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Tilting at Windmills

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January 12, 2011

THOSE WHO JUSTIFY ANTI-GOVERNMENT VIOLENCE.... CBS News conducted a poll this week -- after the massacre in Tucson -- and included a provocative question: "Do you think it is ever justified for citizens to take violent action against the government, or is it never justified?"

Given that the American mainstream strongly rejects these kinds of attitudes, I expected the results to be entirely one sided. For the most part, they were -- overall, 76% of Americans said such violence is never justified, while 16% said anti-government violence can be acceptable.

Markos Moulitsas, however, emphasized an important angle to this: the partisan breakdown.

Do you think it is ever justified for citizens to take violent action against the government, or is it never justified?

Republican 28% yes, 64% no

Democrat 11% yes, 81% no

Independent 11% yes, 81% no

The 11% of Dems and self-identified Independents is still much higher than I'd like to see, but it's the GOP numbers that are especially disheartening. More than a fourth of rank-and-file Republicans are prepared to justify violence against their own government? That's not a tiny, obscure fringe; that's a sizable chunk of a major political party.

The only solace I can take from this is the wording of the question is open to some interpretation. For example, respondents weren't asked specifically about Americans and the U.S. government -- in the abstract, a citizenry somewhere in the world suffering under the rule of an authoritarian dictator may be justified in "taking violent action" against their government, and maybe some folks thought of that when participating in the poll. For that matter, if we're willing to entertain fantastical imaginations, maybe some respondents could envision a day in which the existing U.S. government is dissolved and replaced with some kind of autocratic tyrant, at which point a rebellion could be warranted.

But really, this is quite a stretch, and I'm probably just trying to make myself feel better about what appear at face value to be outlandish results.

I'm well aware of the contemporary Republican Party's sharp move to the far right, but when 28% of the party's voters are prepared to justify anti-government violence, it's a reminder that GOP leaders have some work to do to lower the temperature -- if they're inclined to help.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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Comments

This country was founded on 'violent action against it's own government'.

Revolts and revolutions are rarely bloodless.

It's a poorly worded question. I'd have probably been part of the 11%, simply because I know enough history (and you don't need much) to see that revolution can be necessary, and as I said -- rarely bloodless.

Do I think America is anywhere near that point? No, not even close. *shrug*.

Posted by: Morat20 on January 12, 2011 at 8:02 AM | PERMALINK

They had 8 years to be violent while the guy they voted for was destroying the country.

Yet. Not a peep.

Posted by: sensistar on January 12, 2011 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

I think the numbers suggest not so much that a substantial minority of Republicans are angry and violent, but that they are stupid and unimaginative. I might have answered yes to that question if I didn't bother to think about its significance for more than a couple of seconds. That 28% is the Republican party's Fox faction.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on January 12, 2011 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

...it's a reminder that GOP leaders have some work to do to lower the temperature -- if they're inclined to help.

Steve, you can actually say something like this with a straight face?

Inclined to help? You mean inclined to make it worse, don't you? GOP leaders have been pandering to their base on this either out of fear or the recognition that it gets them votes. The only thing they really fear is losing elections. It's all about getting complete control, and their assumption is that once this awful half-black man president is deposed the militias, gun lovers, teabaggers, and their ilk will become quiescent. As they did just as soon as junior Bush was appointed president.

Posted by: rrk1 on January 12, 2011 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

Respectfully Steve, despite nominally being a pacifist, I would have been in the 11% as well due to the use of the word 'ever' in the question, because, yes, there are situations, albeit extraordinarily few and far between, when such things may become necessary. I'd like to see a version of this question with more wiggle room.

Posted by: holyhandgrenaid on January 12, 2011 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

The "poll" is about as useful as the answers to the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

-What is the level of literacy/intelligence of these Republicans? Are they politically active, Teabaggers, former members of the White Citizens Council?

And what the hell is "anti-government violence"? Burning your draft card? Chaining yourself to the White House fence? Blowing up the Murraugh building?

To borrow from The Bard, "It is a poll, answered by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and used to sell newspapers."

Posted by: DAY on January 12, 2011 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

So you roundly condemn all previous violence by the left during the civil rights, labor and anti-war movements? How about just disobeying the laws they didn't like (civil disobedience)? Is it okay by you if we just ignore the Obamacare mandate?

Posted by: Mr John Galt on January 12, 2011 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

It depends on whether "ever" means "under any conceivable circumstances" or "under circumstances a reasonable person would find reasonably plausible for us."

I can imagine a Blade-Runner society where it would be appropriate, and, as Morat20 said, if "ever" includes 1776, then certainly, and it may be justified in some countries right now, but in this decade's US, no.

Posted by: anandine on January 12, 2011 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

My first thought was 1989 in Tienamen (sp?) Square. We might not need violence here, but as a generic question, I know which side I was on then...

Posted by: Anon on January 12, 2011 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

The key word - the word that makes this question utterly meaningless - is the word "ever."

I can imagine several scenarios in which liberals would have no problems taking arms up against a government they believe is anti-democratic.

