Think of this as Volume 12, Number 40 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Speech is free, but free speech carries responsibilities.
I know whereof I speak. I have an ADD temper. My son has an ADD temper. To the right is what he did to the living room, moments ago, because I dared disagree with him.
Politics works the same way. And its patterns run in waves, similar to Elliot Waves. There are short-term waves based on issues, and longer-term waves based on assumptions. The biggest waves come when a generation's assumptions are not just challenged, but overthrown. This happened in last year's election, which was the first time since 1964 a liberal candidate won a clear mandate from the American people.
This fact has driven conservatives loopy. Their loopiness was indulged, even used as a weapon, during the Bush years. It is still indulged by the nation's media out of habit. A single election won't change the knee-jerk media assumption that "America is a center-right nation."
We had this kind of violent rhetoric and acting-out before, in my living memory. It came in 1969-70, it came from the left, and it was finally confronted, first in the words of Spiro Agnew, finally in the killings at Kent State and Jackson State.
These actions scarred the left, and still scar it. Young activists dropped out of activism, becoming yuppies, religious nuts, Reaganites, and now senior citizens. Leftists learned there were limits, not just in what they could do, but what they could say. Liberals learned that they were no longer the majority, they were the minority, and eventually comported themselves accordingly.
For nearly 40 years our politics have been an abusive relationships, with conservatives as the wife beaters and liberals as the wives. Conservatives know that by contriving anger, by throwing fits, by constantly attacking, by never backing down, and eventually by threatening violence they will force liberals to back down.
So the right, despite being a minority, is able to drive policy. And on the edges of its old coalition the anger builds and builds and builds.
When liberals openly questioned the legitimacy of George W. Bush they were put down as traitors. Even though Bush was "elected" by a loyalist Republican Supreme Court, and maintained in power by a corrupt Ohio Secretary of State. Daring to question the dear leader's legitimacy would have your reputation trashed, you would be forced to back down, turned inside-out by the media until you apologized, or transformed into a caricature of anger and craziness.
Now columnists openly wish for a military coup against a leader with far more democratic legitimacy than George W. Bush ever had, and the reaction from the right is silence. Their guy is called a hero and showered with cash for calling disrupting a Presidential speech with "you lie." Our guy has a media hissy fit demanding an apology for characterizing the Republican health care plan as "don't get sick and if you do die quickly." (When it comes to those who can't afford health insurance or health care that's precisely how many Republicans think. I've gotten enough talkbacks to know it's true.)
The media calls this equivalent. It's a false equivalence.
It is based on the assumption, by the media, that Republicans can do what they want but Democrats must walk softly, that Republicans can act out while Democrats must play by the rules of 1970. They're enabling as well.There will be blood.
We know this from our own history, from our living memory. Violent rhetoric that is not confronted and put down inevitably escalates to actual violence. There is a history of this on the right, and anyone who denies it is a liar.
If the President wants to maintain his legitimacy, then, he absolutely must play The 1969 Game. That's where he is living, on the larger political calendar. Had Richard Nixon enabled anti-war hippies the way Obama is now enabling haties, maybe the war would have ended. But the precedent would have been unbearable for democracy.
Our Republic has lasted for over 200 years because there are limits, not just to actions but to words. It has lasted because we have accepted the legitimacy of opinions with which we disagree, and those who have held them. It has lasted because there have been limits, and firm action taken when those limits were breached.
Those limits are being breached, right now, today, by growing numbers of conservatives who have never been slapped down, who have had their worst instincts enabled or coddled their whole political lives, and who will not stop until they are forced to pay a price.
This is the test of leadership. Even a Thesis of Consensus must rule some people outside that consensus. If there are limits to one side and no limits to the other you can't have a civil discussion.