I used to love Republican politics. I have always admired the Republican primary process for the way its leaders and frontrunners, unlike the Democratic primary candidates, seem to draw energy, support and money by being less politically correct than the next guy. It’s a damn-the-torpedoes attitude that has all but disappeared from our sanitized and boring political language. The more passionate and less socially acceptable a candidate becomes outside of their party, the stronger they become inside the base. It’s an adherence to stroking the personalities of your faithful and not acknowledging the values of the outside that interests me so.
It’s the American Way and probably why our politics skews rightward. The more passionate they are, though damaging to general election candidates, the more regarded they become within the right. Liberals are the opposite. The more politically correct, middle of the road, grounded and normal, the more support they garner. We want our candidates to be accepting, motherly figures who will console and hopefully (mostly in vain) bring the fickle moderates into the fold. I have envied the Republicans their brilliant and at the same time profoundly ignorant brand and execution. However, over the last several years, Republican political rhetoric has mutated into a kind of trickle-down insanity that has more and more translated itself in random acts of violence.
In 2007, after four years of disastrous war planning in Iraq and the institution of an admitted and obvious global torture regime, 71 percent of Republicans still supported an attack on Iran to prevent that country from obtaining nuclear weapons.
In early October 2008, at multiple McCain/Palin rallies, audience members screamed, “terrorist,” “treason” and “kill him” when then-Sen. Barack Obama was mentioned. Civil rights hero and Congressman John Lewis chided the McCain campaign:
“George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and condition that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who desired to exercise their constitutional right.”
The following week, after correcting a supporter who accused Senator Obama of being an Arab, McCain was summarily booed by the crowd for claiming the Obama was a decent family man.
In early 2009 in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee, (all states that voted more heavily Republican in 2008 than in 2004), homicides increased. They decreased in almost all the major cities across the country. In April of 2009, a report from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI detailed the rise in right-wing extremism due in part to economic uncertainty and the election of the nation’s first African-American president. The report concluded that “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent right wing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat to the United States.” One month later, Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Kansas, was gunned down in the entrance of his church by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder, who had connections to “Operation Rescue” a radical “right-to-life” group. Less than a year later, in Austin, Texas, Andrew Joseph Stack flew a small plane into a building containing IRS offices – killing himself and one other. He left behind a note ranting against the government and the tax structure.
In August 2009, conservative protesters began disrupting and shouting down their representatives at town hall meetings. The town hall disturbances were in response to the president’s proposed health care reform bill. Fights and violence erupted at town halls in Tampa, Saint Louis and Denver. When police began to have to protect members of Congress from their own constituents, the Tea Party was born. In the fall of 2009, bumper stickers appeared for sale online reading, “Pray for Obama Psalm 109:8” a dog whistle to evangelical conservatives with a hidden reference calling for Obama’s death. Psalms 109:8 reads,
“May his days be few and another take his place of leadership, May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.”
Earlier last month, Kansas House Speaker Michael O’Neal publicly apologized for forwarding the Bible verse to his Republican colleagues, though he did say he was merely wishing for a one-term Obama presidency.
In the months leading up to health care reform, the fictional concept of “death panels” was introduced into the debate by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Gov. Sarah Palin. Groups of armed men with assault rifles and pistols began appearing at president Obama’s pro-health care reform rallies. One man in New Hampshire, with a gun strapped to his leg, carried a sign with the Jefferson quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
In March 2010, demonstrators spat on and hurled racial epithets at members of Congress as they neared final passage of health care reform. In the weeks after health care was signed into law, there were ten different incidents of members of Congress who voted for health care reform being violently threatened. Bricks were thrown into Congressional district office windows. Death threats were sent. One online conservative activist urged his followers to “stop by” and “express their thanks” at the personal home of Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello. The activist mistakenly posted Perriello’s brother’s home address. Gas lines to the grill in his back yard were cut and the FBI was called to investigate.
Tea Party brutality reached a fever pitch in the fall of 2010 in advance of the midterm elections. Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle openly advocated for “2nd Amendment remedies” and told her followers to “take Harry Reid out.” Congresswoman and future 2012 presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said that she wanted her followers to be “armed and dangerous.” In late October, Tim Profitt, Rand Paul’s Bourbon County coordinator for his senate campaign, stomped the head of a MoveOn activist in a now-infamous video. On November 16, 2010, Minnesota State Rep. Tom Hakbarth was found loitering around a Saint Paul Planned Parenthood with a loaded gun. He was detained, but not charged with a crime. He was subsequently stripped of his leadership positions in the state House. During the 2010 campaign, Sarah Palin created and posted a map on her web site of the United States with rifle crosshairs on a handful of specific Congressional districts. One of those districts belonged to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who, along with 19 others, was shot on January 6, 2011, by the clearly deranged Jared Lee Loughner, an individual who professed interest in and sympathies with far-right gold standard conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism. Giffords is Jewish. A federal judge and a nine-year-old girl were among the nine that died. Immediately after the shooting, Palin scrubbed her web sites of the crosshair imagery.
