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Tilting at Windmills

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December 1, 2009

THE QUALITATIVE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE FRINGES.... Following up on that last item, about Charles Johnson officially giving up on the right, I was especially interested in seeing what James Joyner had to say about this.

James is conservative, but I tend to find him reasonable, or at least thoughtful, and he's generally shown little interest in some of the sillier nonsense the right comes up with. Any chance he'll follow Johnson's lead and reject what's become of the contemporary political right?

Alas, no. James has an item today, going through Johnson's list of grievances, point by point. He seemed largely unconvinced by Johnson's case, but there were two points of particular interest.

Johnson, for example, expressed contempt for the right's "support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)." Joyner replied that the left has its wacky fringe, too:

See Code Pink, 9/11 Truthers, etc.

Johnson added that the right supports "conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)." Joyner added:

See Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, 9/11 Truthers, etc.

I continue to think this is a mistaken approach to the ideological landscape. It plays into the conventional wisdom -- "both sides" have their share of nutjobs -- but it doesn't account for the qualitative differences or the reach/influence of both contingents.

It's easy, I suppose, to just assume that the left has some nutjobs, and the right has some nutjobs, but that all of this is unrelated to political mainstream of both major political parties. Wacky liberals said ridiculous things under Bush; wacky conservatives are saying ridiculous things now. Move along; nothing to see here.

But this surface-level look is, at best, incomplete. Code Pink and Truthers don't have, and never have had, any meaningful role in progressive politics or the Democratic Party. Love these groups or hate them, we're talking about a fairly small group, with limited-to-non-existent influence. Indeed, Democratic Party leaders and officials take pains to keep the groups at arm's length. It's not as if leading Dem candidates, seeking high-profile offices, go out of their way to seek Cindy Sheehan's endorsement.

On the other hand, leading Republicans at every level can't do enough to express their support for the Tea Party crowd, and love nothing more than talking to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. We have GOP members of Congress, even some of the party's leadership, endorsing all manner of unhinged nonsense, ranging from Birther questions to state nullification.

The point is, there's a clear and impermeable line between the progressive mainstream and the left fringe. The line between the Republican Party/conservative movement and the far-right fringe barely exists.

Whereas Dems kept the fringe at arm's length, Republicans embrace the fringe with both arms. Both sides have nutjobs; only one side thinks their nutjobs are sane.

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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it's kinda sad that you are throwing cindy sheehan in the same pile as rush limbaugh and code pink in the same pile as glenn beck.

i'll give you the truthers though.

Posted by: Shoe on December 1, 2009 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Been trying to think of someone on the left who's as odious as Beck and Limbaugh.

Ward Churchill came to mind.

He doesn't have a daily audience of millions.

Posted by: Chris S. on December 1, 2009 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

So if someone didn't read it hear first, you throw them under the bus with the likes of back and limpballs.

No wonder this is such a tiny, uneducated blog.

Posted by: steve pencil on December 1, 2009 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

But this surface-level look is, at best, incomplete.

More accurately, dishonest. Joyner's is a look of mendacity and denial. And what exactly are Joyner's examples of Sheehan's "hate speech"? Talk about your false equivalencies, Sarah Palin was the fucking VP nominee for Chrissakes! Joyner is a royal douche.

Posted by: Bobo Teh Clown on December 1, 2009 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

The key is in the use of the word "Support" in Johnson's list of 10 reasons why he is parting ways with the right. The first seven of the ten reasons start with the word "Support". The complaint isn't that the right wing has a fringe element (as does the left, although I generally use Ward Churchill as the example of left wing fringe, rather than Cindy Sheehan), but rather that the mainstream right actively courts and encourages the fringe elements, incorporating their concerns into their policy. That just doesn't happen on the left. Put another way, Zell Miller was the right wing of the Democratic Party, and was as wacko conservative as the most conservative Republicans. His opposite in the Republican Party, the extreme left wing of Republican electoral politics would be Olympia Snowe...think about it.

Posted by: majun on December 1, 2009 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Since when (for anyone not far right) did either Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore class as nut jobs? Similarly Code Pink may be in the DFH category, but they don't seem any more nuts than any other advocacy group. They certainly aren't in the realm of someone like the militant PETA spinoffs.

The 9/11 truthers are nuts. It's hard to place all of them left or right though, and they are certainly reviled by an overwhelming majority of the left.

Joyner is grasping at straws to shore up his unjustified views.

Posted by: royalblue_tom on December 1, 2009 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

it's actually outrageous to classify sheehan and michael moore as "nutjobs" and in any way proportional or comparable to the mess on the extreme right. it's the journamalism of a special objective center -- the one the villagers wake up each morning and discover themselves to be.

archimedean journalism... so sweet the smell...

Posted by: neill on December 1, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

The elected officials of the Rs embrace their loons; what elected D has embraced the Truthers? Or even Moore? Rather, the Ds go out of their way to slam anyone who is truly on the left.

