Josh Marshall presents this TPM clip of Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmannof of Minnesota having what Josh calls "a rabid fear-mongering anti-Obama tear" showing "all her right-wing madhattery". And the clip he presents is kooky enough. But I wonder if Josh realizes the intensity of the ugliness this kind of thing shows.
Some people think Chris Matthews tore her apart. Not true. He was far too polite. He didn't challenge her: he just asked a few pointed questions and let her rant and rant and rant.
Why has the word "McCarthyism" seem to have disappeared from the liberal vocabulary this year? This is a virtually pure example of what the term "McCarthyism" meant in the 1950s, guilt-by-association rants trying to connect a political opponent to illegal, criminal or subversive activity or ideology by drawing false conclusions from real or even manufactured associations.
This is one thing that makes Dave Neiwert's continuing work on rightwing extremist groups so valuable. His reporting is a great example of how to draw meaningful conclusions from a person's political associations. And the same approach could be applied to other groups, whether it's far-left, radical Muslim, Christianist, or cult groups.
To take a non-political example, if I have a neighbor that I know by name because I've met him at a block party and he turns out to be a swindler, that association doesn't connect me with his illegal activities. If I've gone on joint family vacations with him and sponsored him for membership in the local Rotary Club, that might make people legitimately curious about my personal judgment. If I own a 40% stake in the company he used to defraud people and his marks all turned out to be people I had referred to him, well, I could be in a bit of legal trouble.
Here is a video of Dave appearing on CNN discussing his and Max Blumenthal's investigative reporting on the White Princess and the far-right, neo-Confederate Alaska Independence Party (AIP).
But "guilt by association," by definition, involves an entirely irrelevant association (which describes the William Ayers "connection" to a T). Palin's associations with the "Patriot" right, however, are entirely relevant, because they reflect directly on her conduct as a public official and her judgment. They also, I should add, reflect on a deeper level the kind of right-wing populism she's been indulging in recent weeks.
When I hear something like Michele Bachmannof's rant to Matthews, it reminds me so much of growing up in a small town in Mississippi, where you would sometimes have people tell you the most preposterous things about politics or race and actually expect you to take it seriously. It gives me what I think of as a mind-warp feeling, where I realize that there is just something disturbingly weird about the thought process behind it.
Joe McCarthy: the Republican Party is his now
But it's also another example of how far crackpot extremism has migrated into the Republican Party mainstream.
I've tried to stress here the difference between meaningful associations and irrelevant or non-meaningful ones. Particularly when dealing with groups like the AIP or Christian Right groups that specifically encourage their members and supporters to secretly infiltrate groups with more benign programs and reputations.
It occurs to me in this regard that Obama in his experience as an Alinski-style organizer probably developed a good sense for groups that would try to "infiltrate" an organizing effort to try to take it over and make it into a front group for someone else.
Let me pause for a "full disclosure" here. Cesar Chavez, the famous Latino leader of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, was trained in the Saul Alinski organizing method, which was also used extensively by the UFW. I worked for several intense months as a community organizer for the UFW doing fundraising and organizing political support groups in urban areas. I was also trained in the Alinski organizing method. And I will also say, I was pretty darn good at it.
And, for those like Bachmannof who think that association with "Alinsky" organizaing techniques means I'm anti-American or pro-terrorist or whatever, I'll just say: Bite me.
Here in the real world, one of the criticisms of the Alinsky approach that came from other liberal/left/labor groups was that it tends to be apolitical in the sense of avoiding larger ideological commitments. That doesn't mean a lot at that level of abstraction. But it does at the level of organizing a particular actions, say a community drive to open a new park. The Alinksy approaches stresses relying on your own group that you've organized because that way you can be sure that things are getting done the right way. So that if, say, the local Democratic club offers to distribute your leaflets about a public meeting in certain neighborhoods, the Alinsky organizer would be reluctant to do so. Because you couldn't be sure how thorough the other group would be in the distribution. But also because you would prefer to have direct contact with the participants yourself and integrate them into your own community organizing effort.
So it strikes me as particularly lamed-brained to try to lump Alinsky-style organizing in with something like the Weather Underground. It makes no real-world sense. It's an organizing technique with nothing inherently leftwing about it, except to the extent that liberal or left causes are more likely to need some kind of community organizing, as opposed to, say, a "movement" to eliminate taxes on stock dividends.
And if anything, it's a technique that stresses concrete, specific tasks to a degree that make ideological alliances unlikely, especially with groups that have highly ideological programs like "anti-imperialism" that aren't linked to attaining more immediate success. Alinski stressed the need to provide tangible results, e.g., the city council approves the park, a permit for a community center gets issued. This is not to say that no Alinski-trained organizers are ever highly ideological. But it is to say that the method puts a heavy emphasis on short-term, pragmatic results that make it especially problematic for ideological movements that aim at broad goals that aren't easily reduced to very tangible and immediate results.