An important TDS Strategy Memo by Ed Kilgore, James Vega and J.P. Green
In a recent Washington Monthly commentary titled “None Dare Call it Sabotage,” Steve Benen gave voice to a growing and profoundly disturbing concern among Democrats – that Republicans may actually plan to embrace policies designed to deny Obama not only political victories but also the maximum possible economic growth during his term in order weaken Democratic prospects in the 2012 elections.
The debate quickly devolved into an argument over the inflammatory word “sabotage” and the extent to which the clearly and passionately expressed Republican desire to see Obama “fail” will actually lead them to deliberately choose economic and other policies that are most conducive to achieving that result.
But, among Democrats themselves, this particular question is actually just one particular component of a much broader and deeper concern — a very real and authentic sense of alarm that there is something both genuinely unprecedented and also profoundly dangerous in the intense “take no prisoners” political extremism of the current Republican Party. There is a deep apprehension that fundamental American standards of proper political conduct and ethical political behavior are increasingly being violated.
The key feature that distinguishes the increasingly extremist perspective of today’s Republican Party from the standards of political behavior we have traditionally considered proper in America is the view that politics is — quite literally, and not metaphorically – a kind of warfare and political opponents are literally “enemies”
This “politics as warfare” perspective has historically been the hallmark of many extremist political parties of both the ideological left and ideological right – parties ranging from the American Communist Party to the French National Front.
Historically, these political parties display a series of common features – features that follow logically and inescapably from the basic premise of politics as warfare:
• In the politics as warfare perspective the political party’s objective is defined as the conquest and seizure of power and not sincere participation in democratic governance. The party is viewed as a combat organization whose goal is to defeat an enemy, not an organization whose job is to faithfully represent the people who voted for it.
• In the politics as warfare perspective extralegal measures, up to and including violence, are tacitly endorsed as a legitimate means to achieve a party’s political aims if democratic means are insufficient to obtain its objectives. To obscure the profoundly undemocratic nature of this view, the “enemy” government–even when it is freely elected — is described as actually being illegitimate and dictatorial, thus justifying the use of violence as a necessary response to “tyranny”.
• In the politics as warfare perspective all major social problems are caused by the deliberate, malevolent acts of powerful elites with nefarious motives. An evil “them” is the cause of all society’s ills.
• In the politics as warfare perspective the political party’s philosophy and basic strategy is inerrant – it cannot be wrong. The result is the creation of a closed system of ideologically controlled “news” that creates an alternative reality.
• In the politics as warfare perspective standard norms of honesty are irrelevant. Lying and the use of false propaganda are considered necessary and acceptable. The “truth” is what serves to advance the party’s objectives.
• In the politics as warfare perspective the political party accepts no responsibility for stability – engineering the fall of the existing government is absolutely paramount and any negative consequences that may occur in the process represent a kind of “collateral damage” that is inevitable in warfare
• In the politics as warfare perspective the creation of contrived “incidents” or deliberate provocations are acceptable. Because the adherent of this view “knows” that his or her opponents are fundamentally evil, even concocted or staged incidents are still morally and ethically “true.” The distinction between facts and distortions disappears.
• In the politics as warfare perspective compromise represents both betrayal and capitulation. Destruction of the enemy is the only acceptable objective. People who advocate compromise are themselves enemies.
These various components all form part of an integrated whole. Seen as a coherent package they make it clear that politics as warfare is simply not an acceptable philosophy for an American political party. It is profoundly and unambiguously wrong.
It is easy to see examples of the various politics as warfare– based views and tactics listed above directly reflected in the statements and actions of the extreme wing of Republican coalition – they range from Michelle Bachmann and Sharon Angle’s winking at violence with references to “second amendment remedies” to Andrew Breitbart’s deliberate editing of a video to smear Shirley Sherrod, Glen Beck’s suggesting that George Soros was a Nazi collaborator, Fox News’ tolerating attacks on Obama as equivalent to Hitler and airing repeated suggestions that the miniscule New Black Panthers present a real and genuine national threat of stolen elections and Grover Norquist’s endorsement of a government shutdown over extending the debt limit, despite the genuine dangers this poses to international financial stability.
The list can be continued with many other examples from Eric Erickson’s RedState, Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and organizations like Freedomworks. An entire book has been written containing nothing but examples of recognized right-wing spokesmen subtly and not so subtly endorsing and encouraging the use of violence against liberals and Democrats.
And this politics as warfare perspective is not confined to the “fringes” of the Republican Party.