The Roots of Republican Extremism

Conservative spokespersons nationwide, including Sarah Palin, continue to miss the point of the larger, and now necessary debate on today’s powderkeg political environment. And that is simply this, as written a few days ago (with some modification):

In a world where a congresswoman, a federal judge, and a nine year old can wake up one morning, and only one of them survive the day, a rhetoric built on dehumanizing and threatening political opponents is unacceptable, and now is a perfect time to say so.

The half-term governor asks us when if ever political debate was more temperate. Such questions are irrelevant, because as Americans, we are not limited by our past. If our past were equally extreme, it would still be necessary to outgrow it. But there is no unbroken succession of tolerated incivility from Preston Brooks to Sharron Angle. For a reminder of when things changed, take the account of David Brock, who remembers it before, and after, in Act II of this episode of This American Life.

Brock hits on two late-twentieth century game-changers. Newt Gingrich in 1988:

The left at its core understands in a way Grant understood after Shiloh that this is a civil war, that only one side will prevail, and that the other side will be relegated to history. This war has to be fought with the scale and duration and savagery that is only true of civil wars.

And Rich Bond tothe 1992 Republican Convention in Houston:

We are America. Those other people are not.

And now Sarah Palin. Equating attacks on her extremism with “blood libel.”

If we’ve become accustomed to a political discourse where some of us are Americans, and the others are not; where politics must be conducted with a “total war” mentality that would make Napoleon blush; and where despite an actual assassination attempt, we write off assassination threats as nothing more than a major party’s attempt to energize the base; then we have a problem, and if it exists in our past, it also exists in our present, and needn’t in our future.

I acknowledge that moderate Republicans will have trouble with this debate. After all, the fault is not theirs, and one may fairly bristle at the implication of guilt by association, even where it is expressly disclaimed. But the solution to that fear — and the path of true leadership — is prompt action. And delay is complicity.



  1. Three questions:

    If a Congresswoman had not been shot, would you be interested in this conversation?

    If the Congresswoman had been a Republican, would you be interested in the conversation?

    Why weren’t you interested in this conversation when shots were fired at Eric Cantor’s office last year?

  2. 1. No.

    2. Yes.

    3. Because it was a stray.

  3. 1. That’s sad

    2. Why am I finding it so hard to believe that?

    3. It took 2 days for them to figure that out. You could have written a couple of posts in that time. Also, he and other lawmakers were receiving threatening emails. Shouldn’t that be discussed?

  4. 1. It would be a different act. If it was a non-elected shot over politics, then actually, I would be equally concerned. If politics weren’t involved at all, I’d be worried about something else, but worried all the same.

    2. Because you imagine I don’t place a premium value on Republican life? Key word, “imagine”? For the life of me, I don’t know why you’re having a hard time believing it.

    3. I waited two days after this event too. And threatening emails are part and parcel of being elected.

  5. 1. Politics weren’t involved THIS time.

    2. I don’t think you would find any potential liberal fault for a Republican death since you have already stated that 100% of the blame lies with the Right.

    3. So threatening emails aren’t concerning? How many future assasins have sent harassing emails, letters and phone calls prior to acting? Way to minimize there Ames.

    1. 1. Nobody knows what was involved this time, but many people are convinced that the climate of hatred and vitriol was leading to this.

      2. This is a stupid hypothetical question. Anybody would condemn a left-winger who shot a Republican, but the fact is that these threats are coming overwhelmingly from the right, making it highly unlikely to happen.

      3. Of course they’re concerning, but that doesn’t change that public figures get stupid emails and letters from stupid people. That doesn’t make them all assassins though.

      1. 1. The ‘climate’ isn’t turning sane people insane.

        2. I’m sure Ames would comdemn the killing but he wouldn’t use it as an opportunity for self-reflection about Democratic discourse.

        3. What if just one of them is a
        potential assasin?

        1. 1. Do you deny that the climate, caused largely by rightwingers, could contribute to pushing an already insane person over the edge?

          2. You’re just guessing now.

          3. You’ve gone too far away from your original point now. Face facts: it’s not liberals talking about “conservative hunting permits”; it’s the other way around. It’s not liberals calling for second amendment remedies. It’s not liberals talking about secession, civil war and insurrection. What’s really scary about you and your fellow conservatives is that you refuse even to consider that you might somehow be responsible. You refuse to stop and wonder about the rhetoric you use. You refuse to think about toning things down and being more constructive. Instead of sober reflection, we get Palin talking about “blood libel”. It’s time the right learned that their thuggish rhetoric has consequences.

          1. 1) Sure. I also agree that a crush on Jodie Foster or too many hours of Sesame Street re-runs could have the same effect. Do you think we should re-examine ALL triggers points for homicidal lunatics?

            2) I know Ames well enough that it’s a well-educated guess at worst.

