This past week has been eye-opening for many conservatives, many of whom were dumbfounded and not a little hurt by the accusations and attacks from the left. We thought we were used to the strange mindset of leftists, that we understood that they not only disagree with us but actively loathe us. We sure had plenty of evidence of that from the ridicule that followed the advent and rise of the Tea Party, so we were used to being called RAAAACIST and have come to ignore it or even to smile a little at that accusation’s baselessness. We know they think we’re rubes, rednecks, hicks. That we bitterly cling to our guns and religion because we are too mindless to do anything else. We know that they kept saying things that, to us, made no sense: that the Tea Party was astroturfed, that we are “anti-government,” that we are violent. None of which is true, of course, but we sort of chalked that up to their being rather stupid, or at least I did.
What I think none of us was ready for or have even yet fully processed was the vehement and shocking allegations that started within hours of the Arizona shooting. Popping up all over the internet were “reports” and musings about how those violent Tea Partiers, led by that unscrupulous accessory to murder Sarah Palin (and maybe Glenn Beck, and quite possibly Rush Limbaugh, and almost definitely Michele Bachmann), had finally crossed the line. The barely-restrained . . . well, it was glee, wasn’t it? A thrill of self-righteous . . . yes, glee that they were right all along, it was only a matter of time before the Tea Party went off the rails, gave into their seething, malevolent natures and started shooting people in cold blood.
I was in shock, to be honest. I mean it’s one thing to have ideological differences, and it’s quite another to accuse someone, or multiple someones, not only of being capable of but of actually carrying out murder. It’s one thing to have two different visions for the direction of our country, and quite another to so easily, so readily, so happily believe that our fellow citizens are not only capable of but actually keen on committing murder. It’s mind-boggling, if you think about it. And we all thought about it, I’m sure. What in the world could we have said or done to make these people believe, really truly deeply believe that we are a second, a moment, a metaphor away from committing not only a major crime and sin but a soul-destroying act like murder?
Now, as many of you know I used to be a liberal, but I was never a leftist. Never. I’ve always believed in our country, its Constitution, and ultimately, in the good of the American people. So these devastating accusations and the ease and delight with which they were levied was truly shocking to me. I just don’t understand how so many people can honestly, sincerely, in their heart of hearts believe that so many Americans are on the verge of perpetrating violent crimes, of mass murder. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I was reading post after post, op-ed after op-ed, article after article about how this tragedy was the fault of, the result of, in any way related to the Tea Party movement. Like many of you, I got defensive, I got angry, but at bottom, I was mostly stunned.
So it was with great interest that I read Daniel Henninger’s Why the Left Lost It. Henninger posits that the sprogs reacted on two levels, for two reasons: “calculation and genuine belief”:
The stakes for the American left in 2012 couldn’t possibly be higher. If then, and again in 2014, progressives can’t pull toward their candidates some percentage of the independent voters who in November abandoned the Democratic Party, they could be looking in from the outside for as many years as some of them have left to write about politics. A wilderness is a terrible place to be.
Against that grim result, every sentence Messrs. Krugman, Packer, Alter, the Times and the rest have written about Tucson is logical and understandable. What happened in November has to be stopped, by whatever means become available. Available this week was a chance to make some independents wonder if the tea parties, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Jared Loughner are all part of the same dark force.
Who believes this? They do.
The divide between this strain of the American left and its conservative opponents is about more than politics and policy. It goes back a long way, it is deep, and it will never be bridged. It is cultural, and it explains more than anything the “intensity” that exists now between these two competing camps. (The independent laments: “Can’t we all just get along?” Answer: No.)
The Rosetta Stone that explains this tribal divide is Columbia historian Richard Hofstadter’s classic 1964 essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Hofstadter’s piece for Harper’s may be unfamiliar to many now, but each writer at the opening of this column knows by rote what Hofstadter’s essay taught generations of young, left-wing intellectuals about conservatism and the right.
After Hofstadter, the American right wasn’t just wrong on policy. Its people were psychologically dangerous and undeserving of holding authority for any public purpose. By this mental geography, the John Birch Society and the tea party are cut from the same backwoods cloth.
“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds,” Hofstadter wrote. “In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority.”
Reading through some of the terrible articles this past week, it does seem that the leftists who made those allegations, who eagerly, gleefully, jumped on the idea that the Tea Party is chock-full of violent “extremists” fueled by anger, even rage, wanted–even needed–it to be true. That there is no reason to believe this, that it speaks a great deal more to their own mindset than ours is irrelevant. At rock-bottom–or actually, just skimming the surface, socialist progressives honestly see us as nothing more than barbaric animals who are apt, at any moment for any or no reason, to start murdering our fellow citizens.
Henninger parenthetically makes the point that for those independents (and I would add for even moderate liberals and conservatives) who ask “can’t we all just get along?”, the answer is, simply, “no.” With socialist progressives running the Democratic Party, there is no hope of “compromise” or of “bipartisanship.” That it turned out that the murderer in Arizona was mentally unstable and not politically motivated does not matter one whit. Leftists may be forced to acknowledge that in this case it wasn’t the rage-fueled, on the brink of violence Tea Party, but they seem to believe, truly believe, that it’s just a matter of time.
In all, I think this is the saddest statement about the current political climate in this country, a statement that will not be answered by (one-sided) “civility” nor by mixing up the seating at the SOTU. Their minds are made up, and nothing will change that because socialist progressives have already passed their judgment, drawn their conclusions, and pronounced the Tea Party guilty as charged. All they are doing now is waiting for someone, anyone, to commit the crime of which we’ve all already been convicted.