The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, March 26, 2010

Who's Right, and What's Left?

I recently requested that reasonable Conservatives and Republicans speak up condemning violent rhetoric and actions. I didn't claim that such actions represented the majority of the party. Responses, however, suggested that "the Dems" were a monobloc of hypocrisy. Interesting.

Here's a place where a charge of hypocrisy against me, personally, would have some traction: I didn't condemn a Canadian film about the assassination of Bush. I promise that I would have if I'd had the slightest belief that there was actual elevated risk. Perhaps I should have thought that, but most violence in my lifetime has been against the forces of change, or Democrat/Left (Kennedy, Kennedy, Malcolm, King) as opposed to a couple of failed attempt against forces of Conservatism (Reagan, Wallace). Whether that is legitimate or not, that's the way I thought about it.

In Obama's case, I believe that there was a seriously elevated threat level. It would simply make no sense for that not to be true, and would in fact violate everything I believe about human nature. NEWSWEEK and other organs reported that to be true. The book by Ronald Kessler reported a 400% rise, and comments by the head of the secret service are fascinatingly unclear, saying things like "the threats are not up" as opposed to "over the period between the election and this date, there is no increase, on average, as opposed to the same period for Bush and Clinton." Are not up when, today? This morning? Sounds like weaseling to me, from a governmental organ notoriously close-mouthed.

Note that the estimation of increased threats does not suggest that Republicans, Conservatives, or Whites are more violent than other people. Just that major change of that kind (election of a black President) is so much of a shake-up it is logical for it to produce increased fear and discomfort. (What? High percentages of Republicans think he is a Socialist? A Kenyan? Hates white people? And I'm supposed to believe that there is no elevated threat?) So I stand by that one--it would simply make no sense, unless Conservatives are literally BETTER than ordinary human beings.

So if a Canadian film had been made about Obama's assassination, I would have had a much stronger reaction. I would have considered it an actual invitation to violence, rather than, say, a tasteless controversy. If I had had the slightest reason to believe Bush was in the crosshairs, I would have been ALMOST as alarmed.

Now...I'm not proud of the fact that I wouldn't have been AS alarmed, but I'm honest enough to admit it's true. If Bush had been the first White president, I'm pretty sure I would have been just as concerned about his symbolic value, and despite the fact that I'm not White, my reaction would have been pretty close. I do see Obama as a change so massive that damned few Whites seem to have any idea at all how important it is...but then again, I've met almost no Whites who really notice the wide range of roles Blacks can't play in movies or television without alienating the White audience.

Nothing, absolutely nothing I've ever said implies that Whites are more ANYTHING--good or bad--than blacks. But they are in the position that allows them to be oblivious. As are men, heterosexuals, the wealthy, and Christians. When you are the "norm" you don't have to notice the effect your attitudes have on others.

So back to my reaction to the "Death of a President" movie. I drove to Pasadena, was grimly amused, and thought it interesting. Not particularly good, but interesting. If you want to think I was ignoring threat levels against Bush, I understand. But if those assassinations had been "Nixon, Reagan, Wallace, Maddox" or something, my attitude would have been "Liberals/Democrats actually do kill Conservatives/Republicans. This is horrible, and cannot be allowed. It shouldn't be shown in the U.S."

I'm not saying my reaction was legitimate or evolved. Just that that was my internal process.


But all of you are missing my real point: I'm not "outraged" at the rhetoric. I'm concerned that if it spirals into actual violence, it will damage the Conservative cause. If there is a pattern, supported by countless comments from Right-wing pundits, with minimal condemnation by spokesmen on the opposed to what looks like actual "whipping up the base"--it would prove devastating, shutting down honorable opposition for...well, depending on the level of catastrophy, months at least. And I don't want that to happen. If you react as if I'm saying

1) All Republicans are violent.