            3) The day that a perfectly sane person goes on a rampage and says, “I’m just following orders from Sarah Palin,” then I’ll be happy to examine our rhetoric with a bit more concern. Until then you are engaging in wild speculation about what might happen in the future. You talk about ‘consequences’ yet no one can tell me what they will be.

            1. You’ll only think about examining your rhetoric after somebody is killed? Ladies and gentlemen: the American right wing.

              1. I’m still waiting for you to explain to me how political rhetoric will cause sane people to become more violent or how we control all potential triggers for the mentally unstable.

                1. Now you’re just arguing in circles. Again, typical rightwinger. It’s pointless trying to argue with you people.

                  1. I could claim that gay marriage is likely to lead to people marrying horses in 5 years. Something tells me you wouldn’t just accept that claim as-is and you would demand that I explain how that would come about. You are making a pretty wild claim that contemporary political rhetoric is likely to lead to violence. I’m just asking you to explain how that happens. Are you saying that Beck and Palin and Co are so persuasive that they can convince otherwise peaceful people to start killing in the name of politics?

                    1. You’re refusing even to *examine* the rhetoric you’re using. You’re refusing even to consider the possibility. When you aren’t even prepared to THINK about what you’re doing then there’s a pretty solid problem right there.

                      The claim that gay marriage would lead to marrying animals is patently absurd. The claim that hearing pundits talking regularly about the use of violence MIGHT lead to people carrying it out is not, because there have already been cases of that happening. If you want to ignore the facts before you that’s fine, but don’t claim you’re correct to do so.

                    2. I’m happy to consider it when you convince me it’s likely to actually lead to violence. You say it already has so please, cite an example of a sane person resorting to violence after hearing harsh political rhetoric.

  6. David Frum keeps speaking well on this topic. This is his outline on how he thinks she hypothetically should have handled this, to address the important issues like mental illness, while showing sympathy & humanity, and denying culpability:

    1. I liked liberal Jonathon Chait’s take better:

      “Okay, it’s a little over the top for Sarah Palin to accuse her critics of “blood libel.” But she does have a basic point. She had nothing to do with Jared Loughner. He was not an extremist who embraced some radical version of her ideas. And her use of targets to identify districts Republicans were, um, targetting is not exceptional or prone to incite anybody.

      What’s happening is that Palin has come to represent unhinged grassroots conservatism, and people in the media immediately (and incorrectly) associated Loughner with the far right. Moreover, the Republican establishment understands her potential candidacy as a liability and is looking to snuff it out. So you have this weird moment where Palin is on trial for something she has no connection with at all.”

    2. But why do you like it better?

      1. I like it better because I don’t think she is obligated to jump through all of the hoops that Frum lays out for her.

    3. I liked Frum’s piece because it was a moderate reaction. It was one that could stop bickering and bring the topic back to what you said is important.

      Instead it will go back and forth now with this stupidity and Chait’s stupidity.

      She could have been a leader for one second. It would be a win win. Instead it’s all about her childish partisan victimization game.

      1. But isn’t engagement in a manufactured debate about rhetoric exactly what the Left wants?

      2. It’s not manufactured. Right wing rhetoric is insane, deliberately uncivil, etc. If the reason to raise the debate is not directly linked, sure, but even that, not “manufactured,” still.

        1. Internally, I keep comparing it to Grand Theft Auto. I don’t believe video games cause people to kill people, yet if a 16 year old with an xbox goes on a shooting, the creator should not be surprised that they get criticized.

          That doesn’t mean video games caused it, it doesn’t mean it should be outlawed or banned, the people who talk about it could be completely off the mark, but…that doesn’t make a discussion of the depiction of violence in our society as manufactured. Off the mark maybe, but not malicious.

        2. Let’s extend the comparison further. The rational reaction to the risk of life imitating art in GTAIV isn’t to ban it but to, even before the unlikely event where some kid takes it to heart and goes on a killing spree with molotov cocktails, restrict its circulation. Slap the M/AO label on it and enforce it at purchase points.

          Translating into our case, it’s responsible to take a hard look at violent right-wing rhetoric and ask, what can be done? Is anything lost by toning it down? (No.) Is something gained? (Yes.) Then freaking do it.

      3. Well, I can’t tell you what the agglomeration of the left wants, but I can tell what you want.

        When I say, hey, look, here’s a way to say, I’m not a fault, show sympathy for the situation, and talk about mental illness…

        You say, “No, Fuck Frum”.

        So, yes, someone here seems interested in continuing a useless partisan debate instead.

        1. I don’t think my reaction to Frum was quite that harsh. I just liked what Chait had to say better because he pointed out that the attacks on Palin are nuts. Palin is in a pretty unique position (as Chait points out) in that she is the poster-girl for the far right. She was basically accused of causing the murder of 6 people. Her reaction was completely understandable and expecting her to take the high road is asking too much of any human being. She defended herself and I think she was entitled to that.