Posted by: JEA on January 12, 2011 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

It's an idiotic poll and that's all that really needs to be said.

I will note that history books tend to ignore our bloodless revolution that happened before The Revolution in MA, 1774. Too bad, there's a lot to learn from that...

Posted by: Todd for Vermont House on January 12, 2011 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

The key word - the word that makes this question utterly meaningless - is the word "ever."

Yup.

Be more instructive (and probably disturbing) is they'd asked: "Do you think the current situation justifies violence against the US government?"

Posted by: Todd for Vermont House on January 12, 2011 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I'd be an 11 percenter too, for the reasons above.

Considering the South still worships their great grandaddies's violence against the government, and are even celebrating the 150th anniversary this year, I'm surprised the affirmative response wasn't greater.

Posted by: martin on January 12, 2011 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

My first thought was 1989 in Tienamen (sp?) Square. We might not need violence here, but as a generic question, I know which side I was on then

Anon: The Tiananmen protests weren't an act of violence against the Chinese government. The violence in Tiananmen Square, as far as I recall, was committed by the government. The protests there were peaceful until the tanks were sent in.

Posted by: ajay on January 12, 2011 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

These would be the same Republicans who condemned Obama for associating with Bill Ayres, right?

IOKIYAR.

Posted by: Gregory on January 12, 2011 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with those who say the poll question was poorly worded. The use of an absolute term like "never" puts me in the 11%.

What if this country takes a couple of hard right turns and repeals large portions of the Constitution (or the entire document)? Such a scenario, while highly unlikely, is not outside the realm of possibility.

Posted by: bdop4 on January 12, 2011 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

I take it Mr John Galt that it still sticks in your craw that those Kent State students never apologized for opening up with AK-47s on those poor defenseless National Guard troops, eh?

Posted by: berttheclock on January 12, 2011 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

So you roundly condemn all previous violence by the left during the civil rights, labor and anti-war movements?

I will condemn any specific examples you provide.

How about just disobeying the laws they didn't like (civil disobedience)?

Absofuckinglutely not (ignoring your woeful mischaracterization).

Is it okay by you if we just ignore the Obamacare mandate?

I welcome your principled tax resistance.

Posted by: Todd for Vermont House on January 12, 2011 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

The poll wording is poor, but the timing of the asking of it provides context that any respondent would undoubtedly find hard to ignore.

Posted by: Oh my on January 12, 2011 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

If, only the same question had been asked of the RepuGs in 2005, I am sure the results would have been much different.

However, this is a very poorly worded question. By violence, do they mean the Charles Guiteau, Leon Franz Czolgosz, John Hinkley, Jr or Lee Harvey Oswald variety or the one mentioned supra of our forefathers assembling in Massachusetts? Huge difference between gutless assassins and aroused citizens banding together. I would have added Booth, but, he was more of a deranged Southern traitor caught up in the Civil War.

Posted by: berttheclock on January 12, 2011 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

Mr. Benen - You've jumped the shark on this one! Now you're taking on J. Locke! Reread the question being answered. -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 12, 2011 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

As one of the people in the 11% of D's, I suggest you learn something about our country before writing about it. We are, after all, a collection of former colonies who took violent action against a government we considered tyrannical and oppressive.

As numerous people have pointed out, it's a terribly written question. Never?

What if Mike Huckabee is elected and he forms Rape Squads to make sure that married white women get impregnated often enough to beat back the swarms of non-white births? Suppose Michelle Bachmann gets elected and declares war on Mexico and drafts every citizen to fight for it?

The next question needs to "What, in your opinion justifies violent action against the government?" That's where you'd find the evidence of nuttery.

If the government becomes oppressive to an intolerable, damned straight I reserve the right to take up arms against it.

Steve, there are times when I can't help but imagine you as the blogger for the Tory Monthly, inveighing against John Adams and Ben Franklin for disrupting the colonial system.

Posted by: Woodrow L. Goode, IV on January 12, 2011 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

What other people have said. I would have been in the 11%, thinking of Nazi Germany. And I think I'm about as far from a crazy Tea Party hothead as you can get.

That said: Mr. John Galt must be pretty unfamiliar with the civil rights movement if he thinks it was marked by violence perpetrated by, as opposed to on, its members.

Posted by: hilzoy on January 12, 2011 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Your first instincts were right-it is a bad poll.

Posted by: Raoul on January 12, 2011 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

Does this poll mean that 64% of teabaggers are actually opposed to teabagging?

Maybe they just like to dress up.

Posted by: la, a note on January 12, 2011 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

I'll pile on--as written I too would have been part of the 11% of Democrats who said "yes". I presume the only reason that percentage wasn't higher was that people were sensitive about appearing to advocate violence in the wake of the Tucson massacre.

I hate stupidly-worded opinion poll questions.

Posted by: Duncan Idaho on January 12, 2011 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

I find a need to pitch in as others have. Jefferson described exactly when it's OK to take arms against government. And I agree with Morat20: we're not there, or close.