2) All opposition to Obama's policies are racist

You're missing the point. Yep, I've heard Leftists suggest both of these things, and considered it the same overheated, dishonest rhetoric that disgusts me about politics in general. The trouble is when someone either excuses that behavior on their side (because the other side does it) or takes the position that their side DOESN'T do it. "That" behavior is all "them." And anyone who takes the position that "their" side are better, more moral people falls right into that abyss, as far as I'm concerned.

Right now, at this moment, I think Conservatives are wrong about the impact of Nationalized or Universal health care. My reasons make sense to me, but I know I could be wrong. But I don't that is true about all issues, through my adult life. The thought is that the pendulum of correct/incorrect swings back and forth--when and if such a thing can actually be sussed out at all. Because I accept the WHO stats on lifespan, infant mortality rate and cost per capita/percentage of GNP doesn't mean that those are the only ways to look at it. I know my acceptance of them is independent of my other political attitudes, and I know that because I was willing to accept the first two (lifespan and infant mortality) as evidence that Apartheid had some positive effects. And trust me, that was a hard one. But it doesn't make me right, and there are legitimate and intelligent arguments, many of which have been made on this blog.

But I don't think, nor have I ever said, that Conservatives are any lesser--or better than Liberals in overall. I think they have different strengths and weaknesses, useful in different ways at different times. Can those of you attacking my words claim to believe the same? If not, my position is simple: your perceptual filters kept you from seeing my actual point, and I suggest that those same filters have served you poorly in other arenas.


Mike said...

>But I don't think, nor have I ever said, that Conservatives are any lesser--or better than Liberals in overall. I think they have different strengths and weaknesses, useful in different ways at different times. Can those of you attacking my words claim to believe the same?<


Anonymous said...

"I didn't condemn a Canadian film about the assassination of Bush. I promise that I would have if I'd had the slightest belief that there was actual elevated risk."

I know that in your case you mean well. But I'm sorry to say that this is still an "epic fail", as the younger generation says.

Respect for the office of the Presidency isn't something that you can insist on only when it's somebody who you care about; it's either something you enforce on yourself even when you yourself don't "feel" that that office and its holder are in serious danger, or it's something that you're going to have to watch other people disrespect when somebody you do care about holds that office.

More generally: yes, I understand that using the term "Dems" rankles. Sorry. But if you think that it is only "Republicans" or "conservatives" who can be descried as a coherent group with a single word, while all of Obama's supporters are far too individual a flurry of snowflakes to be meaningfully categorized ... well, that's very human of you to think, but it's sort of an illusion. You look every bit as monolithic from the outside as Obama's political opponents look to you.

Moreover, even though I recognize that you don't feel that way, for all practical political purposes you are monolithic: just how likely is it that on any issue whatsoever you will take the Republican rather than the Democrat side in a real vote, or a real decision of whom to support with your public rhetoric or your personal donations of time or money?

Furthermore, if you do an honest reading of the comments in your blog's comment boxes -- or of your own posts -- I think you'll find, fairly rapidly, that you have been inadvertantly equally quick to make broad generalizations about the opponents of Obamacare et al. I could cite, for example, a number of your recent posts in which you really have seemed to equate all opponents to Obamacare (the "tea partiers") to the numerically tiny fringe of them who have made threats of violence to their Congressmen (and whose threats get taken seriously by commenters on this blog, unlike threats made to Eric Cantor). It's OK to be upset at the threats; it's even OK to ask those of us opposed to Obamacare to decry the threats; but I am pretty revolted by the not-so-subtle effort of Obama's supporters to equate those threats with the entire political opposition to Obama's political agenda. It's a vile strategy, demonizing honest political dissent in what's supposed to still be a free country, which I expect will deservedly lose.

--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

I should probably say something else explicitly:

I think that you yourself have consistently gone out of your way to behave respectfully to me and to others who disagree politically with you on your blog; and I've definitely noticed that you've more than once said you dislike discourtesy to Bush shown by some members of the Left.

So, if I sound like I'm writing to complain about you personally, that's an unfortunate impression caused by my writing poorly, not the impression I meant to convey.

I also think it's legitimate for you to want to see conservatives condemn threats of violence.

