Monday, April 27, 2009

Let's examine some absolutist, leftwing rhetoric and see what we find....

First, a semi-random sampling of a local blogger doing her bit to sell the narrative that anyone who is not a liberal Democrat should have to spend all his/her time running around condemning violent extremists because they are to be portrayed as responsible for everything from Glenn Beck to the guy who killed cops in Pittsburgh:

This kind of violent rhetoric is exactly the refuge of the worst of the current wingnuts and exactly why they got their outrage on over the DHS report. You can’t protect your own bullying and violent speech without having to cover for the terrorists in your midst too.

This comes from the same little merry band that lined up to label a potentially violent rightwing extremist group that should be on a DHS watch list somewhere. When I examined all their material and failed to find the slightest inkling of violent intent (in fact, quite the opposite), the rejoinder was--I kid you not:

What do they mean by keep the powder dry? Bath powder?

So much for non-violence.

Apparently the people who thought it was appropriate to use Regime Change as a rallying cry during the Bush years lost the ability to understand ironic metaphor.

It has been fairly easy for them to get away with this in the left blogosphere, because within echo chambers you usually hear only what you are shouting.

But it becomes more difficult to maintain that you are all about high ethical standards and fear of militia gunfire instead of engaging in a purely partisan effort to strangle debate when the Boston Globe calls you out [h/t Hube]:

PARTISAN turmoil that lingered after this month's tea party protests reignited recently, when the Department of Homeland Security issued a report to federal and local law enforcement officials on right-wing extremism. The report detailed current economic and political factors that could enhance recruitment for extremist groups. Yet the report defined extremism in a way that implicates a huge portion of the political spectrum. Conservatives are right to be angry.

The report drew particular criticism over comments on "disgruntled military veterans," who, it suggests, may be targeted by extremist groups looking to use their "skill and knowledge to carry out violence." Missing was any empirical evidence for its claims beyond the examples of Timothy McVeigh and Richard A. Poplawski, the Pittsburgh man who recently shot three police officers and exhibited fears that the government would take his guns.

Worse, the report's depiction of an extremist describes the political beliefs of many Americans, saying that "many right-wing extremists are antagonistic toward the new presidential administration . . . immigration . . . and restrictions on firearms." But Americans have every right to oppose all three. Drawing a parallel, even implicitly, between specific political beliefs and criminal intent is something Americans must oppose, regardless of political affiliation.

Except that many Americans of a specific political affiliation have not condemned this report, they've endorsed it, applauded it, and attempted to shove it directly down the throats of their political adversaries.

Moreover, the Globe also notes one aspect of the report (and the new administration's responsibility for issuing it) that our friends never seem to recall:

This is unfortunate, because the language of the report even faced objections from the department's own Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties before its release. Napolitano must take these concerns more seriously. She should consider it one of her primary obligations to prevent the politicization of Homeland Security.

Read that carefully: the DHS report was not only vetted prior to publication, the people who did that vetting objected to the content.

What's happening here is that many liberal bloggers and commentators are chastising what they consider exterminationist rhetoric while pursuing an absolutist agenda of their own.

That agenda reads like this: We, and only we, have the moral authority to determine what is legitimate political discourse, and which positions are, by definition, fringe, extremist, or potentially violent. After all, we won the election, didn't we?

If the phenomenon was primarily the preserve of semi-anonymous bloggers with colossal egos and miniscule audiences, this would be one thing. But when a former President engages in the tactic, it is--as Tim Robbins once remarked--evidence of a chill wind beginning to blow.

Jimmy Carter, writing an op-ed for NYT, talks about being a hunter and gun owner, and then let's loose with a serious of incredible--despicable--and inaccurate generalizations about anyone who wants to own a weapon that mets the gun control lobby's definition of an assault weapon, followed by a complete redefinition of what constitutes "common sense" gun control:

But none of us wants to own an assault weapon, because we have no desire to kill policemen or go to a school or workplace to see how many victims we can accumulate before we are finally shot or take our own lives. That’s why the White House and Congress must not give up on trying to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, even if it may be politically difficult.

An overwhelming majority of Americans, including me and my hunting companions, believe in the right to own weapons, but surveys show that they also support modest restraints like background checks, mandatory registration and brief waiting periods before purchase.

