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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Political Mergers: Nazis and Republicans Singing Kumbaya Around the Burning Cross

Political Mergers: Nazis and Republicans Singing Kumbaya Around the Burning Cross
Image © Austin Cline
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Comparisons between Nazis and Republicans are sometimes appropriate and sometimes inappropriate, but in all cases it's only supposed to be on an abstracted level that compares polices or attitudes. The comparisons aren't supposed to be direct and immediate because Republicans aren't supposed to be actual Nazis or actual fascists, yet in their struggle to overcome all possibility of satirization, Republicans appear to be trying to become just that. In some cases, Republicans are accepting genuine neo-Nazi white supremacists in leadership roles in the Party. In other cases, rank-and-file Republicans are expressing Nazi-like hatred of outsiders and minorities that would give even Himmler warm fuzzies.

The most outrageous example would be the two elected Republican precinct delegates in Michigan who are genuine neo-Nazis. One, Kyle Bristow, openly embraces the support of the Council for Conservative Citizens and the designation of his blog as "pro-white." Better known examples would be the behavior of people attending the campaign rallies for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Their conservative "base" is shouting out that Obama is a "terrorist" who should be "killed" and that he is guilty of "treason." At another McCain/Palin event, one conservative family brought an Obama doll to show that he's a "puppet," but their child was explicitly instructed that "you need gloves" just to touch it. In addition to the "terrorist" label we also find him being called a "Communist and a Marxist." Given how conservative his economic policies are, I don't think American conservatives know what real communism is anymore.

Of course the media is being attacked as well, with one black sound man at a Palin event being told to "sit down, boy." Others are also being targeted: at one rally where a protester objected to Palin forcing women to pay for their own test kits (which is like forcing the family of a murder victim to pay for the forensics supplies) two supporters shouted back that rape victims "should die" and "should pay double."

And where are the objections from John McCain or Sarah Palin to all this? Objecting to claims that Obama is an "Arab" doesn't count, and calling him a "decent man" now is too little, too late — especially when, in context, McCain was effectively contrasting "Arab" and "decent man," as if the two were mutually exclusive. What a way to lower the bigotry and vitriol in your campaign's rhetoric, Johnny. There can be no "Sister Soulja" moment for McCain or Palin because the rot goes right to the top.

John McCain, who ironically keeps trying to smear Barack Obama for his superficial connections to William Ayers, has himself connections to the U.S. Council for World Freedom, an organization that supported guerrillas trying to overthrow the elected government of Nicaragua. Later, John McCain used his position to try to help James B. Fowler who was sitting in jail in Thailand on narcotics charges. That was in the early 1990s; in 2005, Fowler admitted to shooting Jimmie Lee Jackson, a civil rights marcher back in the 1960s.

The problems are even spreading abroad, suggesting that current conservative thuggery is not just an American phenomenon. A black man in London was shot for wearing an Obama shirt. Since this was England it wasn't a "regular" gun, but it still caused injuries and it could have been worse. In Toronto, it was worse because cars parked at homes with Liberal election signs had their brake lines cut. This was certainly an attempt to kill a large number of liberals and an untold number of bystanders, but people were very lucky that nothing so awful actually happened.

What is going on here with all of these incidents? Are we merely seeing the expression of latent beliefs that had previously been covered over, or are we in fact seeing a genuine shift in attitudes from the merely disturbing to the utterly intolerable? Personally, I think that we're seeing a bit of both. There have always been people holding and expressing these sorts of attitudes in the Republican Party, and while they may not have been numerous, they have worked hard to spread those ideas among conservatives.

Generally speaking, though, the extremists have been aware of their extremism and so also made an effort to appear to be reasonable, cloaking their ideas in less noxious rhetoric and clever dog-whistle language. All of that work has made an impact and that's where we are seeing a genuine shift among Republicans. Now that authoritarian, fascist extremism is more mainstream, the true believers are less circumspect in expressing themselves. Some are simply "new" to extremism and so just don't realize that they shouldn't shout "terrorist" because that attracts too much critical scrutiny. This development was probably unavoidable because the basic political agenda of these people relies almost entirely on fear, anger, hatred, and resentment, none of which can remain bottled up and only carefully released.