At the same time, I do think that in practice it's impossible not to use terms like "tea partiers" or "Dems" because, in reality, these political groupings do exist and do act en masse.

I also really do think the Left and the Dems have some serious growing up to do on this whole topic, and that the threats of violence by a very tiny minority are being used to slander everybody opposing Obama's political agenda.

Finally, I truly hated seeing the movies and books about assassinating Bush. It wasn't a question of whether I thought those fantasies had a serious chance of being carried out; I just loathed the decadence of spirit that they represented. And I felt quite sure that this would come back to haunt the Democrats when they finally did hold power. As it apparently has.

--Erich Schwarz

BC Monkey said...

Regarding DOAP, I think you miss the point somewhat. The country of origin is not as relevant as the lack of any left-wing outrage in the US against the movie.

Check on IMDB for the principals behind the movie- writers, director, etc. They are all still working in the film industry.

Do you think that anyone who made a movie about the fictional assasination of Obama would ever work again in the film industry?

On the other hand, a sitting US Senator can make the following crack and suffer no adverse consequences for it. (His wiki for example doesn't even mention it)

Maher : You could have went to New Hampshire and killed two birds with one stone.

Senator Kerry : Or, I could have gone to 1600 Pennsylvania and killed the real bird with one stone .

Again- left wing outrage? Zero.

Try to imagine a Republican getting away with that. There are other Republicans and conservatives who come out and condemn a Rep yelling "You Lie" to Obama. Do you really think that a statement like that by a Republican wouldn't get him/her driven out of office on a rail?

On July 11, 2007, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Betty Williams gave the keynote speech to the International Women’s Peace Conference in Dallas, Texas, and said (to laughter and applause from the audience):

“I mean right now, I could kill George Bush , no problem. No, I don’t mean that. I mean — how could you nonviolently kill somebody? I would love to be able to do that .”

Please take a walk through the gallery of left-wing death threats against Bush...

“A message to progressives: By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy.”-Paul Krugman

Last I checked, Krugman is still working at the NYT. What would happen to a conservative pundit who advocated that?

(And if are going to claim that they have encouraged hanging specific politicians in effigy, let's see the link. Print or audio. Allegations without these hold as much water with me as claims of faith healing.)

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Since Roe v Wade became law, there have been:

8 murders
17 attempted murders
41 bombings
175 arsons

Of abortion providers, by conservative "pro-lifers."

Then we had MLK. And JFK. And RFK. 9/11 was a bunch of conservative Saudis. The Murrow Building was a pair of conservative militia boys. The Greensborough massacre in 1980. No one even knows how many thousands of gays have been murdered for being gay over the decades, so we'll let Matthew Shepard stand in for them. Ditto blacks who got lynched by white Southerners. (Conservatives, if I haven't already overused that word.)

In 1964 4 civil rights workers were murdered by conservatives in Philadelphia, Misssissippi. Ronald Reagan then launched his Presidential campaign from Philadelphia, Mississippi, in one of those rancid coincidences that characterized the Republican Southern Strategy.

Medgar Evars and the four little girls who got blown up.

Folks, aside from the stats at the top which I googled, I wrote this post out of my head. It would be ten times longer if I'd researched it.

Somebody left threatening voice mail for Eric Cantor? Shame on them.

BC Monkey said...

The overall point I'm trying to make is that there is a lack of consistency.

For example, one thing I've noticed over the years is the NYT's position on Fillibusters.

When the Dems are in minority, it's the safeguard that the founders put in to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. It is a legitimate tool of debate and an essential check on power.

When the Dems are in the majority, why it's an obstruction whose time has passed and was never meant to be used to block the business of the House.

(My position is that it's legitimate and an essential check. Did I like that the Dems used it to hold up business when the Repubs were in the majority? No, but that's what happens when you follow the rules. They don't always go your way)

In terms of consistency, you should think had on the precedent that the Obama and the Democrats have just set. The precedent has now been set that a majority can enact massive programs of spending, regulation, state exapansion which are opposed by 3/5 of the population and have bipartisan opposition.

