Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Attempting to move the debate (but not necessarily the fight) forward...

DelawareDem has a thoughtful piece up on our various differences regarding rightwing extremism and political rhetoric (and our mutual appreciation for a recent comment by Anonone, of all people), which contains this paragraph:

But a problem remains. Right now, that violent fringe is being catered to in the extreme by the mainstream of the Republican party and the conservative movement, so much so that it is beginning to be difficult to tell the difference. They are being told that President Obama is a tyrant intend on taking their guns. They are being told that America is dying because of government spending. That Obama plans on opening large reeducation camps. That he is a terrorist, a muslim, a radical black Christian. That he is a fascist. That is both exploiting the violent fringe and empowering them.


I want to try a little non-confrontational parsing here, paying particular attention to a couple of the charges.

They are being told that President Obama is a tyrant intent on taking their guns.

I stipulate that President Obama has supported--at most and in some unspecified time in the future--the re-institution of the assault weapons ban, new ammunition taxes and (if I recall correctly) a requirement for micro-stamping, and that while I do not agree with them, none of them are confiscationist.

But here's the problem: there is a legitimate case to be made that the election of President Obama has empowered those with a confiscationist agenda, and he has not repudiated it.

To wit:

Former President Jimmy Carter advocating mandatory registration of all firearms, which is a necessary pre-requisite for any confiscation program.

A series of pending bills in the New York legislature that include at least two (A.3211a and A.7733) that mandate new powers of gun confiscation to the State of New York. [We can argue over the merits of each of these bills, quite legitimately, but it is not disputable that both would give the State the ability to confiscate certain weapons from those who have acquired them legally and are not accused of any crime.]

In Milwaukee, despite the State Attorney General re-affirming the right of Wisconsin citizens to open carry, the Police Chief says he won't follow the law, that he'll order his officers to confiscate such weapons on sight:

“My message to my troops is if you see anybody carrying a gun on the streets of Milwaukee, we’ll put them on the ground, take the gun away and then decide whether you have a right to carry it,” Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said.


Again, we can argue the merits of open carry, but if the Attorney General says This is the law, and the Police Chief says he will take the gun away, that's confiscationist language.

Then there's HR 45, which makes it illegal to own any non-antique handgun or semi-automatic weapon capable of accepting a magazine without a Federal firearms license, and gives American citizens only 2 years to come in and register all their weapons or become potential felons. In other words: there is legislation in the House criminalizing currently legal possession of firearms.

So DD, while it is a stretch to say that President Obama is going to take their guns, there really ARE people out there with a confiscationist agenda, and--elections do matter--his election has definitely strengthened the hand of confiscationists. Therefore, for people to argue that Obama supports a confiscationist agenda is, frankly, not even a huge distortion by the lax modern standards of political discourse in this country today.

They are being told that America is dying because of government spending. Reasonable people can differ on this one, obviously, but that rhetoric itself--while again hyperbolically over the top--is not inherently unconscionable or beyond the pale of things said by mainstream politicians about their opponents over the past three decades.

The re-education camps? I agree with you. In fact, during March 2009 I dedicated an extensive post to thoroughly debunking the entire concept and condemning those who spread the lie.

Terrorist, muslim, black radical Christian... None of them true, OK. But neither was it ever proven that Dubya had suppressed cocaine convictions, that John McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, that the Feds had foreknowledge of 9/11 [hello Howard Dean]. As A1 points out: both sides play to their fringes....

That he is a fascist ... or a socialist for that matter. Inaccurate? Stipulated. Unprecedented in modern American political rhetoric. Hardly.

In other words, DD, I would agree with you on the re-education camps bit without reservation--to the extent you can find me mainstream GOP political leaders harping on it.

The gun confiscation argument is, regrettably, well enough founded to have legitimacy, even if it is often advanced in hyperbolic terms. It has about the same credibility as Jimmy Carter's assertion that only people interested in killing children, co-workers, and police officers want to own so-called assault weapons. Tell me, DD, would you go with me that former President Carter's rhetoric is not responsible?

But even if I granted you that one, what bothers me is that you lump in extreme resistance to taxation and government spending not as acceptable political discourse (even if you thing it's both wrong and foolish), but as the equivalent of passing around ludicrous rumors about re-education camps and police officers shooting your dogs as they break into your house to take your guns.

In other words: in my opinion your brush is so broad that it not only (a) erodes your own credibility, but (b) makes you part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Law enforcement should be in the business of tracking and stopping real violent extremists.

It has absolutely no business producing documents that editorialize on which political opinions are acceptable.

[A final note: maybe you didn't like my snarky post on the Handmade Militia, but I think you missed my larger point. In the current political environment, picture a lone young Missouri State Trooper on a rainy night, who sees a van speed by him with a bumpersticker that reads Handmade Militia. He's read the MIAC Militia Movement report, and has been warned that militia images on vehicles is a pretty sure indicator of potentially violent inhabitants. Congratulations: we've just raised the chances that a bunch of left-over children of the sixties carting around several cartons of macrame potholders are going to have a very bad experience....]

7 comments:

Delaware Dem said...

Law enforcement should be in the business of tracking and stopping real violent extremists.

It has absolutely no business producing documents that editorialize on which political opinions are acceptable.
To prove that this will continue to be a circular argument among us, let me say that I agree with the above statement.