On September 7, 2011, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas was asked about his record of executing 234 death row inmates and, before he could answer, a chorus of guttural approval rose from the audience. A week later, it happened again. Wolf Blitzer asked Congressman Ron Paul if an uninsured man should be allowed to die and, once again, cries and murmurs in the affirmative beat the candidate to the answer. On another occasion, Rick Perry was booed for the sin of having a moderate and realistic stance on the Dream Act and immigration – a subject about which he actually had some knowledge. A gay service member was booed after asking a question about don’t ask, don’t tell. In November, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain were cheered by a debate audience in Orlando for voicing their support for harsh interrogation tactics that the rest of the world considers war crimes.
Which brings us to the historically blood-soaked ground of South Carolina. All of the frequencies that make up the conservative message are on display in this most crucial of primary states. They were all on display in Tuesday’s debate. Downward class warfare (Romney), religious fundamentalism (Santorum), overt racism (Gingrich), fear and paranoia (Paul) and proud ignorance (Perry). But the one chord present throughout all the frequencies is the enjoyment of violence inflicted on one’s enemies. Romney hissed that Bin Laden got what he deserved with “a bullet in the head” to loud applause. Paul was booed for suggesting we use the “golden rule” in conducting foreign policy. Mexico was weirdly booed when mentioned as George Romney’s birthplace. Hopefully, this was because the audience perceived that the question was veering toward the Romney family’s polygamous past, not that they were simply booing Mexico. Juan Williams was booed for asking Gingrich if his advocacy for poor child janitors was demeaning to a segment of our population, our unnamed black underclass. The audience howled, Newt paused, absorbed the outright hate on display and, disregarding the dog whistle, condescendingly threw it back in Williams’ face by coyly calling him, “Juan.” Perry sounded the most audible dog whistle of the night by declaring that the state of South Carolina was at war with the federal government. The roar that rose from the crowd had nothing to do with politics or state pride and everything to do with an inarticulate rage that had somehow wormed its way into political expression.
The first time that full-throated, violent conservative rhetoric was used so prominently was during the 1964 presidential nomination acceptance speech by Sen. Barry Goldwater. Goldwater had succeeded in routing New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller for the nomination by leading an ultra-conservative insurgency not unlike today’s Tea Party. He also voted against civil rights.
“And I would remind you that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
He proclaimed this less than a year after President Kennedy had been assassinated and Adlai Stevenson had been attacked by anti-UN demonstrators in Dallas. Goldwater later tried to explain the line away saying that he had tried to borrow it from Cicero, but mangled the quote. However, his “extremism in defense of liberty” line has been repeated and adopted by Republicans countless times over the decades, and has since almost become a commandment written in stone in the heart of every conservative as a call to physical arms. It has echoes across decades through the minds of tens of millions of Americans who have shown time and time again their enthusiasm to commit wanton acts of violence against their fellow countrymen. Many conservatives continue to see the Goldwater line as something that harkens back to the birth of the country, a solemn duty born in blood and gunpowder to resist monarchy and big government. It has become impossible to separate the most violent and extreme of right-wing positions from the base and now mainstream of the party.
Through each cycle, right-wing violence has peaked in times of effective Democratic presidents. In Dallas in 1963, in Oklahoma City in 1995 and in the Republican Party of today. Right-wing ideology has become accepted conservative ideology and has thus become mainstream Republican thought. This has sadly led me to wonder: Is there something inherently violent that exists in the conservative character? Is there something lurking just beneath the surface, waiting for one issue or another to justify the murder of the opposition? Are these people really just a bunch of psychos? Liberals and conservatives can disagree on the issue of capital punishment, but only one side has openly applauded the practice. We can disagree about the difference between market-based and government-run health care, but only conservatives have applauded the deaths of the uninsured. We can disagree about the political process, but only conservatives have consistently advocated for violent combat. This sadistic streak is reflected in Republican legislation and policies as well. It manifests itself in the continued support for the unrestricted gun rights that result in the deaths of thousands of Americans every year. In early 2011, the newly elected Republican Congress attempted to redefine forceful rape in what became a sustained assault on women’s health. One could make the case that that the far left also has a history of bombings and violence, based on acts committed by sixties radicals. But that history does not come anywhere near the consistent and prolonged brutality of the right. Indeed, the Occupy Wall Street movement has universally sworn nonviolence. As we enter what promises to be an ultra negative election year, how else will the GOP base’s violent tendencies and bloody fervor manifest itself? How much does the GOP’s rhetoric have to deteriorate before a member of their base takes a shot at another politician?
All of this denotes a continued breakdown of the American process of being able to come together and build a better country for and with each other through compromise. Something needs to be corrected in the way American conservatives practice their politics. Modern Republican politics have become a contagion within the body politic of the United States. Why even have debates? When will their candidates stop wearing suits and start wearing fatigues? The Republican politics that I once enjoyed now trouble me deeply. Maybe it has always been this way. But it seems that conservative Republicans are devolving downward and backward until there is nothing left except to pick up a gun. What does it mean for our future when the base of one of the two major political parties is advocating the murder of the other? What kind of example are we setting and how long can we maintain it? Can it be ratcheted back? Because if it can’t, theirs will continue to be a permanent civil war waged on their fellow citizens that manifests itself in the occasional “flare-up.” Flare ups that result in the deaths of innocent people.