9-11, Reconstruction and American Resolve

When America is attacked, it has responded most forcefully. No mastermind assailants have lived into old age. No belligerent regimes have survived. No aggressive groups have failed to suffer the crippling blows of a determined nation.

We honor the dead, the injured, and the families of these on this sacred day.

What have we learned? That depends upon our appreciation of history.

Was the Afghanistan war an appropriate response to the terrorist horror in New York City and Washington D.C. a decade ago? The Iraq war? Two very different questions, but both with instructive antecedents in American history.

After the bloodiest conflict in American history, the Civil War, a dozen-year program called “Reconstruction” happened in the battered South.  “Battered” because General Sherman, in his infamous march, did what was necessary to devastate the enemy. The Confederacy had no hope of living on, and that, much like the insistence on unconditional surrender from imperial Japan and Nazi Germany in World War II, was a critical war goal.

Reconstruction was regime change — indeed, the most radical regime change ever undertaken by America. Federal troops occupied the South. President Andrew Johnson considered Reconstruction a modest, short-term project, but Republicans in Congress had a much more aggressive agenda. With passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, which granted citizenship and voting rights to former slaves, and aggressive expansion of the Freedman’s Bureau, which established schools and hospitals and registered former slaves to vote, a sea change occurred in the South. Indeed, many African-Americans were elected to the House and Senate.

Not surprisingly, there was a backlash from the battered South — a resurgency, you could call it. The Ku Klux Klan, founded by ex-Confederate soldiers opposed to Reconstruction, was one result. But federal troops checked the power of the backlash.

And then politics. Compromise. The contested 1876 election (Rutherford B. Hayes vs. Samuel Jay Tilden), with wild controversy over the winner of the electoral and popular vote. As part of the compromise, Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, ending Reconstruction.

When federal troops withdrew from the South in 1877 — when the mission of Reconstruction was abandoned — an era of Jim Crow laws and barriers to African-American civil rights surged.

The mission of Reconstruction — whether or not it was well-conceived at the outset — died horribly in 1877 for lack of political will. And the worst followed.

When America mushes on a mission, very bad things happen.

The projection of American power is a signature event. We do it, generally, because we are committed. And by committed, we mean some hard work over the long haul. Or at least, that is the paradigm since the surge in Iraq.

Before the surge in Iraq, we suffered a Vietnam paradigm — exemplified by Harry Reid’s declaration on the eve of the surge that “this war is lost.”

Reasonable minds can differ as to whether we should have gotten into Afghanistan or Iraq or Vietnam  in the first place — but once there, we have a moral obligation not to let leisurely American poll-driven impatience dictate complete withdrawal if withdrawal means — as it did in Vietnam and would have in Iraq —  surrender to murderous enemies.

History instructs commitment. The worst thing America can do is charge in and then change its mind.

President Bush confronted what appeared to be a losing proposition in Iraq. A bloodbath was imminent. And virtually everyone said “get out.” We could have skipped out and let whatever happened happen. But Bush redoubled. He said we’re in it to win. And the evil that would have prevailed was defeated.

The worst we can do is mush. The worst we can do is pull out, as we did with Reconstruction. Ten years after 9-11, America’s saving grace is commitment, and steadfast belief in a better world.

Obama’s Bizarre Illegal War in Libya

At the inception of the lethal not-war (and now, not even “hostility”) in Libya, I questioned the wisdom of military action with squishy aims. Squishy has gotten squishier — and politically muddled.

The Obama administration justifies the Executive Branch military action in Libya — that is, use of lethal American military force without congressional authorization, contrary to the War Powers Resolution — by saying that the bombing is not “hostility,” and therefore doesn’t trigger the requirement of congressional authorization. Some administration lawyers disagree.

Air strikes, cruise missile bombardments, and drone operations at a cost of $10 million a day, the dissenters suggest, amounts to a “hostility.” And their view, in my view, enjoys the incidental virtue of common sense.