But what do you do when some with political opinions turn to violence. Sure, they are extremists and not at all representative of everyone with that same political opinion, but they do have a history of violence. For example, those who are pro-life but, ironically, kill doctors and nurses and bomb clinics. Surely they are extremists and criminals. But they possess political opinions.

Timothy McVeigh had political opinions too.

Do I want to criminalize political opinions? Of course not. For in 4 years or 8 years or 16 years when the next Republican is elected President, my political opinions may be labeled extremist. But do I want law enforcement to prevent violence from extremists with political opinions? Absolutely. I want them to do everything within the law, respecting constitutional protections. The argument is over where the line is and if it was crossed.

So you think the DHS report on extremist right wingers was an overbroad unconstitutional overreach that sought to criminalize political opinion. In some cases, I agree with you. In other cases, where there is a past history of violence by right wing extremist groups, I think it was warranted. And I would say the same thing with respect to left wing extremist groups that the DHS warned about, like the environmental groups that burn down new construction and the like.

Steve Newton said...

DD
You ask a legitimate question, and it is one with no objective, universally accepted correct answer.

We had this discussion as a nation back when the NJ State troopers were pulling over young African-American males driving expensive cars on the Turnpike because that was the profile of drug dealers.

We had this discussion when the TSA was setting up its enhanced screening process as a random process even though we knew that the 9/11 terrorists were not randomly selected out of the general population, and were highly unlikely (99.9999%) to be a grandmother in a wheelchair.

We're having it again on a similar issue.

As a policy discussion we're caught in a dynamic between liberty and security, and the amount of risk we're willing to accept in society.

My perception (clearly marked as such because I do not know you and could be wrong) is that you tilt far closer to the security side of the equation than idea. Which does not mean I am suggesting you want to live in a police state or wipe out free speech, but it does mean that I am consciously willing to accept a higher degree of risk for myself, my family, and my country than you are, in exchange for what I perceive are valuable freedoms.

And there's the rub: finding the zone in which both of us (as a metaphor for the whole debate) can live comfortably.

Here's a more palpable example of the gulf between us: you believe that Timothy McVeigh is relevant to the current conversation and I don't. Why? Because in McVeigh you see the kind of unstable individual who is influenced by rightwing rhetoric and then assembles the means to carry out his wacko fantasies in gruesome fashion. I see Timothy McVeigh as a statistical inevitability in a free society, just like the Unabomber or the guys who threw the first bombs during the Haymarket Riot over a century ago. It doesn't mean I would not try to stop another McVeigh, but no system--even a totalitarian one with complete control of all weapons--will ever stop all the McVeighs.

My problem with DL, ironically, has not really been around that issue. My problem with you guys is that I perceive some of you as being more (or at least equally) interested in this as a political club to pound your opponents with than in being genuinely concerned about reducing the potential for violence.

And if that is indeed the case, then in some way you are approaching the moral level of the GOP characters pandering to the dangerous far right.

But if this is not the case, I would expect you to be asking this: since I am not a Republican (and actually have a vested personal interest in seeing the GOP crash and burn), what is it about the rhetoric you have chosen to employ that makes me keep coming at you, when it would be so much easier not to do so?

Here's my challenge: go back and read all the DL posts in April since that damn DHS report has come out. Then you tell me: could some (even many) of them be read more realistically as partisan posturing than genuine civic concern? I obviously think the answer is yes.

The other irony for me (might as well get it all out there) is that your series of posts has been, frankly, ludicrously over-emphasizing the potential for politically motivated violence in this country. Some days I think you really believe that instead of Tim McVeigh or that abortion clinic bomber whose name I can't remember, the entire Missouri militia is going to show up in the mall gunning down children.

The actual fact is that organized mass political violence in this country has been statistically miniscule in this country, and most of the large-scale killing since the 1960s has been done not by extremists, but by our government.

Look up the Cointellpro murders of the Black Panthers.

Think seriously about what happened in Waco.

Examine the statistics of the number of American citizens during the past thirty years killed by law enforcement in the "war on drugs."

We have recently surpassed China as the country with the largest percentage of its own citizens in prison.

Take out the "lone wolf" violence and you tell me: since the days of the civil rights movement, how many Americans have actually been killed by organized, extremist political violence? Add back in Oklahoma City and all the lone wolves and then compare it to either the cases I mentioned above or the gang-related murder rate in Philly, Camden, DC, or Atlanta.

That's a major reason why I tend to dismiss your rhetoric: as they say about economists, you've successfully predicted nine of the last five acts of organized political violence.

But at least you and I seem to be making progress in this discussion.

Steve Newton said...

In this paragraph

My perception (clearly marked as such because I do not know you and could be wrong) is that you tilt far closer to the security side of the equation than idea. Which does not mean I am suggesting you want to live in a police state or wipe out free speech, but it does mean that I am consciously willing to accept a higher degree of risk for myself, my family, and my country than you are, in exchange for what I perceive are valuable freedoms.The word "idea" should read "I do." Sorry, late at night.

Hube said...

But do I want law enforcement to prevent violence from extremists with political opinions? Absolutely.Then you should have been monitored for your OWN infamous statement, right DD?

Hube said...

Steve: do I have to insert a "break" tag between lines in your comments now?

G Rex said...

Two questions:

Does my Bren gun count as an antique, or do I need to get a FFL?

Will I get pulled over if I'm blasting "Metal Militia" on the car stereo? (From Kill 'Em All by Metallica for you Deadheads out there.)

Steve Newton said...

G Rex
We can agree count your Bren as an antique if I can get the same status for my Nambu LMG 34