So there you have it, with [failed] ex-Presidential authority: anybody who defends Second Amendment rights to own semi-automatic rifles wants to kill policemen, school children, or fellow employees.

Where, I wonder, is the outrage on the left that literally millions of gun owners who have never committed or even contemplated a violent act are now being accused by Jimmy Carter of being homicidal maniacs?

Waiting. But not holding my breath.

Likewise, I'm wondering when the gun control lobby is going to admit that by slipping in mandatory registration of all firearms into the conversation, Jimmy Carter is asserting a completely new power for the State: you have no right to own a weapon that the State does not know about.

So it's time to stop playing the game by their rules, since their rules are: heads we win, tails you lose, anyone not in agreement with us is a dangerous extremist.

Let's start labeling them as Absolutists who seem to have confused an electoral victory in the American Republic with the Enabling Act of 1933.


Townie 76 said...


I think you go a little overboard with the comparisons to the Enabling Act.

Let us face it both the left and the right are both hysterical, as in fact are some in your camp.

What is missing here is some reason. Are all veterans extremists? Are all VMI Cadets extremists? No, unless you believe the claim of the Virginia State and Missouri State Police, being one of those VMI types, you know me, I am hardly an extremist.

The claim that those who own assault rifles want to kill Cops is baloney, but so is the claim that only guns own by criminals kill.

An interesting point was made by someone who I greatly admire, my Dad, many years ago, as long as those who hate are talking they are not acting, when they quit talking they will act. The best thing is listen to what they are saying--there is wisdom; and to become fearful only when they are quiet.


Tyler Nixon said...

Gosh, who could have ever envisioned that an omni-bureaucracy so Orwellian (or even National Socialistically) dubbed "Homeland Security" would eventually get into demarcating widely-held political beliefs, ideology, or even thought as specifically warranting government notice and preparedness for action?

It's preposterous!

Tyler Nixon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tyler Nixon said...

[Edited for typos from previous post]

Moreover, I wonder if the most extremist rhetoric on the left is a conscious effort on the parts of some to actually incite and inflame.

What I see in all this incendiary and absolutist rhetoric on the left is unforunately very much a realization of exactly what those on the more paranoid end of the right claim we should be guarding against.

Whatever the case, the political discourse has rapidly slid off of a cliff ever since Obama took power. It has been breathtaking for those, like me, who despite policy differences, held hope Obama could tame the attack dogs in his ranks and set a new tone.

Quite the opposite has become true. It would seem the bile and hatred towards Bush et al (which I admittedly shared and myself expressed) has mutated in certain quarters into an incessant barrage of incendiary mass recrimination against not just Bushies and their ilk, but anyone not of total unquestioning fealty to a neo-liberal partisan Democrat agenda.

Delaware Watch said...


"Read that carefully: the DHS report was not only vetted prior to publication, the people who did that vetting objected to the content."

--does not follow from this:

"This is unfortunate, because the language of the report even faced objections from the department's own Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties before its release. Napolitano must take these concerns more seriously. She should consider it one of her primary obligations to prevent the politicization of Homeland Security."

As far as any of us know, the vetting process still had more steps that were short circuited.

Now for a serious question and believe me I'm serious about this. I grant that not every one, not nearly every one, who wants to own an assault rifle wants to kill police officers w/ them, etc. But I still don't get is why some people want to own assault weapons. Why do they? I'm serious: I don't know. I have no instinct or intuition about why someone would want to own one. Please enlighten me on the topic because I honestly don't get it.

Here's another thing. I'd like to read someone defend gun ownership on the basis of a **natural right** w/o appealing to the 2nd amendment. It seems to me such a defense must go like this: I have a right to defend my life or self from serious bodily injury in a way that places me at minimal risk. Guns do precisely that.

But it wouldn't follow from that that I have a right to defend myself by a maximal means. Otherwise owning automatic weapons and bazookas, to cite only 2 examples, would be my right as well. They exceed the standard of having a right to defend my life or self from serious bodily injury in a way that places me at minimal risk. But couldn't one argue that assault weapons exceed that standard as well?

So I would like to see a defense of owning assault weapons on the basis of natural rights.

Steven H. Newton said...

The point is intentionally hyperbolic: it is every bit as valid to compare people with conservative political views with armed and violent skinheads, militia members, and lone-wolf gunmen as it is to compare people who would trash the constitution and squash legitimate political discourse with those who voted away their last protections under the Weimar constitution.