The surreality of our Libyan not-war got even stranger on Thursday, when the House of Representatives voted convincingly — 123-295 — against authorizing the limited use of the United States Armed Forces in support of the NATO mission in Libya. Republicans voted overwhelmingly against authorization, while all but eight of the 123 supporters were Democrats.

What’s going on? Republicans now favor limitations on the Executive Branch’s war-making powers, while Democrats (the authors of the War Powers Resolution over President Nixon’s veto) support the most expansive interpretation of Executive Branch war-making powers since the Vietnam War (which mostly predated the War Powers Resolution)?

Has an illegal war become part of the president’s triangulation strategy (“I’m not so liberal America. I kill terrorists and enemies of America with the best of them.”)?

Purple Nation columnist Lanny Davis thinks the president should have simply sought congressional authorization.

What is unusual here is that President Obama chose to accept a linguistic legal analysis rather than a political one to thread the needle on this issue. Surely he must know that his definition of “hostilities,” excluding the U.S. shooting missiles from Predator drones or air strikes aimed at suppressing enemy air defense, is a stretch at best.

The question is, why go there? Why not, instead, go to Congress and seek authorization?

He wrote a day before the stinging rebuke of the House vote. Obviously the administration didn’t have the votes. And so it chose to preserve the War Powers Resolution for use against some future Republican president, while engaging in tortured linguistics to argue that it could bomb with impunity without engaging in “hostilities.”

The Dividist blogger puts it succinctly: “We now have a President who is asserting that it is completely within his authority to commit our military resources to strikes against another country, and never be required to request the authority of Congress. This is claim of executive war power far beyond anything that was ever asserted in the Bush/Cheney administration.”

Here is what candidate Obama said in opposing the Iraq war his administration ended up supporting:

A war to disarm a dictator has become an open-ended occupation of a foreign country. This is not America. This is not who we are. It’s time for us to stand up and tell George Bush that the government in this country is not based on the whims of one person, the government is of the people, by the people and for the people.

We thought we learned this lesson. After Vietnam, Congress swore it would never again be duped into war, and even wrote a new law — the War Powers Act — to ensure it would not repeat its mistakes.

What a robust, and massively hypocritical, defense of the War Powers Act — that same act that President Obama now flaunts.

And so we come full circle to squishy aims. We’ve come to this bizarreness because of squishy aims. This administration wished most profoundly both to appear unaggressive and aggressive. This administration wished to project American power and not to appear to be projecting American power. This administration wished, essentially, to hoodwink Americans and the world, with an eye to 2012, and preserve the ability to claim both its muscularity and its good-natured passivity, whichever it needed most politically.

The problem is, as is typically the problem with squishy aims, human beings are dying and American credibility suffers. “Obama’s attack has been too feeble to bring down Gaddafi, but big enough to discredit us for trying and failing; too wrapped up in U.N. legalities, but too little concern over national interests.”

I agree with Lanny. The president should have sought congressional authorization — but for very specific and defined aims — like the elimination of Gaddafi. That might have passed. And that might have preserved the War Powers Resolution without yet another assault on common sense of the sort that makes so many Americans cynical about how our government works.

Obama-Osama-Bush-Hussein-Nixon-China

Conservatives have rightly applauded President Obama for the successful operation that finally ended the murderous ambitions of Osama bin Laden. How could we not? Any American with any misgiving about Osama’s status as Public Enemy #1 probably needs to find a more arid residential zone.

But there’s “rightly applauded” — and there’s “Rightly applauded, with carping.” President Obama’s speech announcing the successful operation, according to some commentators, was entirely too self-aggrandizing, taking too much personal credit, making fat with the first-person singular.

