Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Steve Benen and Atrios have both flagged this Harold Meyerson column in The Washington Post, and I thought I'd add my thoughts about why right-wing rhetoric inevitably heads in the direction Meyerson describes, and why I think paranoia is really a side effect:

Last October, Glenn Beck was musing on his radio show about the prospect of the government seizing his children if he didn't give them flu vaccines. "You want to take my kids because of that?" he said. "Meet Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson."

Last April, Erick Erickson, the managing editor of the right-wing RedState blog and a CNN commentator, was questioning the legality of the Census Bureau's American Community Survey on a radio show. "We have become, or are becoming, enslaved by the government.... I dare 'em to try to come to throw me in jail. I dare 'em to. [I'll] pull out my wife's shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at the door."

... The primary problem with the political discourse of the right in today's America isn't that it incites violence per se. It's that it implants and reinforces paranoid fears about the government and conservatism's domestic adversaries....

At the fringe, we have figures like Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, who told a rally in Washington last April that, "We're in a war. The other side knows they are at war, because they started it. They are coming for our freedom, for our money, for our kids, for our property. They are coming for everything because they are a bunch of socialists." ...

Right-wing leaders tell completely implausible tales of liberal power and evil, and government power and evil, because rank-and-file right-wingers have a constant need to feel a murderous rage against some enemy or other -- but they also want to believe that they're decent, kind people with strong Judeo-Christian values. The only way they can manage this is by believing that those who disagree with them are so unspeakably dangerous and ill-intentioned -- or at least are potentially so -- that even a good churchgoer would want to exterminate them brutally.

This is the logic of the gun-rights movement (gangs of marauding criminals are always just around the next corner, as is jackbooted government tyranny; gunners never argue that they cherish their gun rights because they just like guns -- it's always about the need to be ready to vanquish Pure Evil). This was the logic of the Iraq War (Saddam was potentially a nuclear Hitler!). This is the logic of keeping Gitmo open (Gitmo prisoners have superpowers that they'll use as soon as they hit the mainland and escape!).

In the past, we could hate and lash out against certain ethnic groups, or gay people, or women we decided were of questionable morality. But modern society has put too many restraints on those particular hatreds -- so right-wing leaders gin up fresh ones. Paranoia isn't the intended effect, but it's an inevitable by-product.

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