The Blurred Line Between Mainstream Conservatism and Far Right Wing Extremism

Some in the media are trying to minimize the significance of right wing hate speech, either by denying its significance or claiming both sides do it.  Andrew Sullivan has pointed out the key difference between left and right:

The right and the left both have intemperate voices. But here’s the key: only the conservative movement counts the most vile blowhards as leading lights, embraced by the leadership. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Sarah Palin: these are among the most popular conservatives in America. Who are the folks on the left with equivalent popularity and influence?

Steven Benen had a similar response to the claim that both sides do it:

In Democratic circles, liberal extremists can’t get any establishment attention at all. Members of Congress won’t return their phone calls or even be seen in public with them. On the right, however, there’s practically nothing a right-wing extremist can say or do to be exiled from polite company.

There’s a clear and impermeable line between the progressive mainstream and the left fringe. The line between the Republican Party/conservative movement and the far-right fringe barely exists. Whereas Dems kept the fringe at arm’s length, Republicans embrace the fringe with both arms.

Both sides have nutjobs; only one side thinks their nutjobs are sane.

Conservatives try to equate old graphics with targets to Sarah Palin’s graphic of crosshairs but there is a huge difference here. Targets do not suggest the shooting of an individual they way that crosshairs do. Palin’s crosshairs were made even worse when accompanied by her calls to “reload” and her constant hate speech. The significance of Palin’s crosshairs were demonstrated when Giffords herself expressed fear of the consequences of Palin’s actions:

I mean, this is a situation where — I mean, people don’t — they really need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up and, you know, even things, for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district.

When people do that, they’ve gotta realize there’s consequences to that action.

Conservatives have even tried to draw false equivalencies between the statements from Republican leaders such as Palin and Beck and mere blog comments made by liberals. They have been making a big fuss about a diary at Daily Kos in which an individual stated that Giffords was dead to him in expressing disapproval over a vote she made. These are hardly equivalent. Nor is it equivalent to quote Barack Obama for saying, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” especially when Obama’s career has generally been based upon attempts at reconciliation with his political opponents as compared to conservatives who thrive on creating hatred.

As Steve pointed out, if someone on the left were to engage in the type of hate speech common on the right it is likely they would be repudiated by most of the left. When possible connections were drawn between right wing hate speech and the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, conservatives had two possible strategies to dissociate themselves. They could have done what liberals would have done and condemned the hate speech. Most have chosen a different path and put themselves in a position of defending the hate speech. It is so bad that when one Republican, Tim Pawlenty, stated he would not have used Sarah (Reload) Palin’s graphic of politicians in the crosshairs of a rifle, a prominent conservative blogger responded by arguing  he’s not man enough to be president.

Related Posts:

Right Wingers Defend Hate Speech While Tea Party Takes Advantage of Arizona Shooting To Raise Money

Sarah (Reload) Palin and Rush Limbaugh Condemned For Their Hate Speech; Beck Takes Stand Against Violence By Holding Gun

John Kerry on Civility

Palin, Like Most Conservatives, Fails To Understand The Controversy

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  1. 1
    John says:

    The debate over the culpability of Palin’s crosshairs and similar cases of political rhetoric invoking gunplay seems to be simplistic, “all or nothing.” People will draw their own conclusions. Fact is, it’s part of the equation.

    There is no doubt in my mind, the crosshairs on the map were intended to intimidate. That the right wing keeps gun rights such a high priority “uber alles” is a little worrisome to the rest of us who don’t make guns such a big part of our lives. Their message is clear: they’ve got the guns, and somebody unstable enough might just use them. 

  2. 3
    brigadier says:

    “…By Monday, much of the media, including liberal and Democratic Party spokesmen, had repudiated Dupnik’s comments. James Carville, a longtime Democratic campaign operative and media pundit, said on CNN, “It’s unfair to smear an entire state,” adding, “There’s no evidence that links the Tea Party to this.”

    “Carville’s remark typifies the political cowardice of the entire Democratic Party and liberal media establishment. They want to avoid any comprehensive exposure of a process that has been under way for more than three decades in American politics: the integration of the Republican Party with elements of an ultra-right and semi-fascist character, steeped in racism, anticommunism and hostility to democratic rights.”

    “These right-wing elements exercise a degree of influence in American political life out of all proportion to their actual support in the population, because it serves the interests of the financial oligarchy to build them up as a means of shifting politics ever more to the right and creating the rudiments of a fascist movement to be thrown against the working class…”–Patrick Martin

  3. 4
    Charles says:

    The right has created their own false equivalencies: Michael Moore, Keith O, George Soros, and applied them to the mythos. Their influence is far more limited than is believed.

  4. 5
    Ron Chusid says:


    Conservatives lying in their attacks? I’m just shocked (not).

  5. 6
    Ron Chusid says:


    Yes, the conservatives are taking a very simplistic approach. Their argument seems to be that if the crosshairs did not precipitate this particular shooting then the conservatives deserve no criticism for their hate speech. Liberals have a view which seems to be far too complicated for the simplistic reptilian minds of conservatives: The hate speech is wrong, regardless of whether it influenced this particular shooter as right wing inspired violence extends beyond this particular episode. It is also simplistic to say it is “all or nothing” as to whether current right wing hate speech had an influence in this case. The murderer did not live in a vacuum. There were probably many influences on him, and it is naive it say that conservative hate speech going mainstream didn’t have an influence.

  6. 7
    Eclectic Radical says:

    What most bothers me is the blurred line between ‘centrism’ and right wing extremism.
    In our political society, ‘the center’ starts with the baseline assumption that mainstream conservatives are more right than they are wrong. Once upon a time, I started with this same baseline assumption.
    When we start with such an assumption, we immediately apply greater credence to one extreme and completely negate our claims of moderation. The best example in American history is that of slavery and civil rights: because the centrist ethic is fundamentally an ethic devoted to collegialism and gradualism, the moderate prefers not to make waves and so promote social strife. Thus the center reenforces the right in its efforts to reenforce the far right against the process of reform.
    I hate to paraphrase chairman Mao, but reform is an ongoing process rather than a temporary effort to protect the status quo. Our status quo really ain’t what it’s cracked up to be and hasn’t for a long time.
    As for right-wing hate speech… the right doesn’t have any better argument. The ultimate right wing argument boils down to elitist fear of society, which ‘trickles down’ to those of us who aren’t elite all being afraid of each other. ‘Stranger Danger’ writ large.
    The war on drugs, the war on crime, the war on guns, the war on terror, and the crusade against labor rights and gay rights are all as legitimate as fears of razor blades in apples on Halloween. We create our own climate of terror far better than any outside threat ever could.

  7. 8
    Mugwumpie says:

    RT @RonChusid: The Blurred Line Between Mainstream Conservatism and Far Right Wing Extremism #p2 #p21 #topprog

  8. 9
    merrybee says:

    It is scraping to equate “so and so is dead to me” anyway.  The phrasing of “…. is dead to me.” has stereotypically been associated with someone being disowned; being repudiated;being cast out from the fold or exiled.  It means we’ve cut someone out of our lives so thoroughly that even though that person could be in the same room with us, they simply do not exist.   Trying to equate all that, which is far more meaningful and laden with people’s personal histories, to Palin’s “Reload” garbage is mentally lazy workmanship.

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