        2. You are right, what you said was not that harsh. Yet, your response did not reference substance of what said, but at the person who said it, thus my paraphrasing.

          To me, your reaction, was just showing that you’re more invested in showing how mean it is that liberals would even criticize what conservatives say, as opposed to understanding the incident, talking about mental illness, talking about gun laws, talking about sympathy, even of something I thought you would like, pointing out when liberals do the same thing. So instead of talking about these things, you bring up your Chait quote of how mean liberals are being to Palin. That’s the real injustice and focal point of the event! How hard this has been on Palin and conservatives.

          About Palin, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her take the high road on anything. I can only think of popular incidents, but if you can think of any, please tell me.

          Most of the time she goes for the victimization card. So I didn’t truthfully expect her to take the higher ground. I know she doesn’t admit faults or mistakes. I know she attacks any slight criticism. I know she doesn’t try to smooth over divisions. She’s usually just defensive of her right to say whatever incorrect/offensive things she wants, but freaks out when anyone criticizes her.

          So of course, she kind of did what everyone expected of her, which was being herself. I would agree she was entitled of it, if I don’t think other people have handled themselves better in this situation, or if I thought she was capable of any other reaction.

          1. Oneiroi – you posted a piece by Frum that explained how Palin should have handled things. I simply posted a different perspective on Palin’s role in things. I certainly don’t think attacks directly on her are the worst part of the last few days. The entire Right has been blamed not just for the political climate in the country but also for the murders themselves.

  7. Rpeh,

    I asked you to provide me with an example of a sane person resorting to violence after hearing political rhetoric and you cite a judge that was likely killed by the cross-fire of an attack on a Congresswoman by a man that is obviously mentally unstable?


    1. No, *read the article*. The important bit is what happened in 2009, when the judge was threatened *because of what somebody said on the radio*.

      1. Threats? I asked you about actual acts of violence.

        1. “3. So threatening emails aren’t concerning? How many future assasins have sent harassing emails, letters and phone calls prior to acting? Way to minimize there Ames.”

          I wonder who said that, misspelling “assassins” in the process?

          1. I’m not going to bother replying to you any more. There’s clearly no point. Use the time for reflection, and reconsider the violence and hatred you rightwingers use all the time.

          2. So then threats ARE a concern and symptonmatic of harsh political rhetoric?

            1. Nobody said they weren’t, you moron. People said it wasn’t worth Ames writing an article about it.

              As Tom Tomorrow once asked in a cartoon about the American Right: Are you lying or just stupid?

                1. Thanks! I was looking for that.

              1. If threats ARE a symptom of harsh political rhetoric then you agree that the Left must be equally to blame for the climate in the country since Republicans regularly receive threats as well…right?

                So far no one (including you genius) has presented a single example of an act of violence perpetrated by a sane person that was directly caused by political rhetoric. So basically all we have now is that sometimes elected officials get threatened because of political rhetoric.

                So now we need to guard against threats?

                1. The right wing is directly responsible for this incident in Arizona. The other people in this thread might not think that, but it’s pretty obvious to me.

                  The left wing aren’t the ones making the threats. They come ONLY from the right. It’s your fault. Deal with it.

                  1. So when conservatives receive threats they are coming from other conservatives?

                    Hey – at least you’re honest about being a kook.

                    1. Conservatives don’t receive threats from lefties. They just don’t. The ones they receive are from nutjobs even nuttier than them. Look at Conservapedia and how they brand everybody a RINO if they don’t subscribe to a particular brand of wingnuttery.

                    2. So when you watch those leftie rallies where they burn effigies of Republicans – you don’t see anyone capable of calling in a threat to their local Congressmen?

                    3. I see the exception that you dearly wish was the rule. But if wishes were horses, well, we’d all be eating steak.

                    4. Paul, So it was TP folks who burned effigies of Palin in 2008?

                    5. By the way Paul – i’ve been threatened more than once by liberals on chat boards (i had one who said he was going to drive to KY and rape my underage daughter). I’ve also received threats on my blog which is conservative and insignificant. these were from Far Righties. They were from liberals who didn’t like my stance on abortion and one who disliked my stance on education policy. If little ol’ me can get threats from real-life liberals how in the hell can you claim no Republican politicians are ever threatened by liberals?

                  2. Paul – I hope you are subscribed to the comments on this post so you catch this:


                    You said the Left wing isn’t making the threats in this country. It appears the folks in Wisconsin are proving you wrong. And their copycat rallies in other states are falling right in line.

  8. An attack on a Republican congressman would not come against the background of systematic right-wing rhetoric of violence. But it would certainly be cause for self-examination. I can tell you for damn sure that if we had someone on our side with the audience Beck has, saying what Beck says, I’d want him out. Right now.

    1. Well said.

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