The more the "responsible" Republican leaders like John McCain and Sarah Palin try to make voters afraid and angry, the more that fear and anger will be expressed — but not through the dog-whistle rhetoric that McCain and Palin use. Instead, we will keep seeing that fear and anger expressed through the more honest and hateful rhetoric we see in the examples above. The two are directly and unambiguously connected, making McCain, Palin, and other Republican leaders personally responsible for the extremism of their followers. You can't run for office on a platform of anger and fear but then disclaim any responsibility for the hate and violence that appear.

This would be true even if they attempted lame, post hoc denunciations of the extremism, but they aren't making much of an effort at that. I think this reveals the degree to which they are consciously aware of just how much they need that hate and extremism to get any votes whatsoever (and maybe a growing realization that it's out of their control anyway). To put it another way, if it weren't for the votes of the hateful, the angry, the fearful, and/or the resentful, would they receive many votes at all? I doubt it, and I don't think that things will change any time soon, regardless of whether they win or lose in November, 2008.

If the Republicans win, this will simply be treated as a sign that such tactics are successful and so the reliance on fear and anger will continue. If the Republicans lose, this will simply unleash all new reasons for fear and anger; given the extent to which Republicans engage in projection (I'm talking to you, Cindy "dirtiest campaign ever" McCain), you can be sure that they will fear experiencing what they keep talking about doing to liberals.

Insofar as "responsible" Republicans still have any control over how the fear and hatred are used tactically, most of that will probably be lost and more authority will be invested in the most extremist, hateful, and violent voices in the Party. We are already well on our way towards this, as demonstrated by the booing John McCain received for daring to suggest to supporters that Barack Obama is a "decent man" rather than the scary black Muslim-Arab-socialist-communist-terrorist of their white supremacist, race-war dreams.

In the long run, such a growth of resentment and anger will make things even worse. It could seriously damage the coalition which economic and social conservatives made with authoritarians and religious extremists to achieve electoral success over the past five decades. Sane conservatives will have, I think, two general options open to them. First, they can create a new conservative political party that doesn't include crazy authoritarians. I don't think they'll go this route because there just aren't enough bankers to vote for them; without the crazies voting for them, they don't stand a chance.

Alternatively they could try to create a party that draws from Democrats as well, which would require shifting on issues like abortion, homosexuality, feminism, etc. If they are ditching the crazies anyway, that could be a real option. Both Democrats and Republicans try to move towards the center to win national elections, so why not form a party that starts out there already? As intriguing as this option is, it's also very risky — and expensive, given how much party apparatus and infrastructure that would have to be built from scratch.

I think that the only way it would have a chance is if it had one or more really powerful, charismatic leaders working 24/7 for several years. Theodore Roosevelt tried but failed — and there is currently no one in the Republican Party with that much stature or credibility. Looking at it from the other direction, can you imagine Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Jimmy Carter all working together to succeed in such a venture? Even a line-up like that would be very risky, and the Republicans have nothing remotely similar. So this option seems closed to them.

All that remains is to try to patch things up and regain control over the rhetoric of hate so that it remains a tool to whip up committed voters rather than a rallying cry for an American Nuremberg. This is the only sort of Republican Party that many of them have ever known, so the attraction of this option is obvious. It may also be the one with the best chances of continuing electoral success — but it will surely mean accepting ever more extreme rhetoric, with the very nature of "mainstream conservative" moving farther and farther to the right. Unless America also moves to the right, the GOP will bleed supporters and become a extremist, minority party.

Remaining members will become ever more frustrated by the difference between reality and what they are being told should be reality. Encouraged by the hateful rhetoric, more may start turning to violence. As with changes in our planet's climate, this could involve a tipping point that brings us to a crisis much faster than we can anticipate. That woudn't necessarily be a bad thing. The sooner the crisis comes, the sooner the Republican Party may simply implode. In the meantime, the Democratic Party may be able to exercise a positive, progressive influence on social conservatives fleeing the asylum. Those not smart enough or sane enough to flee can be left to their fate at the hands of the other inmates.

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We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.