Victor Davis Hanson at National Review Online, in a well-written carp about Senator and candidate Obama’s (then) opposition to all the policies that made the final operation against Osama possible, catalogued all of the president’s first-person references:

“Tonight, I can report … And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta … I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden … I met repeatedly with my national security team … I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action. … Today, at my direction … I’ve made clear … Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear … Tonight, I called President Zardari … and my team has also spoken. … These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief . … Finally, let me say to the families … I know that it has, at times, frayed…”

Other commentators take it a step further and contrast President Obama’s speech with President Bush’s speech upon the capture of Saddam Hussein. The speech was a gem. “All Iraqis who take the side of freedom have taken the winning side. The goals of our coalition are the same as your goals — sovereignty for your country, dignity for your great culture, and for every Iraqi citizen, the opportunity for a better life.” The president was gracious in his praise of others, sparing in the first-person singular.

But the contrast is unfair.

Republicans and Democrats have different things to prove to the American people. As to their military bona fides, their commitment to American security, their willingness to take controversial measures to save American lives, Democrats have much to prove — and naturally trumpet every initiative assisting that proof.

The corollary, the great maxim of world politics: liberals can do great conservative things, and conservatives can do great liberal things. Conservative Likudnik Menachim Begin could give away half of what was then Israel in exchange for peace with Egypt. No Labor prime minister could have done that. Labor prime minister Tony Blair could make a case for cleaning out the Middle Eastern cesspools of tyranny and oppression. No Tory prime minister could have done that.

That is why American wars have historically been prosecuted by Democrats. (Who can forget vice-presidential candidate Bob Dole’s snarling reference to “Democrat wars” in the 1976 vice presidential debate?) George W. Bush was a 21st-century Republican exception because of the shock of 9-11 and the seriousness with which America finally took its enemy. But Bush had no bona fides to prove. He could well afford to be (indeed, was well-advised to be) gracious and self-effacing at the moments of triumph.

But President Obama, being a Democrat who did in fact vocally embrace an ideological “humanist”/pacifist line in opposition to tribunals, renditions, Guantanamo, preventive detention, Predator-drone attacks, the Iraq War, wiretaps, and intercepts, yes, he had something to prove to Americans. And, wow, did he. One number: 180. And for gravy, on his own, without the advice or consent of Congress, he launched a military assault on Libya, with a NATO directive to kill the Qaddafi family. Now this is a president who timely figured out “whose ass to kick.”

The left isn’t calling him Hitler, as they did with the frankly kinder, gentler Bush, and the right is obliged to harrumph and say, okay, um, yes, well done. Most excellent 2012 plan.

So was there a bit of gloating, a tad too much self-aggrandizement in the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death? Yes, but that’s because a liberal was doing a great conservative thing.

Remember the shocker of the early 70s — President Nixon’s outreach to the Communist enemy China, still then governed tyrannically by the butcher Mao? The conservative Nixon was doing a great liberal thing. He was pretty proud of it.

Here’s how he announced it on July 15, 1971 — and if ever a thing spoke for itself, side-by-side with President Obama’s Osama speech, this Nixon speech surely does:

I have requested this television time tonight to announce a major development in our efforts to build a lasting peace in the world.

As I have pointed out on a number of occasions over the past three years, there can be no stable and enduring peace without the participation of the People’s Republic of China and its 750 million people.

That is why I have undertaken initiatives in several areas to open the door for more normal relations between our two countries.

In pursuance of that goal, I sent Dr. Kissinger, my Assistant for National Security Affairs, to Peking during his recent world trip for the purpose of having talks with Premier Chou En-lai.

The announcement I shall now read is being issued simultaneously in Peking and in the United States:

******

Premier Chou En-lai and Dr. Henry Kissinger, President Nixon’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, held talks in Peking from July 9 to 11, 1971.

Knowing of President Nixon’s expressed desire to visit the People’s Republic of China, Premier Chou En-lai, on behalf of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, has extended an invitation to President Nixon to visit China at an appropriate date before May 1972. President Nixon has accepted the invitation with pleasure.

The meeting between the leaders of China and the United States is to seek the normalization of relations between the two countries and also to exchange views on questions of concern to the two sides.

******

In anticipation of the inevitable speculation which will follow this announcement, I want to put our policy in the clearest possible context.

