clear that if he does run, he will do so as a proponent of U.S. global leadership and military dominance.

Not immigration reform? Just kidding.

Rubio called for dramatic increases in defense spending. He said the United States should be prepared to send ground troops to Iraq if necessary to defeat ISIS. He argued that the United States must “be able to project power into multiple theaters in the world.” He said that the United States should embrace its role as a superpower and “conduct a multifaceted foreign policy.”

For the first time, I’m seeing a glimmer of how Rubio might be able to overcome the horrendous damage he suffered among conservative activists with his advocacy of comprehensive immigration reform. His frantic back-tracking on that subject has simply reinforced the impression that he can’t be trusted. But being the chief bomb-thrower in the field–literally, not figuratively–could covereth a multitude of sins. From the emotional point of view of “the base,” wanting to kill a lot of dusky people is a decent substitute for wanting to keep a lot of dusky people from entering the country and going on welfare.

Hayes does go too far in suggesting that the militaristic mood in the GOP could go so far as to lure still another candidate in the race–one whose name would normally arouse widespread hoots of derision:

In a recent, hour-long interview, Lindsey Graham said if he is reelected to the Senate in November, he will begin exploring a bid for the presidency.

Be still, my heart. The prospect of a 2016 presidential cycle played out against the background of Lindsey Graham squawking hysterically about terrorist threats is almost too much to bear.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 3, 2014

October 5, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Appallingly Short Sighted”: “Anything Goes” Is The New Normal In Republican Politics

The GOP’s attempt to gerrymander the Electoral College by having a few swing states distribute their electoral votes according to congressional district rather than through the winner of the popular vote seems to be collapsing. The scheme has been voted down (Virginia) or talked down (Ohio, Florida, Michigan), in four of the states in question. Only Wisconsin (where the governor is walking back his initial enthusiasm for the idea) and Pennsylvania still seem to be seriously considering the notion.

The Maddow Blog’s Steve Benen yesterday had a good take on the implosion of the electoral gerrymander movement:

… while the relief of the scheme’s failure is understandable, it’s the result of diminished expectations.

… The “bar has shifted” so far that many of us are delighted, if not amazed, when Republican policymakers voluntarily agree not to crash the global economy on purpose. Our standards for success have fallen so low, we don’t actually expect progress—we instead cheer the absence of political malevolence.

But something’s going on here that’s larger than merely diminished expectations. The electoral vote-rigging scheme was the latest example of the end of norms in our politics. It used to be that certain tactics and certain tools simply were not used or were used only in extremis. But we are currently in an era of no holds barred politics: The end—accruing political power and/or victories—apparently justifies all means. Consider:

The filibuster was once a rarely used tool but has become the order of the day. Now the Senate passing something with less than 60 votes is the extraordinary exception where it was once the rule.

The idea of using the debt ceiling—or more specifically the threat of causing the United States to default on its obligations by not raising it—would once have been inconceivable but is rapidly becoming just another sign of gridlock.

Ditto the idea of intentionally shutting down the government.

Republicans in the Virginia state Senate last week used the absence of one Democratic member (he was attending President Obama’s inaugural) to ram through a mid-decade, partisan redistricting plan. If the new map, which the House of Delegates is slow-walking, is enacted, they are following the trail blazed in Texas by Tom DeLay (preconviction) and his state acolytes a decade ago. Redistricting is meant to take place on a decennial basis after the new census, not where political opportunity presents itself.

So is it any surprise that some conservatives thought the idea of gerrymandering the Electoral College was acceptable?

We’re in the “just win, baby” era of politics. But that attitude is appallingly short sighted because once the new normal takes hold it’s hard to walk back. If Democrats lose the Senate does anyone think they’ll throttle back on the filibuster because it’s the honorable thing to do? Or will they disavow unilateral disarmament while grinding the chamber to a halt?

The problem we all face is that the ends-justify-any-means attitude infecting our politics threatens the system itself. The Founding Fathers were brilliant and created a wonderfully durable system, but not an indestructible one.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, January 31, 2013

February 1, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Apocalypse Already Came”: The Sad State Of Republican Zealots With Microphones

America, you are an idiot.

You are a moocher, a zombie, soulless, mouth-breathing, ignorant, greedy, self-indulgent, envious, shallow and lazy.

The foregoing is a summation of “analysis” from conservative pundits and media figures — Cal Thomas, Ted Nugent, Bill O’Reilly, et cetera — seeking to explain Mitt Romney’s emphatic defeat. They seem to have settled on a strategy of blaming the voters for not being smart enough or good enough to vote as they should have. Because America wasn’t smart enough or good enough, say these conservatives, it shredded the Constitution, bear-hugged chaos, French-kissed Socialism, and died.

In other words, the apocalypse is coming.

