Last year, James Porter, the recently-elected president of the National Rifle Association, declared that President Obama was a “fake president …[whose] entire administration is anti-gun, anti-freedom, anti-Second Amendment.”
Earlier this month, Adam Kokesh, a failed Republican candidate for Congress from Arizona and Internet talk show host, declared he would lead a July 4 march in Washington, D.C. of thousands of followers with loaded rifles slung across their backs as a demonstration against “tyranny.”
District law bars private citizens from carrying firearms in public, and city police officials have said they won’t permit such a march. Kokesh said such action would show that “free people are not welcome in Washington, adding that “we would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.”
The bipartisan Congressional effort to craft an immigration bill exploded in controversy last week when it was revealed that, Jason Richwine, a co-author of a heavily-criticized study on the subject submitted by the conservative Heritage Foundation, had previously asserted it was unlikely “Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites” and that, despite their long existence in America, Black Americans have yet to adapt properly to American culture.
You can believe that these three expressions of conservative political opinion – and scores of other similar ones – are unconnected. But that would be exactly the wrong analysis.
If the first term of the Obama presidency proved anything about today’s American political culture, it showed conclusively that we live in an era of conservative extremism.
The assertion of extreme ideas and actions spewing from conservative elected officials, office-seekers, political operatives, talk show hosts and donors has become so commonplace that it’s sometimes difficult to gauge the depth of this GOP-led corrupting of the traditional practice of politics.
But this is how Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, two longtime and respected students of Washington governance, put it in an April 27, 2012 op-ed column for the Washington Post: “The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
The “old” American political tradition enshrined the “win-some-lose-some” notion of compromise as the only way a nation full of competing political, social and business interests (a nation that was from the beginning multiracial) could continue to exist.
Of course, no one knows better than Black Americans that for most of American history the White majority’s adherence to compromise cost them and other people of color dearly – because their rights were often “compromised” out of existence.
But they bore that burden for centuries because of their faith in the ultimate triumph of the American Ideal. Albeit slowly, the fruit of their labors and patience was that a critical segment of White Americans came to understand what democracy means.
It’s long been clear, however, that not all Americans – especially those on the right – want to accept that lesson.
There’s seemingly no end to the bizarre notions and tough-guy posturing and outright racism, sexism and homophobia that represent conservatism today. This nihilistic politics has underscored that conservatism is rooted in callousness, and the more it comes under pressure from the movement toward greater equality of opportunity, the more deranged it becomes.
Thus, as the three examples above show: The resort to conspiracy theories, especially those involving federal government “tyranny.” Concomitantly, the indulgence in fantasy notions of the lone-hero super White man, armed to the teeth and ready to preserve his I-made-it-all-myself “independence.” And, most of all, the designation of “enemies” who are, first, dehumanized – so they can be dealt with without mercy.
This perspective on the conservative movement’s unyielding obstructionism to anything President Obama proposes, whether it be legislative policies or appointees to the cabinet and federal judgeships, makes his achievements in office all the more impressive.
But it also indicates what grievous damage has been done to the president’s program – and to the American political tradition. In their Washington Post op-ed column of last year, Mann and Ornstein looked ahead to the November presidential election and ruefully predicted that no matter who won, “If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections.”
Unfortunately, they were right about that, too.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.