Monday, January 11, 2010

Polarization: What is Disloyalty?

As I have said before, democracy begins to unravel when polarization reaches the point that some parties place winning before loyalty to the democratic rules of the game. The loyal opposition, in other words, becomes disloyal. New Zealand's Paul Buchanan believes that we are getting there fast. By disloyal opposition, he means not only the Republican party establishment in and out of Congress, but the broader opposition such as Fox News, talk radio, Tea Parties, etc.

But what does it mean to break the democratic rules of the game? Does one have to resort to actual illegality, or can one remain within the letter of the law and still be "disloyal"? Buchanan believes that "loyalty" requires not only obedience to the law, but to unwritten norms as well. The difference is whether one regards the party in power as an adversary or an enemy, and politics as a high stakes game or war. He gives the example of opposition to the Allende government in Chile as an example of disloyalty, although his example is not very illuminating. As examples of disloyalty, he cites refusing to pass any laws at all and organizing hostile strikes and demonstration (hardball, sometimes extremely so, but legal), as well as arming and financing right-wing paramilitaries and negotiating with the army for a coup (illegal).

Needless to say, neither Republicans, nor Tea Partiers, nor Fox News are organizing paramilitaries or negotiating for a coup. If disloyalty = illegality, then we still have a hardball but loyal opposition. But Buchanan believes the US context sets the bar for disloyalty a good deal lower, to encompass such acts as refusing to engage in any meaningful negotiations on healthcare or finance reform, shouting liar during an address to Congress, crowing that the US was not allowed to host the Olympics, openly expressing hope Obama fails, overheated denunciations, paranoid rumors receiving encouragement, Tea Parties, flirtation with Birthers, condoning people showing up at demonstrations armed, encouraging stockpiling of weapons in anticipation of a gun ban, and encouraging military insubordination.

Buchanan sees these things as each tolerable each in isolation, but signs of disloyalty when seen in combination because they seek to delegitimize the Obama presidency. I, by contrast, see these things as qualitatively different. (In fact, while Buchanan lists these acts randomly, I have listed them in what I consider escalting order of severity). To refuse to negotiate on a piece of legislation you deem dangerous is not disloyalty. Nor is it disloyalty to block innocuous legislation as a bargaining chip. Shouting liar is merely bad manners. Hostile demonstrations are, after all, an accepted feature of American politics. Also accepted features are a great deal of spin and cherry picking, a certain amount of unrealistic or exagerated fear, and some fibs.

Telling flagrant lies and whipping up paranoia and hysteria are a good deal more dangerous. I refer, of course, to everything from Sarah Palin's talk of "death panels" to Republicans' reluctance to repudiate the "birthers" to some of the more overheated signs at Tea Parties to the nonsense Glenn Beck spouts on Fox News. The United States has had a paranoid right wing for a long time. portions of the paranoid right may fairly be described as disloyal even if their actions are strictly peaceful and lawful. (I'm thinking of you, John Birch Society).

The paranoid right has long had a few representatives in Congress, and mainstream Republicans have not always been able to fully dissociate themselves from it. But even if the paranoid right has a toehold in power, we have survived just fine by keeping it from getting any more. It is different altogether for the paranoid right to capture (or be near to capturing) a major political party, or for its more paranoid fantasies to be broadcast on a major news network to the broad general public. Telling willful and flagrant lies for political advantage may be classified as disloyalty, but at some point lies stop being lies and the leaders who tell them begin believing their own propaganda. What we face is a large portion of the general public and a major political party becoming completely unmoored from objective reality. That is not disloyalty so much as derangement.

Finally, there is the matter of people agitating for political violence. The good news here is that they remain marginalized (at least so far). We have not (so far) seen anything like the rise of militias of the sort that occurred under Bill Clinton. Nor are we seeing the sort of romanticization of political violence that occurred under Clinton. To the contrary, violence is (almost) uniformly rejected as illegitimate. The Republican base emphatically rejects any suggestion that today's overheated rhetoric could escalate into actual violence as a liberal slander. In the 1990's, many militia types hailed Al Capone as a capitalist hero who knew the value of the right to keep and bear arms. When Glenn Beck compares Obama to Al Capone today, he means it as condemnation.

And while the militia movement (and some mainstream libertarians) romanticized political violence and the value of an armed citizenry in the 1990's, I never recall their basic assumptions being challenged. People argued whether the militia movement was racist, but I don't recall anyone saying, like liberal columnist EJ Dionne, "Free elections and open debate are not rooted in violence or the threat of violence. They are precisely the alternative to violence, and guns have no place in them." Or ultra-libertarian Justin Raimondo, "The whole point of even attending such a gathering, or, indeed, any sort of rational discussion about anything, is that we leave our guns—embodying the possibility of coercion—outside the door. We forsake force, and rely solely on our persuasive powers to get our point across."

Of course, in the 1990's, protestors were not actually showing up wearing guns.



Anonymous Preston said...

So maybe the Brit, Neil Sankey can succeed where the Russian immigrant (from the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic) has failed, bring it on.

Poor little Birthers (still in denial about their losses), Judge Land and now judge Carter, smack down the crazies (case dismissed).

Not even “Fake News” Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly believes the crazies, how funny.

To all the birthers in La, La Land, it is on you to prove to all of us that your assertion is true (TOUGH WHEN YOU KEEP LOSING CASES), if there are people who were there and support your position then show us the video (everyone has a price), either put up or frankly shut-up. I heard Orly Taitz, is selling a tape (I think it’s called “Money, Lies and Video tape”). She is from Orange County, CA, now I know what the mean when they say “behind the Orange Curtain”, when they talk about Orange County, the captial of Conspiracy Theories. You know Obama has a passport, he travel abroad before he was a Senator, but I guess they were in on it.

In my opinion the Republican Party has been taken over the most extreme religious right (people who love to push their beliefs on others while trying to take away the rights of those they just hate) and that’s who they need to extract from their party if they real want to win. Good Luck, because as they said in WACO, “We Ain’t Coming Out”.

I wonder if she is a mail order bride, just like her law degree? She is perfect reporter material for “Fake News”, where unfounded rumors and innuendo reign supreme , unlike a our US courts of law, where you need to present documented facts, not half baked lies (prepare for more failures).

A lawyer, dentist, realtor and black belt, WOW I must say a JACK of all trades master of none

I heard that she now wants to investigate the “Republican 2009 Summer of Love” list: Assemblyman, Michael D. Duvall (CA), Senator John Ensign (NV), Senator Paul Stanley (TN), Governor Mark Stanford (SC), Board of Ed Chair, and Kristin Maguire AKA Bridget Keeney (SC). She wants to re-establish a family values party.

I can only hope that Taitz will resist the state collectors that will be hounding her like the “ruff ruff” that she is to collect the $20K.

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