Having pronounced herself proud of her country for the first time in decades at several campaign rallies, Michelle Obama (now with fabulous new eyebrows!) explained her surge of patriotic zeal: “What we have learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback.” Her husband repeatedly implored voters to reject the “politics of fear” that had been so fiendishly foisted upon the country after 9/11. The November election marked a dramatic and historic departure from the old way of doing things, as hope had vanquished fear. But with Democrats firmly ensconced behind the levers of power in Washington, fear is making a comeback of its own.
It all started with the silly Rush Limbaugh kerfuffle. During one of their daily conference calls, an elite group of liberals—James Carville, Paul Begala, Rahm Emmanuel, and George Stephanopoulos—concluded that a public campaign to caricature Rush and brand him as the head of the Republican Party would pay political dividends. The Left, desperate for a new post-Bush enemy, promptly fell in line.
First, the President of the United States warned GOP Congressman to ignore the talk show host. Days later, CNN “analysts” Begala and Carville began pounding away at their freshly minted meme. Stephanopoulos dutifully put Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) on the spot during a Sunday morning interview, asking him about Rush’s influence over the party. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs then began taking regular potshots at Rush from the press room podium, and Left-wing media stooges piled on. Liberal talk show host Ed Schultz played clips from Rush’s CPAC speech on his show, interspersed with audio of Hitler speeches. Likening the conservative bogeyman du jour to Hitler? How creative, Ed! And courageous, of course. Schultz was rewarded with his own MSNBC program.
Although the strategy largely backfired by making the White House look petty while driving up Limbaugh’s ratings to all-time peaks, one must not does not discount the fact that a coordinated demonization effort had been launched—from the top down—against a private citizen.
Of course, these tactics come as no surprise to anyone who monitored the Obama campaign’s behavior throughout the fall. Among other endeavors, Team Obama: Tried to shut down and smear investigative journalist Stanley Kurtz for his research on Obama’s ACORN/Ayers connections, asked the Justice Department to prosecute an independent advocacy group for running a hard-hitting, but truthful, ad against Obama, and rifled through the personal life of an Ohio plumber after he tripped up candidate Obama with a straightforward question. Efforts to discredit, intimidate, and marginalize their opponents was very much part of their modus operandi.
With Operation Limbaugh fizzling, and Obama’s “crisis-to-catastrophe” stimulus rhetoric running its course, the Left needed a new source for fear-mongering. Thus, Richard Poplawski’s tragic shooting spree in Pittsburgh provided an important opportunity. Within hours of the bloodshed, journalists began wondering aloud whether Poplawski’s homicidal rage had been spurred on by a vague prevailing Right-wing anger. MSNBC’s David Schuster asked New York Times columnist Charles Blow, “who’s responsible for [the killings]? Is it this deranged guy, or how much a factor is the stuff that’s out there in the right-wing megaphone contributing to this?” Blow replied that while Poplawski’s trial would reveal more details, “What’s happening in that echo chamber is very dangerous…and I feel like if you’re gonna let these people ramble on, if they feel that’s a responsible way to use the platform they have, then that’s very unfortunate.”
CNN’s Rick Sanchez also pounced on the story, twisting it to make an ideological point. “That weekend tragedy involves a man who allegedly shot and killed three police officers in cold blood. Why? Because he was convinced, after no doubt watching Fox News and listening to right-wing radio, that quote, ‘Our rights were being infringed upon,’” he explained. No evidence of correlation, let alone causation, was presented. Just an unfounded, ugly assertion: The gunman simply must have been inspired, “no doubt,” by a handful of talk radio hosts and the cable network that regularly cleans Sanchez’s clock in terms of ratings.
The subtext of these media rants? Shut up, conservatives. You’re egging on madness and murder. This grotesquely cynical storyline broke through to an entirely new level earlier this week when Roger Hedgecock and the Liberty Papers uncovered a nine-page Department of Homeland Security file outlining the domestic “threat” of “right-wing extremist” groups.
Bear in mind that this department is part of an administration that refuses to call detained terrorists “enemy combatants,” and replaced the term “war on terror” with “overseas contingency operation.” Consider further that the leader of this specific department eschews the phrase “terrorist attack,” due to its inherent fear-inducing qualities. She prefers “man-caused disasters.”
Given DHS’ knack for describing demonstrable threats from Islamic terrorists with soothing, gentle language, it is jarring to leaf through the DHS report on the impending scourge of homegrown Right-wing violence. Who, pray tell, are these potential terrorists?
“Right wing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented…and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.” In other words, fanaticism may include, but is not limited to, pro-lifers, admirers of the tenth amendment, and those who support enforcing immigration laws. (Subsequent paragraphs add second amendment advocates to the list of haters).
Surely DHS has boatloads of evidence to support such inflammatory claims, no? Actually, “[DHS] has no specific information that domestic right wing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence, but [they] may be gaining new recruits by playing on fears about several emergent issues.” Got that? There’s absolutely no intelligence pointing to a single actual threat, but these nebulous groups may be gaining recruits. Chief among these unconfirmed new recruits are US Military Veterans. After all, Timothy McVeigh was ex-military, so why not cast suspicion on the many thousands of honorable troops coming home from the battlefield?
It is dangerous for the United States Department of Homeland Security to employ euphemistic language to tamp down public fears about non-imaginary Islamic terrorism. It is outright shameful for the very same department to conjure up new fears of potential domestic terrorism, which they say is likely to be perpetrated by our own returning veterans.
On the McVeigh point, the DHS report makes the same logical error—or intentional misrepresentation—that the mainstream journalists did when clamoring to blame the Pittsburgh killings on the Right-leaning media. It is not a persuasive argument to highlight the behavior of one crazy individual, whether he’s named Poplawski or McVeigh, and use it as an indictment of an entire political movement.
The Left angrily denounced the politics of “guilt by association” when Republicans dared to raise questions about Obama’s longtime relationships with racial demagogues and unrepentant terrorists during the campaign. But today they’re rallying to the cause, employing an intellectually dishonest strain of guilt by association aimed at scaring the public. They’re hoping to frighten average Americans by conjuring up images of militant right-wingers lashing out at random to satisfy their boiling rage, and they’re especially attempting to bully right-of-center Americans into hesitating, or self-censor themselves, before speaking out against the ruling class.
Although the details vary, the overarching message is consistent. To conservatives: Be quiet. Your political speech is irresponsible and might conceivably encourage violence. To other Americans: Be afraid of these borderline-insane people. Their ranting radio hosts and wild-eyed tea party/hate fests (“not really family viewing,” according to one CNN correspondent) are frightening and creepy.
Welcome back, fear. Hope, we hardly knew ye.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography