on the field of reason

David Frum in his column at the Week, writes:

The guns are coming out. The risks are real.

It’s not enough for conservatives to repudiate violence, as some are belatedly beginning to do. We have to tone down the militant and accusatory rhetoric. If Barack Obama really were a fascist, really were a Nazi, really did plan death panels to kill the old and infirm, really did contemplate overthrowing the American constitutional republic—if he were those things, somebody should shoot him.

But he is not. He is an ambitious, liberal president who is spending too much money and emitting too much debt. His health-care ideas are too ambitious and his climate plans are too interventionist. The president can be met and bested on the field of reason—but only by people who are themselves reasonable.

Others disagree, and say that this amounts to is the liberal media’s attempt to blow things out of proportion.  I don’t think so.  Even if this is just a very small, very vocal portion of America, what’s being created is a culture of common sentiment that is the perfect incubator for violent action.

Yes, the crazies will act with or without talk-radio’s insistence.  No, talk-radio is not to blame directly for inspring right-wing violence.  However, when enough of these fairly mainstream conservative voices – Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity – are all saying similarly terrifying things, and a wide enough swath of Americans believe them you begin to see an actual cultural shift and a shift in accepted behavioral norms surrounding the political debate.  The real danger lies in the shaping of this hysterical, irrational culture, not in the direct inspiration of the lone gunmen who was crazy to begin with.

I have small hopes that a real battle – one fought, as Frum puts it, “on the field of reason” – will take place any time soon.  But small hopes are better than none at all.

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17 thoughts on “on the field of reason

  1. It’s not enough for conservatives to repudiate violence, as some are belatedly beginning to do. We have to tone down the militant and accusatory rhetoric. If Barack Obama really were a fascist, really were a Nazi, really did plan death panels to kill the old and infirm, really did contemplate overthrowing the American constitutional republic—if he were those things, somebody should shoot him.

    This is a horrible angle of attack. Some people really think that Obama is a fascist etc., and if even a “moderate” like David Frum is telling them it’s okay to shoot those people someone might get it in his head to actually try it out.

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  2. I’m curious what the libertarian commentators have to say about the gun-at-the-rally episode. Is this the ultimate expression of free speech? I know it makes liberals jumpy as hell but I guess the conservative argument is that the threat of revolution lends more weight to our side and that’s what the Founding Fathers intended…or is it?

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  3. I disagree. Glen Beck is directly responsible if another one of his listeners/viewers commits violence and cites Beck’s rhetoric as rationale. Beck is aware of what’s essentially been done in his name and has doubled down on parroting white nationalist rhetoric in lieu of taking his audience to task. He’s repeatedly provided tacit endorsement of vigilante, anti-government action (cf “The Bubba Effect”).

    I mean, really, before this year, who did you see besides outright white supremacists concerned about attacks on “white culture?”

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    • I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to this. John Stuart Mill certainly thought that freedom of speech did not extend to inciting a mob. It’s very hard to argue at this point that Beck, Limbaugh, et. al. aren’t intentionally trying to cause violence.

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  4. I wanted to say that I agree with your comments concerning the banning of folks like Limbaugh on CNN. I find their comments reprehensible, but the act of banning someone seems a dangerous step. I remember the old website Spinsanity which would track down the exaggerations and out right false hood that people would say and it came from both the Left and the Right. If we ban Limbaugh for falsehoods, then we have to ban Michael Moore for some his statements and then where does it stop?

    I think that sunshine is the best disinfectant. Instead of trying to ban people, we need more conservatives who can tell the truth. THAT is what will defeat the Limbaughs of this world.

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  5. E.D.:

    I’m not convinced you’ve constructed a useful distinction. It really doesn’t matter whether talk radio directly or indirectly incites violence.

    The simple fact is, right-wingers are more likely to go crazy like that than left-wingers. That probably is in part that there’s a huge entire segment of the American media devoted to inculcating such insanity.

    Francisco Martin Duran was a right-winger. So was Timothy McVeigh.

    And that was their response to a rural Southern white guy in the WH as a moderate Dem and a Dem majority in Congress severely limited in its ability to press a progressive agenda by the presence of 50, not moderate, conservative Democrats, most from Dixie, The Border states and a few from interior districts.

    The psycho right-wingers will be going quadruple apeshit with an urban colored man from the North ruling as a liberal Democrat and with a Dem majority in Congress dominated by coastal liberals.

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  6. Taking this in an entirely new direction. And I hope this comment gets read because i want people to check out this Frum appearance.

    Let me say that I am always absolutely terrified of David Frum when i watch him on Blogginheads discussing war, foreign, or Middle East policy. (It doesn’t help that he can be extraordinarily rude to an interlocutor he doesn’t respect or with whom he disagrees.) It frightens me to think he had an influential hand in policy at such crucial moments, but then the proof is in the pudding.

    But when he talks about domestic policy, the guy becomes an incredibly appealing purveyor of common sense conservative (though really not that conservative) solutions to problems. (They being conservative, i don’t always support them, but they remain solid, realistic proposals).

    I just saw him give an absolutely brilliant performance in an interview with Bill Moyers. I encourage everyone to check it out. Because I am that way, I’m going to highlight a couple points, but more than anything what I was impressed by was his reasoned and reassuring approach to the problems.

    One point he made is close to E.D.’s heart: he wants a national market for health insurance rather than 50 state markets, the state markets being the result of the states being the locus for regulation. What I want to highlight, though is that he was absolutely explicit that what was necessary to make that happen was good regulation of health insurance at the federal level (lest we get the credit-card-state problem). I appreciated his acknowledgement of that need, and agree with the proposal (providing I get the federal regs I want).

    The other point I appreciated was that he was clear that some points in the debate are simply political red lines for the parties. I have said here recently that I support a public option in part merely because it is a well-understood (if apparently very easy to demagogue) prdoposal that reformers can rally around, and that is absolutely necessary to win a political fight. Frum said the exact same thing in reverse, and won me over with a rugby metaphor in the process. He said that sometimes there just have to be issues where the parties lock arms and go shoulder-to-shoulder to see who will push whom off the ball. Moyers pushed him on his reason for opposing a public option and he elided a response (perhaps because he’s honest enough not to say that it will push private insurance completely out of the market and usher in a single payer).

    For Mark, he absolutely was there on decoupling, though the one thing I thought he was slightly dishonest about is that that would involve a huge tax increase on every working American with benefits. His advocacy for that reform I thought underscored the reality that there is still a huge selling job to be done by whatever politician wants to take on that necessary task.

    Oh my god, and i just realized another reason I was so taken by his performance: not a single mention of tort reform! Amazing!

    All in all, it was a brilliant presentation of a conservative vision for health reform. It just left me wondering with such an intellectual resource at his disposal, what kept Geroge W. Bush from being the Republican who went to China on health care in his second term. Maybe David wasn’t thinking in those terms then; hmm, what could it be that inspired him to develop such an appealing conservative health agenda…?

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