Political Animal


December 28, 2012 3:32 PM The No-Government Lobby

By Ed Kilgore

Need more evidence that today’s conservatives have drifted from a relativistic “let’s rein in government excess” to an absolutist “let’s gut government” posture? Check out this quote from right-wing war horse Michael Medved from a Daily Beast column:

As Washington staggers into a new year, one side of the political spectrum polarizes and paralyzes all ongoing debates due to its irrational reliance on a higher power.
The problem isn’t religious conservatives and their abiding faith in God; it’s mainstream liberals and their blind confidence in government.
Consider the current dispute over the right response to gun violence. At its core, this argument comes down to a visceral disagreement between relying on self-defense or on government protection. Gun-rights enthusiasts insist that the best security for law-abiding citizens comes from placing formidable firearms into their hands; gun-control advocates believe we can protect the public far more effectively by taking guns away from as many Americans as possible. In other words, conservatives want to address the threat of gun violence by giving individuals more power while liberals seek to improve the situation by concentrating more power in the hands of the government. The right preaches self-reliance while the left places its trust in the higher power of government.

Penetrate, if you can, the standard cant this passage utilizes and think about what the man is actually saying: it’s idolatrous of progressives to insist that government perform one of its bottom-line, core responsibilities: maintaining as strict a monopoly as possible on the use of deadly force. Why do we have government to begin with? To protect law-abiding citizens from those who would deploy violence to threaten life and property, right? Maybe not, if your position is that “self-reliance” requires individuals to serve as their own police force.

Misguided as they may be, those who are arguing in the wake of the Newtown massacre that we should place armed cops in public schools at least understand that civilized societies try very hard to protect citizens via public institutions, not by legitimizing vigilantes or leaving everyone to their own peace-keeping. If that’s “concentrating more power in the hands of government,” then it’s hard to imagine what kind of government Medved wants. And it’s particularly ironic since Medved is so famously enthusiastic for the uninhibited use of government violence overseas.

Medved gets around this contradiction with a familiar maneuver:

The same dynamic characterizes most of today’s foreign-policy and defense debates. Right-wingers passionately proclaim the ideal of “peace through strength,” arguing that a powerful, self-confident America with dominant military resources remains the only guarantee of national security. Progressives, on the other hand, dream of multilateral consensus, comprehensive treaties, disarmament, grand peace deals, and vastly enhanced authority for the United Nations. Once again, liberals place a touching and naive faith in the ideal of a higher power—potential world government—while conservatives insist that the United States, like any nation, must ultimately rely only on itself.

Suddenly, the scary government liberals worship by suggesting it should regulate guns becomes an individual when it comes to national defense. The Pentagon, it seems, is Uncle Sam, exhibiting “self-reliance” against the foolishness of treaties or alliances or other harbingers of “potential world government.”

As is often the case with fanatics, it’s unclear whether Medved actually buys his own rhetoric, or thinks his readers and listeners are very dim children. But in arguing that gun control is inherently totalitarian while glorying in military adventures, he’s hardly alone.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • sjw on December 28, 2012 3:41 PM:

    "Fanatics" is the correct word: what we're talking about here is anarchism. Medved, the tea partiers, and other ultra-right wingers are anarchists, pure and simple.

  • Josef K on December 28, 2012 3:42 PM:

    The problem isnít religious conservatives and their abiding faith in God; itís mainstream liberals and their blind confidence in government.

    The whole "government is the problem" schtick looks like it will be the only enduring legacy of Ronald Reagan. Its also probably the most positive one he can claim, which is pretty sad when you consider it.

  • boatboy_srq on December 28, 2012 3:59 PM:

    Gun-rights enthusiasts insist that the best security for law-abiding citizens comes from placing formidable firearms into their hands

    Y'know, it's defensible to say that, because Adam Lanza didn't shoot anyone before this December, the above approach applied to him, too, because prior to his rampage he was a law-abiding citizen like any other.

    The problem comes when people who heretofore have been law-abiding citizens wake up on that one day when they aren't. And the problem that follows that is whether any third citizen (not the next one but the one after), encountering the first one, is going to have the time to consider whether law-abiding citizen #2 might have been in the right when s/he shot previously-law-abiding citizen #1.

