Sunday, April 25, 2010

Whose dissent?

Is it obvious to say that I have been distracted in the last couple of weeks, as the tax season ended. Although I should have had more time, I used that up by taking care of some things I couldn't during tax season, and taking up some new activities. The net result was that I let blogging go for a while.

But I am still paying attention to politics, and decided I wanted to respond to Jack Kelly's column today. He is writing about the criticism of criticism of the President, that some liberals call it sedition. My first reaction is "Have we been here before?". Kelly puts on his usual sorts of blinders, and makes some tortured leaps and stretches, to establish how hypocritical and evil Democrats are. Well, let's be sure, the Democrats could be more up front about how this is at least a bit like a Twilight Zone episode, but I think they are a bit less hypocritical than .their conservative critics.

Back in 2000, before 9/11, a majority of the country liked either Al Gore (the biggest part) and Ralph Nader (a much smaller but statistically significant fraction) more than George Bush. But because there were more Republican Presidents in office than Democrats in the previous thirty years, and because Bill Clinton had combined a reasonably successful Presidency with a very scuzzy personal life, a majority of the Supreme Court liked Bush better, and it happened to matter.

Then right after 9/11, no one wanted to criticize President Bush, even though a lot of us had little faith in him. Sad to say, he often took the opportunity to prove us right, from failing to actually get Osama Bin Laden when (as far as anyone knows) he had the chance, to just lying totally to us and also totally mishandling Iraq, to allowing the economy to take advantage of the mistaken legislation Clinton had (obnoxiously) allowed to pass. But more than that, Bush, Cheney and company used 9/11 to bludgeon us, that we need the government to protect us, and in exchange we could not question their actions or (maybe more important) motives.

When Kelly insinuates that the Democrats want to silence and perhaps disenfranchise the dissenting Tea Party people, he seems to want to make the case that the Democrats protested as much during the Bush years. Other conservatives (such as David Brooks on Meet the Press today) make the point that given how the Democrats have handled the economy and the wars during the past year, the anger in this country against the Democrats now is justified. And as a minority party, all the Republicans can do without the cooperation of Democrats is threaten to filibuster.

But maybe there are a few different kinds of protest. We all remember the protest of college kids in the 70’s, which was idealistic and earnest, but did not involve a lot of in depth argument about the state of policy (domestic or foreign, economic or anything else). Some of the protest during the Bush administration took that form, to be sure, but some of it was from academics and long time Democratic politicians, who maybe took a more complicated view of things. Bush's polls numbers toward the end of his administration included people who carried poorly spelled signs in marches, but also included the majority of the rest of us, smart or stupid.

Now currently Democrats poll numbers are lower than they were, and Republican numbers are up a bit. Obama’s victory in Health Care Reform (which was really accomplished by Congress, but whose counting) did not give him as much of a bump as he might have hoped for. Of course, that is after a year of Republican scare tactics.

But when it comes to the form of protest against the current administration, I am going to risk being offense (and of course, wrong) and say that I don’t think it rises to the level of sophistication of at least some of the protest against the bush administration. Even as they were saying Democrats want to kill Grandma, the Republicans conceded something had to be done about health care. Current arguments about Climate Change seem to rest on misinterpreting science. No one seems to be protesting Wall Street reform, but if they are, they seem to have to make the case that the crash of 1929 was a brilliant government policy.

Kelly points out that Democrats are even afraid that the Tea Party will lead the country into civil war; but according to Kelly it is Republicans who should be afraid of Democrats. Back in August two people were hurt by Democrat caused violence, one a woman by a Democratic party official who maybe interceded during an argument she was having with her husband over proposed health care reform and the other a black man, by union members for unknown reasons. Kelly didn’t say whether either injured person identified themselves as a tea Party member prior to being attacked; but beware, there might be roaming bands of liberal thugs waiting to beat conservatives. They’ve already struck twice (in the whole country!) in the last eight months.

But the main point of Kelly’s column was whether Tea Party protest is in any way seditious, or likely to breed another Timothy McVeigh. I think you have to say the answer to both questions is in fact yes, and that Republican politicians bear a lot of the blame for that. Republicans are using gut level arguments instead of sophisticated reasoning, to appeal to that base they acquired after 9/11, people who had never been interested in politics before. We've already had references to Confederate history, Texas discussing secession, and Poplawski, who probably would have been arrested and jailed at some point, but used an assault rifle on police because of his free of Obama's coming guns laws (you got the memo, rigth?).

But since the crowd being whipped up is not a naturally political crowd, it seems the Republicans have to ratchet up the rhetoric to keep them hooked. Of course, not being a typically political crowd, there is little danger of them becoming serious organized.

I have to say that Kelly is not entirely wrong in his complaint about Democrats being thin skinned, but he is awfully selective.


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