“There is a future and there is a hope because it is our country. We own our country,” (Congresswoman Michele Bachmann) said. “It doesn’t belong to just a handful of radicals in Washington D.C.”
That’s what Bachmann calls the White House and her colleagues in Congress these days — “a handful of radicals.”
I’ll bet that most people don’t realize the extraordinary success that this particular kind of hatemongering has had. In the statement above and dozens of other statements like it: Bachmann’s premise is that the government elected to represent the people does not represent the people.
This is theory behind revolutions. “The government that is enjoying authority and the forms of legitimacy right now, is no longer legitimate.” That is what Bachmann and the tea party and the conservative broadcasters are actually saying, every day. That is the premise: that the elected government has went beyond the scope of its authority (i.e. beyond the powers permitted by the US Constitution) and is therefore illegitmate: an outlaw government — or “gangster government,” as Bachmann keeps calling it.
As is true of any revolutionary premise, the consequences of this kind of talk can be bloody.
From an op-ed column in a Duluth, Minnesota paper:
…I find it even odder to hear elected leaders from the Republican Party attack our republic. The irony is that as Americans we are all republicans who balance rights, responsibilities and sacrifices…
…Neither the tea party, the Republican Party, Palin nor Bachmann have asked for teamwork or sacrifice. Instead they use the rhetoric of rage to unite those who want to stop change.
But it cannot work because our republic is only as strong as our political institutions and civic trust…
These leaders are playing with political fire that can burn us all. The real problems that confront the republic are energy, environment and economy. These huge challenges can call out our American unity.
Building rage and flirting with violence cannot end well. Using less truth and more corporate cash will only add more Christian militias and less brotherly love to the 21st century.
This is the America we are living in now: an attack on American political institutions and civic trust — is now an election strategy. One accepted, encouraged, legitimized by the Republican Party and its leadership.
The only criticism here is of the writer’s naivete. He criticizes the right for not embracing the concept of “teamwork?” It’s true that conservative and GOP calls for compromise and teamwork are simply not there, but there is a reason for that. Conservatives and the GOP have painted us as the Devil, and one who would call for compromise or “teamwork” with the Devil would be cast out of the movement. They’ve been taught to hate us, their fellow Americans, as much as if we were a alien enemy.
A census sign that the Tea Party is less than it seems
By Dana Milbank
Sunday, April 11, 2010
…Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul and others in the Tea Party’s starting lineup have warned Americans about the evils of the census, and many activists have called for a boycott. This prompted fears among Republicans that they would lose seats in Congress if conservatives refused to be counted, and Karl Rove took to the airwaves this week to urge compliance.
He could have saved his breath. There’s evidence that this Tea Party rebellion is a bust.
…as of Thursday, counties that went for John McCain in 2008 were returning census forms at a slightly higher rate than counties that went for Barack Obama: 62.4 percent to 62.0 percent.
…but not in Texas, where the Houston Chronicle pointed out that census response was weaker in some conservative districts. (That’s also referenced in this Milbank column.)
There’s other stuff in this Milbank column indicating that the tea party promoted by Beck, Hannity, Palin and Bachmann may be a paper tiger. Milbank compares a pro-immigration rally in DC that dwarfed the high-profile tea party rally in numbers (though you’d never know it from corporate media coverage.) And he notes that regular Republicans are kicking the asses of tea-party backed candidates in primary challenges.
If the whole tea party thing folds up like yesterday’s origami — where do those activists go? Where else but the GOP, now marketing itself as the party of attacking government and civic institutions. No diminution of GOP vote totals this fall, if that happens. The tea party provides not only a home but a pedestal for kooks and nuts and haters. But there’s a part of me that wishes that they had been more successful against GOP candidates in their primary challenges. A divided conservative movement is better than a united one, when it comes to fall elections.
It isn’t unusual at all for extremists or blindly partisan US politicians to identify their lawfully elected opposition as “fascists,” or “communists,” or “tyrants.” In the 1930s, former President Herbert Hoover accused President Franklin D. Roosevelt of being a fascist. A few years later, Hoover went public and called FDR a communist. All of that must have amused real fascists and communists, because of course FDR was neither.
And of course Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy became a national figure by accusing the Democratic administration of harboring communists within the administration. At the outset and in the middle of investigation of real spies, McCarthy falsely claimed that he had proof that there were two hundred and five communists working in the US State Department, shaping policy. After four years of high-profile investigation of Americans in all walks of life (not just government), it turned out that there weren’t 205 communists working in the US State Department. That was a lie, a deep irresponsible scam to discredit the Democrats in the eyes of the voters.
But there are differences between the accusations of un-American government made by Hoover and McCarthy, and the accusations of un-American government made today by Bachmann and her fans and collaborators.
In the case of Hoover’s charges against FDR — these were laughed off and ignored at the time by the American public; though popular in the shrunken conservative microcosm of the 30s, they never enjoyed any widespread public support. Quite properly, since charges of fascism and communism against FDR were (and remain) patently untrue.
In the case of McCarthy, the charge that there were communist working within the government, writing US foreign policy (made during the Korean War, made during the earliest and darkest days of the Cold War) did catch on. It’s fair to say that McCarthy’s serious and specific charge did “fire the imagination” of a great number of American voters.
“Surely no one, especially a United States Senator, would lie about something like that, something that important — for mere political gain! Surely no Republican senator could be that irresponsible, that anti-American — willing to start a phony national panic simply for the sake of career, influence and party politics. If McCarthy says he knows of 205 communists in the State Department — well, maybe there aren’t 205, but there must be at least 57, there must at least be one, if Senator McCarthy says there 205 in the US State Department — right now!”
But again, McCarthyism was different than the government conspiracy charges floated by Bachmann and the GOP and the tea party types of today. McCarthy conducted his campaign of rooting out conspiracy in government via investigation, within the Senate. He wasn’t suggesting that the federal government itself was “outlaw” and “radical” — he limited himself to asserting that the government had been penetrated by “outlaws” and “radicals.”
That’s different than what Bachmann and her confederates are suggesting. Their rhetoric is a blanket accusation against fellow Americans and the elected government. It’s a rhetoric borrowed from the conservative broadcasting of the past thirty years: liberals hate America and are the enemies of America, the Democrats themselves are the enemies of freedom, the federal government itself is “outlaw” (unconstitutional in its policies) and “gangster.”
McCarthy charged that credulous liberals were harboring radicals and enemies of America; Bachmann and the GOP are charging that liberals are “radicals” and enemies of America. I don’t think we’ve seen similar political rhetoric adopted in mainstream American politics since before the Civil War.
I don’t recall ever living in an America where it was an accepted party policy to identify the other party, and the elected government itself — as a threat to liberty, to America.
But that is where we are living now. The view described in the preceding paragraph is the view held by millions of Americans who call themselves conservatives, and they hold it without qualification, proudly. They’ve been raised on it.
I think that the significance of this fundamental change in American party politics is unappreciated by commentators, by media, by Americans themselves. And as the death threats against government officials continue to roll in, our political press ignores this change (a fundamental change in the right, not the left or center) and continues to focus on how the two parties might fare in elections this fall. It can even be said that America’s press has encouraged this poisonous change — by failing to report that Republicans and conservatives have implemented it.