Posted by: Dems lose huge in 2010 on December 1, 2009 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

This is exactly right. Of course Charles Johnson isn't parting ways with the right simply because (among other things) there are some crazy people on that side of the aisle. That wouldn't be a particularly compelling justification, because - as Joyner correctly points out - the Left (and any group of people of sufficient size) has its share of nuts as well. Joyner, however, entirely misses Johnson's point, which, I believe, is the same as Steve's.

The Right's support for the "anti-government lunacy" and "conspiracy theories and hate speech" has almost come to define that political movement, and that is why Johnson felt it necessary to list those as reasons for his departure. Joyner's argument is a straw-man and Steve is correct to point it out as such.

Posted by: Scott on December 1, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget that Michael Moore is fat.

Posted by: The Guilty Carnivore on December 1, 2009 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Taking the contrarian view, I don't find Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore to be as extreme as Beck, Limbaugh, et al. Unfortunately, they are not at least considered by the Democratic leadership for their thoughtful opinions. Progressives on the left are not nearly as radical as the the right's version of Regressives. It is true that there are fringe voices on the left, but as was said, they are not embraced by the so-called mainstream Dems. That the voices of Amy Goodman, Howard Zinn, Cornel West, Bill Moyers and a host of others are not more prevalent on the "Public Airwaves" is a clear indication that the Progressive left is not well represented. When a "conservative" talks about the radical left influencing the policies of the Dems, ask them when was the last time Limbaugh hosted one of these people. Or, when was the last time your heard them on the MSM?

"We" are not being represented and it is time that was acknowledged.

Posted by: st john on December 1, 2009 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

The way I see it, the difference is that the sorts of people who bubble to the top of the conservasphere are Beck and Limbaugh, while the corresponding liberal figures are Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Rachel Maddow. Olbermann is mostly defensible outside the manufactured outrage of his "Special Comments".

The difference is that when the left's leading figures speak out harshly, it's almost always because they don't like the status quo and want to make things better. When the right's leading figures speak out, it's usually to whip up rage or scare the shit out of people instead of being constructive. That's the thing in a nutshell.

Posted by: Lev on December 1, 2009 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

I had this same "both of 'em do it" discussion with a clown I work with -- one of those Fierce Independents who, in reality, are just too stupid or lazy to inform themselves and take a stand.

He, too, had to do some awfully ridiculous grasping to come up with anyone on the fringe left -- or even the not-fringe left, but actual left -- who has anywhere near the influence of Rush, Beck, the teabaggers, et al, have on the right.

I asked him how many Congress critters quoted truthers on the floor of Congress, the way the GOP has with the teabaggers.

I asked him how many Code Pink folks he saw at any Dems campaign event.

I asked him what made Cindy Sheehan such a whack lefty, given that all she wanted was to talk to Bush about her son's needless death.

And in each case, he failed. Spectacularly.

It doesn't matter, though. "Both sides do it" is now the official Villager Narrative, and no amount of facts or reality will change that.

Posted by: Mark D on December 1, 2009 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Several things.

First, when did the anti-war movement become nut jobs ? Sheehan was relentless, like the nutjobs, but she was lucid in her cause. Plus she is one person vs. an entire party, and in the tea flavored type.

Even if the two had equal amounts of nutjobs and I don't think it's anywhere close, but for the sake of this argument, let's say in numbers they are equal. No one seems to make the distinction between nutty and dangerous. The right is locked and loaded, and openly carrying guns. They have killed a lot of people, from OKC to abortion workers to MLK and even the president.

We have nuts, they have nuts, our nuts make documentaries, destroy furs, their nuts blow up buildings and kill people. Not equal by any means.

And lastly, neither mentioned honestly and political discourse. Seriously, if there is one major issue at the root of all the others, it's the god damn lying and neither one of these buffoons even addresses the issue.

Name one politically honest republican. I am not talking about spinning and statistics slid of hand, they all do that. It's the over-the-top blatant self serving lies that one party seems to revel in.

Posted by: ScottW on December 1, 2009 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Oh my. How stupid do you have to be to swallow a plate full of shit. First off the argument that they all do it is so inane that it makes me laugh. Oh all politicians are corrupt. Oh there's no real difference between republicans and democrats there politicians. Oh mom Oh mom the other kids are all snorting meth it must be ok for me to do it.

Posted by: gandalf on December 1, 2009 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

The real difference between the "left" and the "right" in America today is that the "left" is a political and ideological movement, and the "right" is an entertainment demographic.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 1, 2009 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Limbaugh ostensibly speaks for the GOP. GOP officials don't cross him out of fear he will drive them out of office badmouthing them on air.