Our action in seeking a new relationship with the People’s Republic of China will not be at the expense of our old friends.

It is not directed against any other nation. We seek friendly relations with all nations. Any nation can be our friend without being any other nation’s enemy.

I have taken this action because of my profound conviction that all nations will gain from a reduction of tensions and a better relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

It is in this spirit that I will undertake what I deeply hope will become a journey for peace, not just for our generation but for future generations on this earth we share together.

Of course, there are huge teams behind the “I” of presidential politics — but the “I” is nowhere more conspicuous than when presidents do things that should please their most virulent opposition.

Arab Spring, Democracy Fall?

Way back then, when the world was neatly divided between Cold War capitalists and communists, the Middle East was a minor battleground in that narrative. It mattered most whether the autocracies signaled allegiance to the capitalists or the communists. It mattered little whether their regimes acknowledged rudimentary human rights.

Given the unanimity of Arab police states, it was easy to conclude, mistakenly as it develops, that Arabs were somehow naturally disposed to police states, that democracy was alien to their sensibility. “Islam” somehow had something to do with this — it being, allegedly, a religion grounded in conquest and imposition of some misdirected notion of rigid Sharia law (though most of the regimes were secular).

But listen to this statesman at his best:

Some skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam are inhospitable to the representative government. This “cultural condescension,” as Ronald Reagan termed it, has a long history. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a so-called Japan expert asserted that democracy in that former empire would “never work.” Another observer declared the prospects for democracy in post-Hitler Germany are, and I quote, “most uncertain at best” — he made that claim in 1957. …

It should be clear to all that Islam — the faith of one-fifth of humanity — is consistent with democratic rule. Democratic progress is found in many predominantly Muslim countries — in Turkey and Indonesia, and Senegal and Albania, Niger and Sierra Leone. Muslim men and women are good citizens of India and South Africa, of the nations of Western Europe, and of the United States of America.

More than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments. They succeed in democratic societies, not in spite of their faith, but because of it. A religion that demands individual moral accountability, and encourages the encounter of the individual with God, is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government.

That was George W. Bush in November 2003, in remarks on the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy. At the time, there was the Bush administration’s abiding faith, but little direct evidence, to contradict the “cultural condescension.” How times have changed.

It turns out that Arabs are no more disposed to police states than any other people. We’re witnessing that common Arab distaste for dictatorship in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, with perhaps more to come.

But here’s the kicker: in not a single one of these countries is democracy, as we understand that term, yet a given, even assuming the overthrow of tyranny that has already happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. We just don’t know. We know there are brave citizens in each of these countries committed to the rule of law, religious and speech freedom, the end of secret police repressions, and democratic reforms. We just don’t yet know whether they will prevail.

People power doesn’t always win. In 1956, Hungary people power was brutally crushed by Red Army tanks. In 1989, Chinese people power was brutally crushed in Tiananmen Square. Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution was brutally crushed by the Basij. Sometimes the bad guys win decisively.

Sometimes, even when the Bad Guy gets deposed, other very bad guys sometimes win the day — as with the French and Russian Revolutions. If, as Brent Scowcroft has suggested, the Arab Spring uprisings are about a “yearning for dignity,” then perhaps dignity is served by something short of democratic freedoms. The brutality of the dignity-yearning French Jacobins and the Russian Bolsheviks is instructive. Their ideological heirs may yet prevail in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Our Western eyes are best riveted on core democratic values, whether or not they look “Western” in the execution. Democracy, by definition, reflects the attitudes of the people, and if those popular Arab attitudes are, as they appear to be, overwhelmingly hostile to America, Israel, Jews, Christians, basic women’s rights, basic gay rights, and basic religious freedoms, then the new regimes may look disturbing in some ways. President Bush spoke in 2003 to this reality as well:

As we watch and encourage reforms in the region, we are mindful that modernization is not the same as Westernization. Representative governments in the Middle East will reflect their own cultures. They will not, and should not, look like us. Democratic nations may be constitutional monarchies, federal republics, or parliamentary systems. And working democracies always need time to develop — as did our own. We’ve taken a 200-year journey toward inclusion and justice — and this makes us patient and understanding as other nations are at different stages of this journey.

