I made the mistake of following a link to a Frank Rich column this morning — an activity liable to cause lowed IQ, severe irritation, or in extreme cases, the gnawing off of one’s own arm. In an effort to channel possible side effects into a vaguely positive outlet, I hope that readers will forgive me if I revisit a topic that I already touched on once before: the increasing attempts by Democratic partisans to insist that the only people who could possibly oppose their agenda are evil, racist, gun-toting, potentially-violent freaks.
Like many of Rich’s pieces, this one is wandering and somewhat inarticulate. However, the basic thread is that the right as a whole is made up of violent extremists who should not be a part of the current health care debate in congress. In support of this, he points to the handful of 2nd Amendment activists who have been showing up at Townhall Meetings and other public venues in states that allows the open carry of firearms and exercising that selfsame right. This, he argues, proves that they are just like Timothy McVeigh (after all, one of them quoted Thomas Jefferson, who was also quoted by McVeigh), and to cap it all off some Republicans opposed counter-terrorism bills proposed in the wake of the OKC bombing. Got all that?
A couple things strike me about the unreasonableness of this line of thinking.
Let me start by saying, I don’t in any way condone carrying guns at political demonstrations. I understand the point the protesters are trying to make, and it is perfectly legal (in those states where it’s occurring) so long as they don’t behave in a threatening manner, but I think it’s needlessly provocative and generally unhelpful. And from a gun safety point of view, I just don’t think that guns belong at a political rally.
That said, however, it strikes me as interesting that many of the same liberal voices who loudly and frequently fault Israel for not negotiating more with Hamas and the PLO (whose supporters not only carry guns frequently at rallies, but do so while masked and at times firing in the air) think that Obama should refuse to negotiate with Republicans at all on the health care bill because a few 2nd Amendment protesters have been seeing sedately carrying guns at rallies.
While I’m thinking of Middle East parallels, it’s always interesting to me that the Oklahoma City bombing has become such a favorite touchstone for liberals when they’re trying to insist that the conservative movement as a whole is dangerous and violent. The same people who assured us repeatedly that there are an awful lot of reasons why “they” hate is in the Middle East and that we need to be cognizant of root causes for violence have a very hard time recalling that Timothy McVeigh was very explicitly motivated by the government’s tragically unwise handling of the Branch Davidian standoff several years before. That certainly doesn’t make his murderous response right, but it is interesting that Rich is as eager to use the “they kill us because they hate us and our freedoms” line against domestic right wingers, when he understands it is simplistic and un-useful in foreign policy.
Finally, I think it’s worth highlighting again how unhelpful to discourse a “Here, look at these freaks! All my opponents are like this!” approach to political argument is. For instance, I’m strongly against the idea of same sex marriage. However, I would consider it inappropriate to argue against it repeatedly and loudly by saying: “See this disgusting behavior at the Folsom Street Fair? That’s the kind of people who support gay marriage, therefore your should oppose them to.” Caricaturing all of your opponents on an issue as being like the most objectionable and fringy minority of them isn’t just rude, it’s wrong. Yet — given that carrying a gun in public is apparently as revolting to Frank Rich as public displays of bondage and sadomasochism are to most sane people — he appears to have no problem with using those sorts or rhetorical tactics, so long as they serve his own ends.
Indeed, this column contains examples of many of the ways in which the angry left of the “I Hate Bush” years has lowered the tone of public discussion in our country, and is now proving a serious impediment to their chosen candidate now that he’s actually in office. Rich growls at Obama:
Should Obama fail to deliver serious reform because his administration treats the pharmaceutical and insurance industries as deferentially as it has the banks, that would be shameful. Should he fail because he in any way catered to a decimated opposition party that has sunk and shrunk to its craziest common denominator, that would be ludicrous.
The G.O.P., whose ranks have now dwindled largely to whites in Dixie and the less-populated West, is not even a paper tiger — it’s a paper muskrat.
I hope you will not blame me if this gives me a certain perverse amusement. With Obama’s health care reform initiative increasingly trapped between the hammer of public opinion and the anvil of his own supporters intransigence, perhaps there’s actually a chance that people will have to “hit the reset button” and try to come up with something modest and sane instead.