If Joyner really thinks Cindy Sheehan and Code Pink have this level of influence over the Democrats he must be smoking Humboldt Gold.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on December 1, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

9-11 Truthers are all Left? Sorry, maybe some of those who view Bush as the culprit but a whole host of other "truthers" attribute 9-11 to Mossad and/or the NWO. Even those who blame Bush aren't necessarily on the left and it is completely inaccurate to make this assumption.

Posted by: Dr. J on December 1, 2009 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

Joyner's response to Johnson is petty and childish. He attempts to refute Johnson by saying the left is just as bad? What does that have to do with anything? Never mind that that is not even close to true as detailed in the all the previous comments, but it is a cop-out for having to actually deal with Johnson's grievances.

Posted by: Giggsisgod on December 1, 2009 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Well said, SecularAnimist.

Posted by: dob on December 1, 2009 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

what the heck is code pink? sorry im a bit behind in reading my marching orders.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on December 1, 2009 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

I resent the hell out of your inference that Michael Moore, Code Pink or 9/11 truthers are fringe nut jobs...especially since their issues are based on truths and facts easily confirmed whereas the right's fringe nut jobs can't even make sense when you talk to or confront them.

You use the left's activists as some sort of unequal "balance' to the wingnuts when it's really comparing apples and oranges and does not even relate except in the propaganda of the right.

Posted by: bjobotts on December 1, 2009 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

There certainly is a qualitative difference between the fringes, and the difference is that the right wing fringe controls the GOP while the left wing fringe is just that -- a fringe.

The reason for this obvious: the radical left is wing ideologically centered around discrete issues such as war & peace or welfare and social programs. The right wing fringe is an actual demographic -- a largely white, Christian and Southern subculture that has never assimilated particularly well into our larger, diverse and multi-ethnic nation, and expresses that alienation politically in the social protest movements we are seeing by the Radical Right/GOP which is led by cultural figures like Palin and Beck rather than elected GOP party "leaders." In fact, any party leaders who actually tried to lead the GOP back from brink would be devoured by the rabid base now in control, as even Lindsy Graham was when he was verbally assaulted as a "RINO Traitor" for working with Democrats.

In this regard, I found this piece by former George W. speechwriter David Frum on his website today very instructive. It was evident that after John McCain won the GOP nomination he was less the party's leader as its prisoner. The Palin selection is evidence of that, as is McCain's petulance and ill manner since his loss. And now that the GOP has been driven into what amounts to rebellion by FOX and Rush, the real leaders in the GOP find that there is no one to follow.

Here is Frum:

My takeaways from the Washington Post survey this morning of Republican opinion:

1) Republican political leaders have very little room to maneuver. With 46% of Republicans and Republican-leaners declaring themselves “angry” at the Obama administration - and 77% refusing any compromise on healthcare - it’s unsurprising that Republican leaders do not dare to negotiate a better deal.

2) Had Congressional Republicans tried to exercise more far-seeing leadership, they would almost certainly have failed to carry their supporters with them. Rank-and-file Republicans feel little confidence in their supposed leaders. While 56% of Republicans and Republican-leaners credit the party with sharing “some” of their values, only 37% say that their party leadership shares “most” of their values. Only 55% think their leaders in Congress understand the problems of people like themselves.

3) Republicans disdain President Obama as culturally alien. 61% “strongly” feel that he does not stand for traditional American values, another 13% “somewhat” feel so.

4) Yet one has to wonder: how much of the anger felt by Republicans is explained by things Obama has actually done - and how much by the generally miserable situation of the country. Republicans have 401Ks too. Only 1% of Republicans name George W. Bush as the person who epitomizes Republican values, and 24% blame him greatly or somewhat for the problems of the country today.

Posted by: Ted Frier on December 1, 2009 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

The examples used here of Cindy Sheehan and Ward Churchill are very instructive. Both of these individuals are truly fringe figures. So, why have they been given such prominance -- most by Bill O'Reilly and the rest of the clowns on FOX?

The reason is precisely what Steve implies -- that the lunatic fringe on the Right is magnitudes larger than it is on the Left, so the right wing must work extra hard trying to create a false equivilance to even the score.

Extremists need extremists on the other side in order to justify or disguise their own extremism, which is why FOX and O'Reilly have made an obscure ethnic studies professor from Boulder Colorado like Ward Churchill a household name. The same dynamic applies with ACORN, Cindy Sheehan, Bill Ayers, Rev. Wright etc...

Liberals have major media figures like Glenn Beck and actual members of Congress like Michelle Bachmann that they can point to as representatives of the unhinged, but powerful, right.

Posted by: Ted Frier on December 1, 2009 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Just a quick note, since there have been a lot of complaints about this:

Seems to me that Steve Benen did not, in fact, compare Code Pink, Moore and Sheehan to Beck, Limbaugh and teabaggers. Joyner did that.