There are, however, essential principles common to every successful society, in every culture. Successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military — so that governments respond to the will of the people, and not the will of an elite. Successful societies protect freedom with the consistent and impartial rule of law, instead of selecting applying the law to punish political opponents. Successful societies allow room for healthy civic institutions — for political parties and labor unions and independent newspapers and broadcast media. Successful societies guarantee religious liberty — the right to serve and honor God without fear of persecution. Successful societies privatize their economies, and secure the rights of property. They prohibit and punish official corruption, and invest in the health and education of their people. They recognize the rights of women. And instead of directing hatred and resentment against others, successful societies appeal to the hopes of their own people.

It behooves us, as we watch the unfolding of the Arab Spring, to stay focused on, and encourage with every tool at our disposal, these “essential principles common to every successful society.”

How we came to be liberal and conservative dunderheads

Political theater is a constant re-education in the non-sinister motives of our elected decision-makers. We have to see a conservative doing something liberal, or a liberal doing something conservative, to ratchet back from our conviction that the other side is sinister.

As a political people, we typically take three steps:

  1. Identify as conservative or liberal.
  2. Embrace the respective narratives, which reinforce the goodness and soundness of our chosen sensibility and condemn the badness and unsoundness of the other narrative.
  3. Gravitate to news and opinion sources that reinforce #2.

The fascinating threshold question is what makes someone presumptively conservative or liberal, because so much turns on that decision. Is a conservative a liberal who has been mugged? A liberal a conservative who has been arrested? Is it life experience, parenting, peer group, or thoughtful examination that yields “conservative” and “liberal”?

To be sure, we all imagine our politics the product of sound thinking. Who among us says, “I’m a conservative, but liberals might be right” or “I’m a liberal, but conservatives are really persuasive”? At our very best, we say, “I’m a conservative, and liberals, bless their hearts, want to do the right thing” or “I’m a liberal, and conservatives occasionally make some good points.”

Wherever our threshold sensibility choice came from, we’re deliberately “liberal” or “conservative” because that choice supplies a reliable framework — a matrix (yes, see movie) — for every consideration of current events, for the perpetual reinforcements of our correct choice.

In effect, we join clubs and promise loyalty. We’re a social people that way. Nothing logically dictates that we be steadfastly “conservative” or “liberal.” We do so because we’re joiners, like to be part of a consistent narrative — a story of goodness — and welcome the abundant “expertise” our sensibility high priests supply to our story.

Why else would liberals consistently post liberal commentary and conservatives consistently post conservative commentary on Facebook (the ultimate social matrix)?

Because let’s face it, we don’t have a clue how to solve the massive domestic and foreign policy problems our nation confronts. Not only do we lack the expertise, we have fairly sound reason to suspect that the experts lack the expertise. Experts, and I do love this American formulation, have been defined as people who avoid all the small errors and sweep on to the grand fallacy.

We’re left with a choice between tedious case-by-case examination of the merits of frankly boring, technical details, or grateful embrace of a narrative that Explains It All. And who doesn’t prefer a good story to wallowing in technical stuff?

And that is the pathology of politics. But the pathology takes a darker turn. Having embraced our chosen narrative, the next project is too often to ascribe the worst motives to the competing narrative. “Liars!” we scream. “Horrible people who hate people!” we scream. “Vested interests!” we love to scream.

We don’t know this anymore than we know how to actually solve the massive domestic and foreign policy problems our nation confronts. But we’re certain the other side must be horrible people who hate people because our Google Reader and RSS feed club says so, persuasively. And if we can take them down, oh yeah, then we’re just a little closer to somewhat well-informed, we think.

