The Continuum of Right Wing Extremism

The uncomfortably close relations between the Republican Party establishment and those in the right wing media who have increasingly been feeding the hatred of the far right extremists who have been committing violence has been receiving increased attention. This has been discussed recently by Judith Warner, Paul Krugman, and Frank Rich. Krugman recently wrote, “Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.” Frank Rich discussed this topic at length in today’s column:

Conservatives have legitimate ideological beefs with Obama, rightly expressed in sharp language. But the invective in some quarters has unmistakably amped up. The writer Camille Paglia, a political independent and confessed talk-radio fan, detected a shift toward paranoia in the air waves by mid-May. When “the tone darkens toward a rhetoric of purgation and annihilation,” she observed in Salon, “there is reason for alarm.” She cited a “joke” repeated by a Rush Limbaugh fill-in host, a talk-radio jock from Dallas of all places, about how “any U.S. soldier” who found himself with only two bullets in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Osama bin Laden would use both shots to assassinate Pelosi and then strangle Reid and bin Laden.

This homicide-saturated vituperation is endemic among mini-Limbaughs. Glenn Beck has dipped into O’Reilly’s Holocaust analogies to liken Obama’s policy on stem-cell research to the eugenics that led to “the final solution” and the quest for “a master race.” After James von Brunn’s rampage at the Holocaust museum, Beck rushed onto Fox News to describe the Obama-hating killer as a “lone gunman nutjob.” Yet in the same show Beck also said von Brunn was a symptom that “the pot in America is boiling,” as if Beck himself were not the boiling pot cheering the kettle on.

But hyperbole from the usual suspects in the entertainment arena of TV and radio is not the whole story. What’s startling is the spillover of this poison into the conservative political establishment. Saul Anuzis, a former Michigan G.O.P. chairman who ran for the party’s national chairmanship this year, seriously suggested in April that Republicans should stop calling Obama a socialist because “it no longer has the negative connotation it had 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago.” Anuzis pushed “fascism” instead, because “everybody still thinks that’s a bad thing.” He didn’t seem to grasp that “fascism” is nonsensical as a description of the Obama administration or that there might be a risk in slurring a president with a word that most find “bad” because it evokes a mass-murderer like Hitler.

The Anuzis “fascism” solution to the Obama problem has caught fire. The president’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and his speech in Cairo have only exacerbated the ugliness. The venomous personal attacks on Sotomayor have little to do with the 3,000-plus cases she’s adjudicated in nearly 17 years on the bench or her thoughts about the judgment of “a wise Latina woman.” She has been tarred as a member of “the Latino KKK” (by the former Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo), as well as a racist and a David Duke (by Limbaugh), and portrayed, in a bizarre two-for-one ethnic caricature, as a slant-eyed Asian on the cover of National Review. Uniting all these insults is an aggrieved note of white victimization only a shade less explicit than that in von Brunn’s white supremacist screeds.

Obama’s Cairo address, meanwhile, prompted over-the-top accusations reminiscent of those campaign rally cries of “Treason!” It was a prominent former Reagan defense official, Frank Gaffney, not some fringe crackpot, who accused Obama in The Washington Times of engaging “in the most consequential bait-and-switch since Adolf Hitler duped Neville Chamberlain.” He claimed that the president — a lifelong Christian — “may still be” a Muslim and is aligned with “the dangerous global movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood.” Gaffney linked Obama by innuendo with Islamic “charities” that “have been convicted of providing material support for terrorism.”

If this isn’t a handy rationalization for another lone nutjob to take the law into his own hands against a supposed terrorism supporter, what is? Any such nutjob can easily grab a weapon. Gun enthusiasts have been on a shopping spree since the election, with some areas of our country reporting percentage sales increases in the mid-to-high double digits, recession be damned.

Violence committed by right wing extremists is the more serious problem but a similar, even if less violent, mind set can be seen in the recent conservative fatwa against David Letterman. Despite agreement from Letterman that he should not have told a joke which was clearly about Bristol Palin, and despite the fact that Bristol Palin has been the target of jokes from multiple comedians largely because of the manner in which Sarah Palin has intentionally placed her children in the public spotlight for political gain, conservatives continue to attack with outright lies as to what Letterman actually said.

There was no point in attacks on David Letterman once he conceded that he should not have told the joke, with conservatives proceeding to over play their hand and ultimately discrediting themselves. The controversy is about the desire of the authoritarian right to prevent any criticism of their extremist agenda and has little to do with any real concern about sexist jokes. Conservatives wage their war on the modern world without regard for fact, with such distortions being common place. This has included a similar distortion of a joke told by John Kerry in 2006, the fabrications of the Swift Boat Liars, all the lies about Obama which were spread during the presidential campaign, and the recent lies about Sotomayor such as that sixty percent of her decisions have been overturned. While less extreme and violent than those who have been committing violence, the conservative movement has increasingly become dominated by hostility towards reason, freedom of expression, and much of the modern world.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Michael Hatcher says:

    Perhaps conservative media is invective purgation and viturperation. Them there are words I didn’t get in my learnin. The conservative media is beating the drums of an impending cataclysmic financial disaster should the course of government not change. A direction that the government was heading prior to the election of Obama but one that Obama has not steered away from but only accelerated towards. Tarp + Stimulus bill+ Cap and Trade+ Health Care Reform (not to be confused with anything remotely resembling national health care) equals at the very least third world type inflation or perhaps worse. Does this raise fears in people including perhaps raise the fears of violent nutjobs into acting on those fears? Perhaps yes, but whereas the truth may be invective it is not invidious.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    There are various opinions here, with others believing that inflation is the price we need to pay to get out of the financial crisis.

    If conservatives were only complaining about the amount of government spending there would be debate but not the current problem with the right holding views far more extreme than opposition to spending.

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