    There's a quaint naivete among the right-to-shoot crowd that the Righteously Armed Citizen is granted absolute and correct understanding of Right and Wrong, and the mandate to pass judgment on same, by sheer virtue of his/her Righteously Armed Citizenship. Those in favor of reducing the capabilities of an armed citizenry do so out of bitter (perhaps cynical) awareness that the Righteously Armed Citizen is an illusion, and that any of us is capable of using said arms in decidedly uncitizenlike ways.

    It's been said that Conservatism is driven by pessimism about the nature and tendencies of humans: this insistence on the absolute nature (and mandate) of the 2nd Amendment proves yet again that the Reichwing has abandoned conservatism in favor of something far more radical.

  • boatboy_srq on December 28, 2012 4:12 PM:

    @Josef K: As usual, the Reichwing has it backwards. It's not "blind confidence in government," but bitter and well-supported distrust in the private citizen's (or private business') inability to do wrong. It isn't that liberals trust government - it's that liberals are skeptical of the unwavering, totally consistent capacity of the individual to act with full understanding of circumstances in a legal, moral and appropriate manner, and turn to the public sector as the least ineffective authority to constrain the times when the individual fails at that capacity. Once upon a time this was the conservative position as well.

  • wvmcl on December 28, 2012 4:53 PM:

    Hey - why not just abolish the laws against murder? Think how much that would enhance your individual freedom. You could just knock off anybody you'd like to get rid of (I can sure think of a few).

  • c u n d gulag on December 28, 2012 5:03 PM:

    Let me ask, after what we've seen for the past 20 years, and especially the last 4, how many people out there are still against "Secession?"

    We are two completely different countries.
    There is no longer any middle ground.

    When one party considers the military strength of this country to far supercede it's economic strength - as if those two don't go hand-in-hand - and are willing to let this country fall into complete disrepair, through that parties political Anarchy and Nihilism, how do we co-exist as one, "United States of America?"

    I eagerly await people's responses.

  • Quaker in a Basement on December 28, 2012 5:17 PM:

    Suddenly, the scary government liberals worship by suggesting it should regulate guns becomes an individual when it comes to national defense.

    That is odd, isn't it?

    Many of the founders, both of the union and individual states, argued for the right to bear arms to protect against an overbearing government. Most of these same folks warned of the dangers of a government that maintains a standing army. It's a mystery how those who fashion themselves "originalists" can celebrate individual ownership of guns AND a massive permanent military.

  • John Hill on December 28, 2012 5:23 PM:

    The war of all against all. I thought conservatives knew all about Hobbes and stuff.

  • N.Wells on December 28, 2012 5:50 PM:

    I'm anticipating that the gun nuts are going to push for a revised 2nd Amendment: "Armed mayhem being necessary for the defense of personal belongings in a free society, bazookas and suitcase nukes shall be provided to all citizens above the age of five, for defensive purposes only* (*including feeling threatened by people of darker skin than one's own, but not the reverse).

    More seriously, the gun enthusiasts have been watching way too many movies. I've lived in societies where everyone is armed to the teeth, and in societies where guns are strictly controlled and not even the police are armed, and the latter are much safer.

  • Rick B on December 28, 2012 5:55 PM:

    @cund, rather soon now the panicked old white people who feel their birthright of social dominance has been stolen from them will die off. Even here in Texas. And the kids who are growing up to replace them have no clue how people could go so massively wrong as the tea baggers have.

    Right now there is a complete social subsociety wrapped around those panicked old people. FOX and talk radio lie to them and spread fear (think the harry and louise ads and fear of (Mexican) immigrants) {as if America hasn't had over 200,000 temporary workers coming in to the U.S. every years since the Chinese and Japanese workers were excluded a century ago - It wasn't against any law until the 1983 amnesty law made it a civil offense to be in the U.S. illegally)

    The evangelical preachers building mega churches need the money that the frightened white social class controls to pay for their religious empires, so they demagogue. They also demand home schooling so that the new generation coming up won't realize how stupid they really are.