This joiner mentality, coupled with our left and right paranoid style of American politics, yields a halting and disturbing debate. Sometimes we talk with each other, but more often we do narrative food fights. Silliness, perpetuated by cynical people with high profiles and ordinary people without time enough to determine whether it’s worth standing against the silliness.

And so I come full circle. Political theater is a constant re-education in the non-sinister motives of our elected decision-makers.

Horrible motives were attributed to many Bush policies that the Obama administration has fully embraced. An anti-war candidate more than halfway into his administration still has all the same wars going, still has Guantanamo, and has launched another war in Libya without even bothering to consult or obtain the consent of Congress. But where’s the virulent anti-war movement of the Bush years? It’s basically gone. What survives of it are a few independent ideologues.

And that’s because liberals can do some things conservatives cannot, and conservatives can do some things liberals cannot. Nixon could go to China. A liberal couldn’t have. Domestically, Nixon could propose a liberal negative income tax to reform entitlements. A liberal couldn’t have. Likud prime minister Menachim Begin could negotiate with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and return the entire Sinai to Egypt in exchange for a peace agreement. A Labor party prime minister could not have done so. Bill Clinton could target Sister Souljah’s hate speech. A conservative doing it would have been massacred as racist. Labour PM Tony Blair could eloquently make the case for cleaning out the Mesopotamian cesspool. A Tory would have been vociferously condemned as a warmonger.

We’re certain the other side is sinister, until our side forthrightly does it. And that is what educates us in motives. We may or may not embrace the merits of our standard-bearer’s troubling position — but we’re less likely to conclude (unless we really do wear the tinfoil hats) that the position itself is evidence of deception, venality, and hatred of people.

All of which is simply to say, however it is each of us came to be conservative or liberal, let’s at least start with acknowledging that the other side came to be so sincerely. And they may have some good points.

Libya and Iraq: “Obama is awesome.”

Videos produced with the xtranormal software, featuring irony-saturated, robotic speech to make trenchant political points, are becoming all the rage. Who am I to resist the tide? Here’s an office discussion comparing Libya and Iraq.

Lest anyone think the video’s heavy irony lacks breathtaking real-world counterparts, a recent Reuters news analysis about President Obama included this gem:

Obama is committed to partnering with other countries rather than going it alone as did his predecessor George W. Bush, which both broadens and complicates the decision-making process.

I’m comfortable conceding that “Obama is awesome” if Bush detractors concede that the world is a vastly more complicated place than they imagined when they relentlessly hammered the 43rd president. And frankly, the most awesome presidential decision I’ve witnessed in the past two decades is the Iraqi surge, the decision — in the teeth of carping from, well, nearly everyone — that saved America from permanent Vietnamization of American foreign policy.

Right versus Left Extremists

I like Michael Kinsley.  He’s liberal, but he writes well, and you see a perpetual thoughtfulness, a person sincerely trying to get it right.  So I end up disagreeing with much of what he concludes, but respecting the route he takes to his conclusions.

His recent column in Politico offers a close-up view of the Tucson tragedy, and veers off to a regrettable comparison of right-wing and left-wing extremists.

It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates. Sure, NPR, despite denials, tilts to the left. But not the way Fox News tilts toward the right. Rachel Maddow is no Glenn Beck.

I get how Kinsley got there — in this environment of Democrats controlling nearly all the organs of federal power in Washington DC.  But I profoundly disagree with his conclusion.

Ideologies out of power always sound harsher than ideologies in power.  Ideologies in power have the luxury of urging civility and restraint, while ideologies out of power wish most intensely to become the ideologies in power so that they have the luxury of urging civility and restraint.  In that narrow sense, Kinsley may be right, today, but he forgets the environment yesterday.  And I have seen this wishful forgetfulness among many on the left.

I believe the right was remarkably civilized in the face of Democratic party control, from 2008 through 2010, of every organ of federal power.  And the Democrats exercised that power most enthusiastically and successfully.  Indeed, few Americans really know how robustly the Democrats have changed the legislative and regulatory landscape of our nation.