The "Slaughter Rule" to "deem" a bill passed without actually voting for it wasn't used. But it's there now, a tool which sooner or later, by one party or the other, will be used.

If it's legitimate for Obama and the Dems to do this, it will be similarly legitimate for a future Republican majority to do the same thing on something you oppose.

As for the Socialist tag for Obama. It's a fair cop. What do you call a person who massively expands government spending, entitlement programs, passes bills to regulate and control 1/6 of the US economy,(keep in mind that you as much conceded that the Obamacare is a step to single-payer in your Kucinich post) owns GM, Owns massive pieces of the financial institutions (and has refused to let some of them pay back the loans they took)?

At what point exactly would you agree that Obama is a socialist?

(Hell, we in Ontario had a Socialist government in the 90s and they NEVER managed to implement as many Socialist ends as Obama has in one year!)

Daniel Keys Moran said...


You're right about the hypocrisy thing, and it goes both ways. But if you're under the impression deem and pass was invented by Louise Slaughter, allow me to correct you.

it will be similarly legitimate for a future Republican majority to do the same thing on something you oppose.

You appear to also be under the impression that Dems were the first to use budget reconciliation to pass social goals? If so, allow me to correct you. Both deem and pass and reconciliation have been used repeatedly by Republians when it suited them.

Lobo said...

It is very hard to swallow the idea that a bunch of long-haired, vegan, San Francisco hippie types burning an effigy of Bush/Cheney are the equivalent of armed militia types calling for violent overthrow of the government. Saying they are is like pissing on my leg and telling me it's raining. There is no sane way to make the argument that the hippies are an actual physical threat to anyone.

It's not the entirety of the tea-partiers that concern me. You go to a rally and you'll see a lot of old people and blowhards who are eventually going to find better things to do with their time. Most of them are as harmless as the aforementioned hippies. What concerns me are the ones who are openly racist. There are too many people at those rallies with undeniably racist placards and attitudes. There are also too many white power types that have made common cause. Throw in the far-left LaRouchies who are more than willing to chum the waters with their Obama=Hitler bullshit and it's not that big a stretch to say there is a tangible threat.

Under no circumstances am I saying the entirety of the tea party groups or even the majority of them are racist and prone to violence. But it is interesting to me that nobody at those rallies are chasing off the neo-nazis. The company you keep and all that.

I'll see your anti-semitic emails to Eric Cantor (R) and raise you an envelope full of white powder to Anthony Weiner (D). I can't prove it, but I'm pretty sure the envelope wasn't sent by a hippie.

BC Monkey said...

Dan, have reconcilliation and "Deem and Pass" ever been used for the kind of massive legislation that Obamacare represents?

I'm not under any illusion that Recon and "deem and pass" are inventions. I would instead compare them to a quarter that has just been used as a fuse in a fusebox. A tool used for something far more and far different to what it was intended.

I also note that you entirely skip the issue of passing something so large despite the opposition of 3/5 of voters and bipartisan opposition. That if anything is the larger point. Social Security and Medicare were passed with bipartisan effort and support. This was not. Try to imagine for a moment that we are back in 2006 and Bush decides to invade Iran and faces similar levels of opposition- and pushes through a declaration of war with no bipartisan support and many defectors from his own party. Imagine that holdouts in the Republican party suddenly start announcing funding for programs in their districts left, right and centre. This is the sort of thing that has been made legit by the Obamacare vote. If nothing else, you are entering a future where bipartisan cooperation will no longer be considered necessary for efforts to radically alter the US.

And Dan, just because a Democrat is assasinated, doesn't make it automatically a conservative who did it. As Steve has noted- Democrat Pols do get a lot of anger from the extreme left too.

JFK: Killed by Oswald, a Communist.
RFK: killed by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian nationalist
King: Killed by a racist whose only political affiliation was petty criminal.