Posted by: Jim H on January 12, 2011 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

I think the question is confusing,

Does 'yes' answer Yes, it is justified?

or Yes, it is never justified?

on average I suppose the confused answers probably balance themselves out, but I still think it should be separate questions.

Posted by: cld on January 12, 2011 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

I answered yes to that question because of the way it was worded. Of course it is alright to take violent action against a government that is oppressing you so don't get your panties in a wad over the numbers. The question was worded too loosely.

Posted by: Phyllis Pircher on January 12, 2011 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Too creepy. Why is 28% sound familiar...oh, Bush approval ratings.

You can poll till the cows come home, but it only took one in 1963.

Posted by: Skip on January 12, 2011 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Err...ya'll DO realize that the Founders took violent action against the (then) government, right? And ya'll are OK with that, as it lead to you actually existing today in the country you at least believe you exist within.

If only people had taken violent action against the government in Italy in the 30s (Mussolini) or Germany in the late 20s, early 30s (that would be the Nazis). A lot of heartburn would have been prevented.

I'm just addressing the all-or-none proposition behind the question in the poll. NEVER justified? NEVER EVER? C'mon! I'd never say "never justified" because it is an absolute and, by its nature, leaves out a lot of really ugly shit that SHOULD engender a violent response.

Never is a damn long time and a pretty heavy blanket.

Posted by: Praedor on January 12, 2011 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Ditto to all the other 11 percenters above. "Ever" vs "anything happening today" is a critical distinction.

Posted by: short fuse on January 12, 2011 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Good GOD, people!

They are polling the ignorant about the insane!

(That'll get you "meaningful" information.)

Or, you could just cut out the middleman and buy a Ouija board.

Posted by: Hart Williams on January 12, 2011 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Wait, are we now saying that violent revolution against *any* government *ever* in not justified, or only violent revolution against the current system of government in the United States?

Armed revolution here, today, in the U.S., is totally unjustified. Armed revolution ever, throughout all time and space? I'm sympathetic to principled pacifism, but it's not an obvious case to make.

Posted by: mike on January 12, 2011 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

Hell, violence against the government. Ha. Most Americans are so afraid of our government, they are afraid to contribute to Wikileaks because of possible repercussions from our government. I don't imagine those people taking up arms, pitchforks or torches no matter how dysfunctional our government gets.

Posted by: tko on January 12, 2011 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

28% would be about the same as the population of the 11 "Confederate" states. The more things change...

Posted by: Jon Chin on January 12, 2011 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

First comment has it.

"This country was founded on 'violent action against it's own government'. Revolts and revolutions are rarely bloodless. It's a poorly worded question."

The wording is so broad that I would probably find myself in the "Democrat: Yes" column even though if the question were worded as its authors probably intended I would in no way even consider saying 'yes.'

Useless survey and a waste of time to debate. Let us know when they do a new one whose questions aren't written at an undergraduate statistics level of precision.

Posted by: OmerosPeanut on January 12, 2011 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with people who think that "never" is too restrictive, but just to play devil's advocate, note that from the British perspective, the Brits were not a particularly tyrannical power, and the "oppression" that the American colonists objected to consisted of a fairly small and not especially unreasonable tax being imposed (albeit without representation) to get the colonies to contribute a bit more toward the costs of defense against the French, Dutch, Spanish, and Indians and any other potential or actual enemy. Anyone who thinks that the modern tea partiers are over the top in their rhetoric and their objections to taxes might find interesting historical parallels amongst the colonists, when viewed from the British perspective.

Posted by: N.Wells on January 12, 2011 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

I guess I'm in the 11%. I also read that just as your "quite a stretch" scenario.

Is violent uprise against the government of the US today and now justified? No. Could violent uprise against a government by its citizens be justified? Absolutely. Were the US government to devolve away from its current state (even as broken as we are today), could violent uprise against it be justified? Absolutely.

It is a poorly worded question. A better wording would restrict it to functioning democratic republics, etc. The problem is that the Right continues to claim that the US Government has already stepped far from what one might consider its roots (and I'd agree, just not for the worse), so I'm not sure even a better wording of the question would be able to ask what they appear to want to ask.

Posted by: Tom Dibble on January 12, 2011 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

I do not think it takes ''fantastical imaginations'' to ''envision a day in which the existing U.S. government is dissolved and replaced with some kind of autocratic tyrant....''

Alas.

Posted by: buddy66 on January 12, 2011 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

It depends on whether "ever" means "under any conceivable circumstances" or "under circumstances a reasonable person would find reasonably plausible for us."

But... "under any conceivable circumstances" is exactly, literally, what the word "ever" means. What "ever" does not mean is "usually" "currently" or "In most ordinary circumstances".

Hell, it's a direct contrast to those things!

I mean, are you telling me that you'd read the following sentence as true:

"No man can ever run a mile in under one minute."

Because if we're interpreting the word "ever" in the second way, then it's just as reasonable to say that every man struck by lightning survives, and that sharks have never attacked human beings.

For the love of god, you can't blame people for
not answering the question CBS should have asked!

Posted by: Christopher on January 13, 2011 at 5:37 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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