Extreme, or Not
Extreme, on the Right
There were three big stories in the news last week in which the
conservative movement collided with the idea of extremism. No, I'm not
calling the Republicans a bunch of extremists. But all three stories
touched the idea of extremism in some way.
First, there were Tuesday's Tax Day Tea Parties. No, there's nothing
inherently dangerous, crazy or extreme about the tea parties. Certain
segments of the conservative base really don't like taxes, and they came
out against them. The organizers deserve credit for a strong turnout,
but ultimately, for reasons stated below, I'm not certain you can call
the event a success.
Many observers have compared the protests to the anti-war protests of
the early Bush years, and the comparison is apt: A lack of focus.
Overheated talk of "tyranny" and "fascism." Much concentration on issues
having nothing at all to do with the matter at hand. A small minority of
crazies that were disproportionally passionate and loud. An ethos that
was by, for, and about the base, and not really about drawing in
skeptics or swing voters.
And – most similarly of all – there was very little chance of actually
making any difference. The anti-Iraq war protests in February 2003 may
have been the most largely-attended worldwide political protest
gathering in recent human history, but it still didn't prevent the war.
Just as I don't expect the tea parties to lead to any dent being made in
President Obama's popularity, nor to any big political victories for the
GOP or the right in general.
Another similarity between the 2003 and 2009 protests: Both sides were
wrong about the fascism. For one thing, mass protests against the
sitting government, held in multiple cities that aren't crushed by
police or the military, aren't normally a feature of true fascist
nations. But even more absurd is this idea that a government doing
something you don't like is "tyranny." "Taxation without
representation," the supposed reason the original Boston Tea Party is
being emulated, means that you're taxed without having a vote or a say
in who wins. It does not mean that the government you voted
against is doing things you don't like. Democracy doesn't mean you
always get to win.
And that's ultimately the key fallacy of the tea parties – they work
from the assumption that Obama is an extremist president pushing
extremist politics, when in fact neither supposition is true.
There was also the furor last week over a Department of Homeland
Security report on the "Threat of Right-Wing Extremism." The actual
report referred to such figures as militias and white-supremacist
groups, as well as various "lone nuts," such as Timothy McVeigh and the
guy who shot three cops in Pittsburgh last week. It even followed an
earlier report on left-wing extremism.
But the right-wing punditocracy interpreted a study on "right-wing
extremism" as "Hey, that's us!" Even though the report was talking about
McVeigh types – not Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin types – it was
still interpreted, disingenuously, as an attack on the military, or
possibly on conservative philosophy itself.
But dishonest as those people were, at least they weren't hinting at
That's what Texas Gov. Rick Perry left the door open for last week.
Perry spoke at the tea party in Austin, as some crowd members shouted
"Secede!" When asked by reporters about the calls afterward, Perry at
first dismissed the idea, but then stated that "if Washington continues
to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what
might come out of that."
Texas is iconoclastic, more so than most states, and it has a unique
history. I get that. And I'm certain that the state will never,
ultimately, secede, or is even allowed to. But the governor of one of
America's largest states hinted – to a large, cheering audience – for
possible secession! That should be interesting if Perry ever runs for
The tea parties brought a lot of discussion of the old questions: Are
the Democrats or the Republicans crazier? Whose crazies are crazier than
the other? Who has a larger crazy-person percentage? But I can tell you,
that even at rock-bottom of the Bush years, no Democratic elected
official ever talked about secession. If one had, I'd imagine Sean
Hannity would have had something to say about that. Probably something
about "left-wing extremism."