I suspect some of my friends in the blogosphere will claim I have compared them to Nazis, but you know well as a historian that the Enabling Act could not have happened without the votes of non-Nazis who bought into the propaganda after the Reichstag Fire.

It is an interesting comment of American political discourse and the swings of the pendulum when it is acceptable for one side but not the other to engage in hyperbolic metaphor.

Steven H. Newton said...

To answer your questions out of order:

I don't defend the Second Amendment based on a natural rights argument. Here (so that I don't have to repeat it) is my argument on why the Second Amendment is there:

(It's embedded, but you will find it.)

As for your serious question: why would anybody want to own an "assault weapon"?

I will offer you three serious answers:

1) Many gun owners reject the term assault weapon as being a propaganda designation that creates a false grouping of weapons. True assault weapons are capable of full automatic fire; the weapons you can buy today that look like them are not. So the first answer some folks would give you is, why is it inherently different to own one of these weapons than any other semi-automatic rifle? Similar high-penetration rounds can be fired from other rifles. There is an issue with clip sizes, and some would say a legitimate argument could be made there.

2) A significant number of people who target shoot or collect weapons just happen to gravitate toward weapons with a "military" styling, probably for the same reasons that some people insist on piercing their septums--no real accounting for taste. A lot of what you could call "technical gun hobbyists" are serial owners. They like to purchase different weapons, compare their performance, and then sell them again so that they can purchase other weapons to play with.

3) Some people prefer such weapons for home protection, especially in semi-rural areas of the West, where large varmints can be as big a problem as two-legged predators.

As for the vetting of the report, I suspect you are right that it was short-circuited for reasons we may or may not ever know: I keep coming back to the question: "How could a report issued on 7 April which contains references to an event on 4 April have been meaningfully vetted by anyone?"

But DHS has admitted that its own Civil Rights office objected to portions of the report, and my point here is that at least some people in house were aware that the report was problematic before it went out, said so, and were apparently ignored.

Anonymous said...

Steve Newton wrote:

"It is an interesting comment of American political discourse and the swings of the pendulum when it is acceptable for one side but not the other to engage in hyperbolic metaphor."

Exactly. It is an interesting comment on the discourse on "Delaware Libertarian" as well.


Steven H. Newton said...

I'm certainly not immune to the syndrome--but unlike others at least I know I've got it.

Bowly said...

Dana, I'd like to hear your description of what an "assault weapon" is. According to the 1993 bill, it included weapons with items like bayonet mounts, folding stocks, and flash suppressors--which affect the appearance of the weapon more than they do the lethality. Note that nowhere does Carter mention the number of people who were killed by these assault weapons since the ban was lifted. He only lists a coverall stat from 2006, which includes ALL firearms deaths.

The problem is that the phrase "assault weapon" is loaded, much like your pet peeve "socialism" is. Any powerful weapon loaded with the proper ammunition becomes quite lethal. But you say "assault weapon" and suddenly people picture fully automatic AK-47's--which have been illegal for a long time.

Townie 76 said...


You are right, the Enabling Acts would not have passed without the help of others--in particular the conservative (if my memory serves me right) political parties.

What we are trying to do is find a balance between "liberty and order." Unfortunately since 9/11 those who favor order have won out over those who favor liberty. Clearly we need balance.

Regarding your discussion of assault rifles, you were spot on. By the definition some offer for assault rifles, by semi-automatic shotgun is one. Just because I collect specific types of military weapons does not necessarily make me a nut job, that in itself does not constitute intent to do harm to society as a whole.

You are right my friend that what passes as political discourse today is merely "hyperbolic metaphor." But as you well know "hyperbolic metaphor" is nothing new in American political discourse. We are relatively tame as compared to say 1798 when the Alien and Sedition Acts were enacted.

Unfortunately what is often passed as discourse today is spewed forth by those who have neither the understanding nor the substance to present an intellectual discourse.

Oh well.

Delaware Watch said...


I don't know much about guns and didn't know, until Steve mentioned it in his comment, that legal assault weapons don't differ from other semi-automatic guns. That does seem to make the difference purely cosmetic.

I have an open mind on the topic because, as I said, I don't know much about guns.