There are many problems with American politics but “extremism” is not one of them. For all the mainstream media’s criticism of the Tea Party being too “extreme” or the GOP supposedly adopting the movement’s “radical” rhetoric and actions, Republicans couldn’t even muster the votes to pass $100 billion in budget cuts recently, a proposal so modest as to essentially mean nothing. In fact, the worst extremists continue to be Democrats and their Republican allies who continue to spend money at breakneck speed. Indeed, if basic math and common sense have any bearing on the definition, it is our economic status quo that is truly extreme, and the brave few who dare to seriously challenge it who are the most sober.
The same has been true in Wisconsin, where citizens now march in the streets protesting Governor Scott Walker’s attempts to rein in spending. And things are getting nasty. Writes Rich Noyes and Scott Whitlock at the Wall Street Journal:
“Over the past several days, the liberal demonstrations in Wisconsin (bolstered by the national Democratic Party and President Obama’s Organizing for America group) have included signs just as inflammatory as the ones that bothered the networks during the health care debate, including several showing Governor Scott Walker as Adolph Hitler. Others have likened Walker to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (‘Scott Stalin’) and recently deposed Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak (‘Walker = Mubarak’). Another protest sign drew a cross-hairs over a picture of Governor Walker’s head, with the caption ‘Don’t Retreat, Reload; Repeal Walker’ — an obvious parallel to a Facebook map posted by Sarah Palin last year, although that much-criticized graphic placed the target sights on maps of congressional districts, not any politician’s face.”
Of course the same Left that tried to say that the tragic shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was somehow inspired by Palin’s fairly innocent PAC ads is now curiously silent concerning similar behavior exhibited by the protesters in Wisconsin. Criticizing the Left’s attacks on Palin in the wake of the Giffords shooting, I wrote in January:
In attacking Palin’s midterm election television commercials in which a bull’s-eye graphic was placed over vulnerable swing-state districts, her critics ignored the fact that ‘targeting’ politicians for electoral defeat has never been considered controversial nor has it been viewed as being beyond the pale. This is conventional political speech used by both parties for ages.
The protesters in Wisconsin who now use gun rhetoric or place target-style graphics over Gov. Walker’s face are being no less irresponsible than Palin was with her ads. Again, “targeting” politicians in general has always been fairly conventional American political speech. The Wisconsin protesters who compare the governor to German, Russian and Middle Eastern dictators are being absurd of course, but it should be clear by now that their hyperbolic assertions are fairly conventional aspects of any popular protest in the United States, Left or Right. Antiwar demonstrators used to compare President Bush to dictators, some Tea Partiers now do the same with Obama and of course, we now see the same comparisons in Wisconsin. This says more about the emotional nature of mass protest than the unique shortcomings of any of these specific movements.
But this is something most liberals will not confess. As much as New York Times columnists Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich bemoan the “incivility” of the Tea Party, or how much the evening line-up at MSNBC might harp on the grassroots Right’s “extremism,” basically the same behavior is ignored when displayed by mobs the Left happens to agree with. Liberals no doubt consider the Wisconsin protesters righteous. But if those protesters were Tea Partiers, the same Left would’ve been calling them racist from the get-go.
If liberals now give the Wisconsin protesters the benefit of the doubt because they basically share their ideology and even their rage, the same is true of the relationship between conservatives and the Tea Party, where though not all right-wingers might approve of the Tea Party’s methods or rhetoric—most certainly understand where the movement’s coming from. Who is truly “extreme” is merely a matter of perspective. Massive debt has inspired mass protests from both right-wingers who want to slash the debt and now left-wingers who basically want to sustain and protect it, creating an “extreme” tension that will likely endure for the foreseeable future. And that both Left and Right typically consider only the other side “extreme” merely indicates that the outspoken behavior of all involved now fits comfortably within the mainstream of American politics.