    And the Republican Party really needs the wars and government contracts (usually sole source, or designed to be one by a specific company)

    Anarchy? Sure the conservatives want anarchy. That keeps the rubes from organizing and taking the corporations exploiting them down. Can you imagine the residents of low-income minority neighborhoods organizing to lick out the sub-prime lenders and other exploiters? It's just like the right-to-work laws designed to neuter the power of unions and eliminate a feeling of community among the exploited people. Hooray for Anarchy! Just pick off one or two leaders, call them rabble rousers, prevent new organizations from forming, and continue to exploit the remainder with pawnshops, liquor stores, over-prices used car loans designed to cause you to default and lose the car before you can pay for it, and if that doesn't work, thrown in payday loans and Refund Anticipation Loans at 500% per year interest.

    America has become a nation of an exploiter class and a much larger and unorganized exploited class. And the middle class hasn't woken up to realize that they are not on the "exploiter" side!

    The military people who came out of WW II were called the Greatest Generation. And they were. They had banded together against common foes in Japan and Europe and fought a world wide war to successfully defeat them. Then they came home and banded together to build a truly dynamic nation.

    But their kids did not see that it was working in groups and getting real educations, together with a powerful central federal government that stopped the local exploiters from raiding the community for prey that achieved all those things. The most dynamic of the kids bought the Reagan myth that it was all about individual success and rewards and letting the weak sink into the morass ignored. There is a reason the military teaches us to never leave anyone behind. It protects us all and makes the groups stronger and more effective, again benefiting us all. Conservatives off nothing that can match belonging to such groups, so the conservative want to destroy them. And they have been succeeding.

    But the ancient white uber-class is dying off and the kids coming up together with the immigrants from Mexico will rebuild a strong nation here, beginning very soon. Politics will be the last place this shows up, because today's politicians come from the last generation's power centers. Look at Paul Ryan.

    You are right that military strength comes from social strength and organization. Conservatives with their Ayn Randian individualist philosophy create nothing except a nation of prey to be plundered by the wealthy and powerful who inherited their wealth and power.

    Anarchy, nihilism, libertarianism and conservatism are America's biggest enemies, larger even than global warming.

    America needs a return of the inheritance ta

  • Doug on December 28, 2012 7:28 PM:

    "...it's unclear whether Medved buys his own rhetoric..." Ed Kilgore

    My money is on: Yes, he does. Anyone able to put such insanity into words has purposely blinded himself to reality. Petty, bullying, childishness wrought into "policy"? If the results of such policies as he advocates weren't so horrendous, I'd feel sorry for him and what he must have suffered during his Middle School years.
    Obviously, acne was the least of his problems...

  • Prof B in L.A. on December 28, 2012 7:42 PM:

    Yes, he believes it.

    Yes, he thinks his readers are morons.

    Medved wouldn't be able to write this if he didn't know that this tired, "the left believes in unicorns" type of bullshit sells because the Right believes it. Their inability to see that it is they who are the kumbayah party is staggering in its lack of self-awareness. "If only" everyone were armed, "if only the Free Market were free, "if only" government went away -- it would be the pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow.

    And don't get me started on the irony of "self-reliance" among people who pray for "blessings" on their choices of lottery numbers to an invisible man in the sky whose principal claim to divine fame is that he magically raped a homeless Jewish woman, impregnating her after having arranged a hit in the future on the "unborn child."

  • jjm on December 28, 2012 8:09 PM:

    The tea partiers and the right wing GOPers have already loudly proclaimed that they hate government and want to see it fail.

    Why are they not being prosecuted as literal 'enemies of the state'?

  • ChristianPinko on December 28, 2012 8:26 PM:

    Ed, freedom is when children are massacred at school. Tyranny is when Michael Medved has to wait seven days to receive a gun.

  • pterosonus on December 29, 2012 11:23 AM:

    Peggers Noonan is at least supremely and unintentionally hilarious in her shallow pomposity. Michael Medved is just a stone cold idiotic pain in the ass. How did he morph from being the world's worst movie critic to being the world's worst pundit?

  • buckyor on December 29, 2012 1:03 PM:

    Medved is to intellectuals what Elmer Fudd is to hunters.

  • rational anarchist on December 29, 2012 9:04 PM:

    When you have seconds to respond to an attack, government is only 20 minutes away.