Saturday, April 25, 2009

How Far Are Conservatives from Being Terrorists?

My good friends at the right-wing magazine Human Events sent me an e-mail with the title "FIRE JANET NAPOLITANO: CONSERVATIVES NOT TERRORISTS."

Of course, this refers to the recent report on right-wing threats by the Department of Homeland Security. As vague and allusive as the report was, it stuck to known extremist configurations like the Klan, Nazis, skinheads, anti-abortion assassins, and the like and made nothing that could be reasonably construed as a reference to everyday conservatives.

Not that this stopped the right-wing media from accusing them of doing so.

But all's fair.

Now, the question is how close the various grades of conservatism actually are to right-wing extremism.

And the answer is that they've gotten closer.

Political conservatism is best thought of as a spectrum that is defined on its left by John McCain and on its right by Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck. McCain is the Republican version of a neo-liberal Democrat. Neo-liberals like Joe Lieberman may be Democratic loyalists, but they view liberal Democrats as their main opponents and are open to Republican ideas. Conversely, John McCain is a Republican loyalist who has pushed Democratic good-government ideas like regulating tobacco and has often viewed the conservative Republican establishment as his main political opponent.

The right edge of conservativism used to be occupied by Tom DeLay, James Dobson, and Rush Limbaugh--conservatives who defined themselves in terms of relentlessly attacking liberalism and promoting an aggressive foreign policy, cutting domestic programs, and the goals of the religious right. The Bush administration adhered to this kind of hard conservative agenda to the extent that they thought politically feasible and this is one of the reasons why Dick Cheney was a popular guest on the Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity programs.

But political conservatism has shifted farther to the right since the election of Barack Obama as president. What Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck have done is to integrate themes like the "one world currency," "re-education camps," and social breakdown into their everyday political discourse. These are militia, survivalist, and neo-Nazi ideas that are the province of figures like Alex Jones (a talk radio host who has raised money to rebuild David Koresh's Branch Davidian compound outside Waco).

To my knowledge, Alex Jones isn't involved in any "right-wing extremist" activities. But the fact that he uses and promotes right-wing extremist ideas means that he is only one degree of separation away from the kind of right-winger who could be a terrorist threat.

The fact that Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Newsmax, Human Events, and other outlets are using the same ideas within the dominant political/media apparatus gives them a second degree of separation from right-wing terrorism.

Despite his racism, homophobia, and general repulsiveness, Rush Limbaugh has been so far from the discourse of the "really extreme right" that one could reasonably speak of a "wall of separation" between political conservatism and right-wing extremism.

But no more.

With the new prominence of the "extreme right" within the Republican Party and its media apparatus, the separation between political conservatism and domestic terrorism is not nearly as solid as it used to be.

The separation is still there, but one wonders for how long.

1 comment:

Todd Mayo said...

You covered it all Ric. The only thing I would add here is that I do see a distinction between those who lead the Republican party and the rabid-conservative movement and ordinary work-a-day citizens who buy into the paranoid delusions of Hannity, O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, etc as well as the people in charge of the RNC and its sub-units. The leaders are dangerous. The ordinary people who register and vote Republican (against their own best interests), have simply been misled by hyperbolic demagogury about guns or abortion or some other cultural differences that have very little to do with the best interest of the nation as a whole, or with those folks who have drunk the kool-aid of reaction. That aside I concur with your observations, and I cannot think of anything further to add. Good call.