Monday, May 03, 2010

False equivalence

Digby points in Alien Rule 05/02/10 to a recent example of Obama making some decent points in articulating a larger Democratic vision of positive government. But then stepping on it by trying to talk about the extremes of the right and the left.

Obama is facing a hardline Republican opposition that is encouraging crackpot extremist ideology in the form of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the Tea Party movement. On the fringes of their ideological argument is a terrorist militia movement that responds to many of the same issues that the Republicans emphasize but assume that if people like Glenn Beck and FOX News and members of Congress are talking about the feds coming to take their huntin' rifles and establish a Communist tyranny, that things must be way worse than even their paranoid fantasies supposed.

So on the fringe, we have an increasingly energized and openly violent terrorist element. We have a large segment of the public, inspired by Republican and Christian Right claims and responding to their leadership, who are increasingly hostile to science and are willing to swallow fact-free claims like Sarah Palin's "death panels" and can't distinguish Glenn Beck's absurd picture of the political world from the real thing. Nativism and white racism just manifested themselves in the Arizona SB1070 stop-and-search-the-brown-people law that is in practice a racially-targeted law like the Jim Crow laws in the segregated South.

And on the left we have: Keith Olbermann occasionally being stridently self-righteous. Health care advocates who think a public insurance option would be a good idea. Anonymous commenters on liberal blogs who compare Bush to Hitler.

There is just not a big problem with leftwing terrorism right now. If past history is a guide, someday we'll probably have a new version of the Black Liberation Army or Germany's Red Army Faction (RAF). There are some hardcore ecological and animal-rights groups now who may be inclined to commit violent acts or engage in cyber-sabotage of targeted corporations. But I haven't heard about anything lately along those lines actually occurring, except for Limbaugh's evidence-free speculation about the BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico that caused the current oil spill disaster being sabotaged by eco-terrorists.

In other words, in the United States right now there is a real, practical problem with anti-democratic, rightwing extremism with violent elements. There is no comparable level of problem on the left. Not even close.

So in this situation, to pretend that there are somehow equivalent problems with rightwing and leftwing extremism inevitably minimizes the real existing problem of rightwing extremism. Whether the false equivalence is coming from Obama or anyone else.

Paul Starr in Better Than Tea The American Prospect 05/03/10 recognizes that the Tea Party movement doesn't have a left-leaning equivalent. But, unfortunately, he seems completely clueless about what that means. He writes, astonishingly, "With millions unemployed and home foreclosures at record levels, the country is still suffering acutely from the recession's effects, yet the Tea Party is the only movement that can put thousands of people into the streets."

Except for, you know, people who do. Teresa Watanabe and Patrick McDonnell, L.A.'s May Day immigration rally is nation's largest Los Angeles Times 05/01/10:

Galvanized by Arizona's tough new law against illegal immigrants, tens of thousands of marchers took to the streets in Los Angeles on Saturday as the city led the nation in May Day turnout to press for federal immigration reform.

As many as 60,000 immigrants and their supporters joined a peaceful but boisterous march through downtown Los Angeles to City Hall, waving American flags, tooting horns and holding signs that blasted the Arizona law. The legislation, which is set to take effect in midsummer, makes it a crime to be in Arizona without legal status and requires police to check for immigration papers.

Though the crowd was roughly half as large as police had projected, it was the largest May Day turnout since 2006, when anger over federal legislation that would have criminalized illegal immigrants and those who aid them brought out more than 1 million protesters nationwide. Since then, most activists have deemphasized street actions in favor of change at the ballot box through promoting citizenship and voter registration.

But this year is different. Outrage over the Arizona law, continued deportations and frustration over congressional delay in passing federal immigration reform prompted activists nationwide to urge massive street protests on this traditional day of celebrating workers' rights.
Demonstrations are one manifestation of political movements, though not the only ones. It's a little anachronistic to measure the strength of a movement by how successful they are putting "thousands of people into the streets." Still, if you're comparing movements by that measure, as Starr is, you should at least pay attention to the movements that actually are doing that.

Starr here reflects the Establishment media blinkers that led our celebrity pundits and reporters to pay rapt attention to anti-health care Tea Party demonstrators in Washington but ignore the far more numerous demonstration there in favor of comprehensive immigration reform in March: Clement Tan and Don Lee, Big immigration march in Washington Los Angeles Times 03/22/10.

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