I think that change is a net negative, but that’s not my point here.  I’m focused on Kinsley’s conclusion that extremists on the right are somehow more poisonous and have more mainstream influence.

The least attractive, least influential, most reviled sensibility in America is the extreme right.  And that is a credit to the evolution of our collective political sensibility because it has not always been so.  At its peak, Ku Klux Klan membership exceeded four million and comprised 20% of the adult white male population, commonly in Southern states, but historically more concentrated in Midwestern states.  Americans of good will fought back, and eventually the Klan was broken.  Conservatives today are very different than conservatives 50, 60 or 70 years ago.

As a people, thankfully, we do not hesitate to condemn racism or decry injustice when we see it.  But yes, we still have fringes, left and right, and we still have relatively mainstream people influenced by fringes.  The recent Tucson tragedy has reinvigorated a debate about the relative nastiness of our fringes.  At one level, arguing about the relative nastiness of our fringes is an enormous opportunity cost — how much more productive to discuss what we have in common among mainstream left and right Americans?

But the debate is nevertheless useful political discourse, hence my commendation to Kinsley, because it helps us to understand ourselves, our politics, and our history a little better — and these are all sorely needed understandings.

Kinsley concludes, simply because it “seems obvious,” that “extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left.”  Similarly, many liberal commentators and citizen debaters responding to the Tucson tragedy have weighed in with excoriations of even the mainstream right — forever tarred in their imagination with excesses of right-wing extremism.  And most interestingly, many of these liberal commentators and citizen debaters insist that the left has never been so incendiary, at least not since the 1960s.

And that assumption warrants some recent history — very recent history — history that might hopefully cause all of us to hang our heads just a little and acknowledge, from the right and the left, that rightwing and leftwing rhetoric both get reckless, and it is our collective responsibility not only to keep the dialogue civil, but to stay vigilant about reckless rhetoric whenever we see it.

The left really hated George W. Bush.  Really hated.  Jonathan Chait, in The New Republic, opened an editorial with, “I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it.”  (Chait, by the way, is one of the liberals who wrote honorably and with good will in the aftermath of the Tucson tragedy.)  The mainstream left tried to make a rational case for hatred of George W. Bush.  A little further to the left, our point in this discussion of relative extremism, it was a different story.

Please watch this video, featuring leftists demonizing George Bush, and one leftist saying “we’ll have to come out and kill somebody I guess.”

No current leftist will avow the wackos in the video — but we’re talking about relative extremism, hoping merely to get leftists to acknowledge that they have wackos who speak with virulence, violence, and vileness.  Only if leftists acknowledge this do we get to a point of forging common mainstream ground and finding the political courage to speak with mutual respect.

And there’s this smorgasbord of Bush=Hitler comparisons.  So far, to my knowledge, no Republican member of Congress has compared Obama to Hitler.  A Democratic member of Congress did compare Bush to Hitler.

And here are comparative images from left and right rallies in March 2010 — after Democrats had taken over everything.

Now, here’s an image to shame us all, with a red bullet hole in the President’s head.

And some more images…  Noteworthy poster: “Kill terrorists. Bomb there house. Kill Bush. Bomb his f—in house.”

And by the way, liberal friends, I get the distaste for Sarah Palin.  Am not a big fan myself — but my god she commands my respect for surviving the horrible vileness directed at her.

 

That stuff about Sarah doing cross-hairs on Democratic districts?  Please.  Democrats did exactly the same thing.  Martial metaphors have been par for the course in political campaigns since the invention of politics.  And it may be that no living politician has received more death threats than Sarah Palin — and that’s today people.  Not “the Sixties.”

Liberals understandably wince at comparisons of them to Hitler and violent politics.  I wince too.  Say it my friends.  See some of the vile speech of the left and call it vile so that we can get on the same page.  Michael Kinsley says the right is more incendiary.  I say we’re going nowhere until right and left both acknowledge the nastiness they both produce.

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