You have an assumption wired into your thinking that "racist" automatically equals "conservative". Which party were the Dixiecrats splitting from again? After the Civil Rights bill signed in by LBJ, the South started voting R for President, but continued voting D on a state and local level until the 90s. The only mention of politcal affiliation I've seen in the Civil Right worker murders was to one of the charged being a Registered...Democrat.

If you want racist progressives, that's quite easy. Try the founder of planned parenthood, and the father of Canadian Socialism.

Lobo said...

BC Monkey:

1) The parliamentary tactics you decry were in direct response to Republican stonewalling with unprecedented use of the cloture rule, aka filibuster. Ever since Obama has come into office, they have been using the cloture rule to block almost every piece of legislation. To extend your analogy, they had to use the quarter because the Republicans won't give up the fuses. The only other options were to go without electricity at all or mug the Republicans.

2. There's no public opinion clause in the Constitution. Nor is there a requirement that bills pass with support from all parties currently holding office. Republican opposition to this legislation had far more to do with party discipline than actual opposition.

Be that as it may, your "3/5ths" number is misleading. A significant chunk of that number were people who thought the bill didn't go far enough, but would take what was being proposed. Check out the latest polls reporting satisfaction with the bill has already become a higher than those that aren't (49-41 as of the day after it was signed). Give it another couple of weeks, and that precious 3/5 I'm sure you'll beat like a red-headed stepchild will be flipped.

Elections have consequences. Democrats were voted into office partly because of explicit promises to do health care reform. They did what they were elected to do. If the people don't like how it was done, they get a chance to change up the batting order in a few months. Considering Republicans would need a 93 seat swing in the house and a 13 seat swing in the Senate (13 Dem seats aren't even in play in 2010) to even try to repeal health care reform, it's extremely unlikely it will ever happen.

3: Did you actually just say that using the promise of funding to gain support for programs was just legitimized? Under Obama? I'm sorry, but that's just naive. Remember the Bridge to Nowhere? Since when is it a requirement that all support must be gained through principled reflection and honor?

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Dan, have reconcilliation and "Deem and Pass" ever been used for the kind of massive legislation that Obamacare represents?

Yes, Bush passed his tax cuts that way because he couldn't get 60 votes.

I also note that you entirely skip the issue of passing something so large

Shrug. Bush's tax cuts caused massively more harm than Obama's healthcare initiative.

despite the opposition of 3/5 of voters and bipartisan opposition.

The majority of voters in this country want single payer. Polls have shown so time and again. The opposition to this bill from the left was that it didn't go far enough.

Feel free to put together a list of conservatives who've been murdered in this country, by the way. It'll be short. As to Oswald & Sirhan Sirhan, I don't believe either of them were acting alone.

BC Monkey said...

There's something I'm noticing here. This discussion which Steve kicked off in the previous post was started with a call to righties to disavow political violence. Mike, Erich and myself were pretty clear and up-front on that.

I am not seeing the same condemnation from the lefties here. Perhaps because it was not asked for (or perhaps was assumed- which as links and quotes demonstrate is not a particularly good assumption.)

What I am seeing essentially boils down to "The right is worse".

Sorry, that won't do. When violence and threats by your own side are bought up and you sit there saying "your side is worse"- that is not a condemnation of violence- that is an attempt to justify your own side's violence. Just as two kids fighting being split up might yell "Well he started it!"

Either political violence is wrong- period- or the reactions I'm seeing amount to little more than being upset that their ox is being gored.

My point in bringing up the violence and threats of the Bush years is simple- if you're not condemning all of it Left and Right- which other than Steve obliquely, I'm not seeing- then you're not really against the violence at all. If the signs and the jokes strike you as no big deal, as fair game, as not worth condemnation- not worth your outrage... well.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Threats and violence are bad. Bad by either side. Yeppers.

And the right's much worse about it.

Anonymous said...

