Saturday, February 11, 2006

Liberals: targeted for elimination

Alonzo Fyfe at the Atheist Ethicist has an excellent post rebutting an e-mail that his wife received from a coworker who deemed it "too good not to pass along." The e-mail equates liberals with excusing terrorist activity and, more disgustingly, implicity fantasizes about liberals being killed by terrorists.

The typical response to this hate rhetoric, which is clearly eliminationist propaganda, is that it's just a joke. It is not a joke because this sort of rhetoric helps clear the way for action by serving to demonize a group so that they can be viewed as less than human.

In a post entitled The hunting of liberals, Dave Neiwert noted that

This is how propaganda is supposed to work: Circulate ideas on the popular level first, perhaps disguised as "humor" or "edgy commentary," until they become part of a broadly popular "conventional wisdom." Seemingly "outrageous" ideas gradually gain broader acceptance, leveraging the populace toward the movement's agenda. Then, when these notions are enunciated at the official and most powerful levels of government, any outrage that might be voiced is easily ignored.
Michelle Malkin, who has written a book claiming that "liberals" are unhinged, would respond that mainstream conservatives are quick to condemn extremism from their own ranks. As I've demonstrated before, that claim doesn't even make it past Malkin, and in the Neiwert post he gives an example of Karl Rove engaging in this sort of demagogery. Not only did Malkin and her ilk not denounce Rove, but they said he was correct.

Citizens should be alarmed when their leaders engage in or encourage this sort of propaganda because it can have practical consequences. For example, Timothy McVeigh's Oklahoma City bombing in some respects can be seen as the culmination of a decade and a half of anti-government rhetoric. In the introduction to Reagan's America, Gary Wills writes

Not orderly rule but violent overthrow is the fantasy haunting the minds of some of Reagan's heirs. Rush Limbaugh, expressing sympathy for the militias said: "The second violent American revolution is just about - I got my fingers about a fourth of an inch apart - is just about that far away. Because these people are sick and tired of a bunch of beuracrats in Washington driving into town and telling them what they can and can't do." Representative John Boehler of Ohio called OSHA regulators the "Gestapo of the Federal Government."

It may be objected that this is "just rhetoric" - an odd thing for any Reaganite to say. It was his rhetoric about an Evil Empire that helped destroy one system. Why should we take any less seriously his rhetoric about the evils of our government? Oliver North did not. The Freemen of Montana do not. The airwaves are full of citizens' vituperation of the representatives they have themselves chosen. Though Reagan was to courtly and well mannered to use the caustic insults orchestrated on talk radio, he made the world safe for Rush Limbaugh. And Limbaugh, down through the ranks of his even less contained fellows (like Oliver North and G. Gordon Liddy), made the world safe for the militias, the Freemen, the bombers of the Federal building in Oklahoma City. If the government was the enemy, these people would fight it, with guns if necessary; and feel that they worked under the aegis of the man who most effectively taught them that government is the enemy.
The rhetoric against goverment no longer predominates the airwaves. Now, the biggest target of talk radio is liberals, who have been deemed the "enemy within." How long might it be before we see the results of the seed of hate that is being planted by the people who "joke" about the elimination of liberals?


John Lombard said...

Yeah, I worry about this too. I read some comments by Ann Coulter the other day that were outrageous even for her -- for example, she made a joke about the Holocaust cartoon contest, saying the only people who'd entered so far were Ted Rall and Gary Trudeau.

Ted Rall, fine. He's nuts. But Gary Trudeau? I mean, come on. But that's the thing about hate: it has its own logic. It doesn't matter that there's no joke because Trudeau doesn't attack jews or make fun of genocide. All that's relevant is that "we have Gary Trudeau" -- that's all the joke is.

That's what disturbing. P.J. O'Rourke's politics are dumb, but at least he's funny: his jokes have some connection to reality, most of the time he exaggerates qualities that are really there. But with someone like Coulter, there's the surface form of humour, but she mocks her targets for qualities they don't actually have: it's enough that she hates them.

Rich Gardner said...

I noticed at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing that Clinton could have very justifiably blamed it on Rush Limbaugh's extremist rhetoric. Clinton sort of, kind of, hinted in a mushy manner at that, Limbaugh got up and screamed bloody murder "How dare he?!?!" and Clinton quickly backed off.
Result? The very, very informed and politically active persons like myself, perhaps one percent of the population, understood the connection between Limbaugh's hate speech and the OKC bombing.