Granted, such thinking does not represent the totality of conservative response to the election. The reliably sensible columnist Kathleen Parker offered a, well… reliably sensible take on what’s wrong with the Republican Party. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal spoke thoughtfully to Politico about how conservatism must change to meet the challenges of the future.

Unfortunately, for every Parker or Jindal, there is a Donald Trump urging revolution or a petition drive advocating secession from the union. And just when you think you’ve heard it all, just when you think you could not possibly be more astonished at how panic-stricken and estranged from reality much of the political right now is, there comes word of Henry Hamilton’s suicide.

He was the 64-year-old owner of a tanning salon in Key West, FL. As recently reported in The Miami Herald, he was found dead two days after the election with empty prescription bottles next to him, one for a drug to treat anxiety, another for a drug to treat schizophrenia. Hamilton, according to his partner, Michael Cossey, was stressed about his business and had said that if President Obama were re-elected, “I’m not going to be around.” Police found his will, upon which was scrawled “F— Obama.”

Sometimes, they act — the Hannitys, the O’Reillys, the Trumps, the Limbaughs, the whole conservative political infotainment complex — as if this were all a game, as if their nonstop litany of half-truths, untruths and fear mongering, their echo chamber of studied outrage, practiced panic, intellectual incoherence and unadulterated equine feculence, had no human consequences. Sometimes, they behave as if it were morally permissible — indeed, morally required — to say whatever asinine, indefensible, coarse or outrageous thing comes to mind in the name of defeating or diminishing the dreaded left. And never mind that vulnerable people might hear this and shape their beliefs accordingly.

Did the conservative political infotainment complex kill Henry Hamilton? No.

But were they the water in which he swam, a Greek chorus echoing and magnifying the outsized panic that troubled his unwell mind? It seems quite likely.

One hopes, without any real expectation, that Hamilton’s death will give pause to the flame-throwers on the right. One hopes, without any real expectation, that somebody will feel a twinge of conscience. Or shame.

But that will not happen.

Because, what you see here is not the behavior of calculating showmen who don’t believe half the garbage they say. If it were, we might have hope.

But these, I have come to believe, are not showmen. They are zealots. They do believe half the garbage they say, and they have microphones to say it with. That is infinitely more frightening.

So one can only hope, with slightly more expectation, that the GOP will finally disenthrall itself from this ongoing affront to decency and intelligence and thereby render it moot.

Until it does, we can only absorb the impact of these regularly scheduled meltdowns. And pity the likes of Henry Hamilton.

For him, the apocalypse already came.


By: Leonard Pitts, The National Memo, November 19, 2012

November 20, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Fateful Misposition”: Romney Didn’t Change Fast Or Far Enough

If you want to understand the recent, present, and probably future direction of the conservative movement and its wholly owned subsidiary, the Republican Party, it’s important to understand how thoroughly and rapidly it has engineered a revolution in the GOP, now that dissent from The Truth is ill-tolerated. A useful way to get a grip on this phenomenon is, of course, to look at Mitt Romney’s efforts to accommodate himself to the ever-changing zeitgeist. Sometimes you get the impression that Romney was this solid moderate Republican the day before yesterday, and only became “severely conservative” in this cycle. But as Steve Kornacki reminds us today at Salon, Mitt started repositioning himself to the right a long time ago–just not fast and far enough:

Romney began making moves toward a White House run nearly a decade ago, shifting away from his moderate Massachusetts roots and positioning himself to meet the national GOP’s various ideological tests. The Massachusetts healthcare law was to play a key role in this self-reinvention. It would give Romney a major bipartisan gubernatorial achievement, burnish his credentials as a forward-looking leader (and not just a simple panderer), and give him a huge general election asset – a universal coverage law that he could use to deflate the inevitable Democratic attacks about his lack of compassion and to stir hope among voters that he knew how to accomplish Big Things.

So Romneycare was not a legacy of RINO moderate heresy (you have to look back at the things he said during his 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy to find a lot of items that send conservatives completely over the wall), but a token of then-prevailing conservative orthodoxy. For two interlocking reasons–the decision by conservatives that any efforts to achieve universal health coverage were inherently “socialistic,” and the strategic decision to oppose everything proposed by Barack Obama as a step down the road to totalitarianism–Romney’s positioning turned out to be wrong. It’s worth remembering that his most serious “true conservative” rivals for the nomination, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, made similar mistakes.

In Romney’s case, however, this mispositioning has been especially fateful because it knocked the props from beneath his slender record of accomplishment, as Kornacki notes:

When Obama embraced RomneyCare and the GOP embraced reflexive opposition, it left Rommney with nothing to say.

And that’s where he is today, alternating between a failing “economic referendum on Obama” message and serial broken promises to lay out a positive agenda that isn’t the Ryan Budget with a side dish of Christian Right cultural extremism. If there was a Bain Capital for politicians, it would probably tell Mitt he needs to blow it all up and start over.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 27, 2012

September 28, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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