All Benen did was use the examples provided to him, pointing out that none of the folks Joyner listed are actively involved in, courted by, and/or hailed on the floors of Congress by the establishment of the Democratic party.

That's it.

And I don't think I'm being too charitable -- I think others are being too quick to find offense where none was intended (especially since Benen has, in fact, posted positively about Sheehan and Moore in the past; you can search the old Carpetbagger Report archives for evidence).

Posted by: Mark D on December 1, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

I am not sure where the notion that 911Truthers are leftist came from. have spoken with a large number of these folks -- as my wife's coofeehouse use to host their events. I have found very very few of them to be on the left politically; rather, as a group, they tend towards the libertarian right. In fact a number of the 911Truthers were major fund raisers for Ron Paul in the last election.

Posted by: sjk on December 1, 2009 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, you almost have it. You get so close there at the end when you say:

"We have GOP members of Congress, even some of the party's leadership, endorsing all manner of unhinged nonsense, ranging from Birther questions to state nullification."

So close but not quite. We have actual elected Republican members of Congress introducing legislation that supports the birther cause. We have actual elected Republican members of Congress fully endorsing the notion our current president does not have a birth certificate. We have actual elected Republican members of Congress organizing protests against the current administration (Bachmann). We have actual elected Republican members of Congress calling for revolution, slitting of wrists, holy wars, and fully endorsing the radical right wing concept that our nation is under attack by a socialist tyrant. These aren't the wackos on the street. These are ELECTED REPUBLICANS. Their fringe is fully in control of the GOP.

Now, in comparison, when did one single Democratic elected member introduce "truther" legislation? When did one single elected Democrat organize a protest against the Bush administration? When did one single elected Democrat hang a socialist indoctrinated photo of Bush on the House Floor? Really there is no comparison.

You were so close Steve. Just come out and say it. The fringe is in control of the GOP!

Posted by: Chris- The Fold on December 1, 2009 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Moore and Sheehan "fringe"? That's preposterous. For lefty fringe, see Lyndon LaRouche, Communist Party USA, or Socialist Workers Party.

Just leave my beloved IWW out of it.

Posted by: bobbyp on December 1, 2009 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

James is conservative, but I tend to find him reasonable, or at least thoughtful, and he's generally shown little interest in some of the sillier nonsense the right comes up with. Any chance he'll follow Johnson's lead and reject what's become of the contemporary political right?

Alas, no.

...and, as Bobo and others pointed out upthread, his reasons are dishonest, not reasonable, thoughtful, or at odds with the right's nonsense.

Posted by: Gregory on December 1, 2009 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

Good points. Another way to put the difference: Republican leaders praise Rush, Beck, etc. - but Democrats rarely praise Sheehan, Moore etc. If anything, they are too mean to the latter, whom often have many good points to make.

Posted by: Neil B on December 1, 2009 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Joyner does have his occasional instances of completely going off the rails.

Posted by: Randy Paul on December 1, 2009 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

I am a liberal. Heck, I have actually read the CBO report on the Senate Health Care Bill. The point being I try to keep up with things. 1) I honestly don't know what Code Pink is. 2) If you would have asked me what a Truther was I would have thought you meant Birther. 3) I've heard there are people say 9/11 was an inside job but didn't associate them with the right or the left. On the other hand, I have seen a few Michael Moore movies. I guess I am an extremist.

Posted by: Al's Dad (not that AL) on December 2, 2009 at 6:56 AM | PERMALINK

What shoe said. Cindy Sheehan may or may not be moderate but she is not a nutcase. I'd add that Michael Moore makes extremely valuable contributions to the debate.

Before ranting, I think your post stresses the main important point. There are lefty crazies, but they have no power and nothing to do with the mainstream of the Democratic party. I think, however, that Joyner counted people who get on his nerves as crazy even if they are not.

I'm sure Joyner thinks that it is well known that Moore's claims of fact are as crazy as say the birthers' claims. However, Joyner is wrong and Moore is right. He might say crazy things when interviewed, but the claims of fact in his recent documentaries are accurate. Recall the utter humliation of CNN and Sanjay Gupta when they tried to fact check Sicko and made more false claims about Sicko (at least one) than they found in Sicko (zero).

Your point, essentially, is that top Democrats shun Moore. Yes indeed, Obama proposed that the fact challenged Dr Gupta be Surgeon General. However, it is also true that in the debate between Moore and Gupta, Moore had the facts on his side and Gupta made errors which could only have been caused by blind prejudice. I mean he got a number wrong by a factor of 9. This was the one alleged error of fact in Sicko.

It is odd that you continue to accept CNN as non crazy and consider Moore crazy given that hostile fact checking shows that Moore's documentaries are reliable and the confrontation shows that CNN is not always reliable.

To compare Moore and Fox is over ambitious. First try to convince me he is as crazy as CNN.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on December 2, 2009 at 7:13 AM | PERMALINK



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