Three Views of the Protests


Mark Hemingway seconds Nick Gillespie's assessment of the anti-tax, anti-Obama protesters that descended on Washington, DC this weekend:

Everything Nick writes completely jibes with my experience…I spoke to dozens of people, and yes, they were all "stunningly normal." Bottom line: If elected officials — GOP included — want to ignore what's going on here on the basis that it's a bunch of fringe crazies, they do so at their own peril.

At The Daily Beast, John Avalon disagrees, grumbling about  the "wave of white people" he encountered on the Mall, all baying for the president's blood:

But Republicans are playing a dangerous game. They are benefitting (sic) from all this anger in the short term, but they have tapped into something deep and ugly that they can't control. Calling the president a communist or even Hitler is something far beyond simple incivility or street theater—it is an accusation that intentionally stirs the crazy pot. It is ultimately an incitement to violence.

One can disagree with the breathless tone of many Tea Party participants, as I frequently do, without thinking that hyperbolic comparisons between a sitting president and a fascist dictator are anomalous or somehow indicative of a new low in American political discourse. (Is it just me or are "new lows" reached with the frequency of new 100-meter butterfly world records?)

If we must make yet another reference to Richard Hofstader, let us please acknowledge that the paranoid style in American politics dates back to the histrionics of John Winthrop, not to the inauguration the 44th president. As Hemingway points out—and is worth pointing out to the shocked denizens of Netroots Nation—there is nothing new in any of this. Was it incitement to violence when author Nicholson Baker wrote Checkpoint, a book imagining the assassination of George W. Bush? How about Gabriel Range's faux documentary The Death of a President, which is also premised on the murder of Dubya?

Avalon thinks signs proclaiming the president to be a human embodiment of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact are stupid (they are!) and that, ultimately, it amounts to an "incitement to violence." Really? If this is the case, shouldn't those boneheads who argue incoherently that Obama is some Kenyan Mao-Hitler-Mobutu hybrid be piled in the back of a Secret Service paddywagon? Look, I agree that this stuff is unseemly and historically illiterate (conservatives, of all people, should know the difference between an auto bailout and an archipelago of Stalinist slave labor camps and that Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar), but the impression I got from the protest was that, while there were too many kooks for my taste, most of the attendees were ordinary folks that were simply pissed off.

Political paranoia is impervious to facts and reason, and the paranoiacs are a fact of life. So Avalon can lament the good old days of politics when the crazies existed, but Glenn Beck didn't; when technology wasn't there to help organize like-minded loons; and when people thought Bush killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11 and Bill Clinton murdered Vince Foster (who was sleeping with his wife, who is probably a lesbian). But they aren't the backbone of the Tea Party movement, which, for all of its faults, actually represents the legitimate concerns of those voters who care about limited government.