"9/11 was a bunch of conservative Saudis." The Murrow Building was a pair of conservative militia boys." No one even knows how many thousands of gays have been murdered for being gay over the decades, so we'll let Matthew Shepard stand in for them. Ditto blacks who got lynched by white Southerners. Come on Dan that's not just stretching that's breaking out the twister spinner! So by the same logic we can lump the modern progressive movement in with Communist Russia and the weather underground, oh and probably we can safely say the columbine killings were caused by the liberal agenda promoted by Teachers college! Come on man!


Daniel Keys Moran said...


We were talking about violence in this country, but sure, the far ends of liberalism are communism, as the far ends of conservatism are fascism.

That said, the violence in this country, today, and particularly the political violence, is much more a phenomenon of the right than of the left.

Lobo said...

*And the right's much worse about it.

It's the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing it.

The anti-Bush protests were universally about impeachment. Even with the occasional burning effigy (Which didn't happen all that often. Usually it was people running around in caricature masks and doing goofy shit.) the context was clearly about changing things through peaceful means.

Tea Parties, on the other hand, are awash in people agitating for changing things through violence.

So spare me the indignation.

Shady_Grady said...

The Right has been the place in modern American politics where people are much more comfortable using the language of eliminationist violence. The strain has only become more evident as moderate or liberal Republicans have been purged from the party.

When you have right wing killers like Jim David Adkinsson, Scott Roeder, Von Brunn, Richard Poplawski, responding to hateful rhetoric coming from some of those on the Right, it’s a serious problem.

I don’t think the problem can be solved by saying that there are extremists on both sides. That’s a dodge. One side’s extremists are armed to the teeth and shooting people.

I didn’t write this comment on the Krugman column but it sums up my thoughts on this and why I hope the Republican Party can pull itself away from the abyss.

It seems that the "Party of Lincoln" has become the "Party of Jefferson Davis". On issues from race to states rights they are reenacting the debates that lead to the Civil War.

The most fundamental challenge of the Confederacy was whether a government making decisions based on majority rule can "long survive", as Lincoln put it. Much of the current Republican debate seems to question not only the wisdom of the decisions made by the majority, but their legitimacy.

Once you declare democratic political decisions illegitimate, it is difficult to settle differences through a democratic political process.

Shady_Grady said...

At what point exactly would you agree that Obama is a socialist?

That would be news to the socialists over at International Socialist Review who routinely skewer everything about Obama, his foreign and domestic policies, his advisors, his stated semi-admiration for Reagan(!)-the whole nine yards.

This was actually one of their kinder statements. And don't get them started on health care...

Obama’s first few months in office should remind anyone who harbored illusions otherwise that, as the president of the United States, Obama—by definition—is there to preserve the status quo, even at the price of a few reforms on the side.

Obama's no socialist. This debate has been pulled SO far to the right that these days Nixon would be a "socialist"..

Marco said...

"That would be news to the socialists over at International Socialist Review who routinely skewer everything about Obama, his foreign and domestic policies, his advisors, his stated semi-admiration for Reagan(!)-the whole nine yards."

Are you truly unaware that there is a very long history of socialists skewering other socialists for not being pure enough in their socialism? And Leon Trotsky was literally skewered (by an ice axe through the head) on Stalin's orders. Did those two not both consider themselves socialists? And you've never actually heard of purges in socialist states? I assure you that this was not exactly a rare occurrence.


Daniel Keys Moran said...

Self-identified socialists criticize Obama; therefore Obama is a socialist.

Self-identified socialists criticize Reagan; therefore Reagan is a socialist.

Works for me.

Shady_Grady said...

In my opinion, anyone who is calling Obama a socialist when he has largely continued Bush foreign policies and is roughly where Nixon was on much domestic policy is just following the right-wing playbook of the past 100 years of calling ANY change "socialism" or "communism" as a way to shut off debate and rile up their base.

Again, Obama is not a socialist. It's ridiculous to think otherwise. I can't believe that any serious student of economics, political economy or history would claim that he is. Obama does not believe in or promote public ownership of the means of production. He may believe in a more just distribution of the benefits of the capitalist system. That's a liberal...

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