Guns, Extremism and Town Hall Protests

Kevin Glass
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Posted: Sep 02, 2009 12:14 AM

Megan McArdle had a great series of posts last week sort-of defending those protestors who have peacably brought guns to political rallies featuring President Obama. She then sat down to record an episode of Bloggingheads with Michelle Goldberg on this topic and others involving recent right-wing protests at political events.

One of the more interesting topics discussed at length was whether or not popular and (on the Left) controversial commentators like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are helping instill a "climate of violence" against the current Administration that might at some point lead to tragic violence.

Is this true? Or, more importantly, are right-wing commentators creating an atmosphere more violent than the Left used to when George W. Bush was in charge? Keith Olbermann said that Bush turned the Republican Party into the "leading terrorist group in this country." Ed Schultz wished for Dick Cheney to be "taken away to the promised land." Randi Rhodes analogized President Bush to the Godfather: "Someone should take him out fishing and... Bang!"

The easy argument to make, as Megan McArdle does, is that the out-of-power, in-the-wilderness GOP right now is very analogous to the out-of-power, in-the-wilderness Democrat party of 2003. Which I think is correct. Michelle Goldberg agrees with Megan that the Bush-as-Fascist crowd would have no culpability if someone had actually pulled the trigger in an assasination attempt on President Bush. She's not, however, willing to take the step to admit that the same goes the other way: that Glenn Beck and whoever else she may consider to be consituting a 'culture of violence' wouldn't be responsible in any way for an attempt on Obama's life.

McArdle:

"Does any of this sound oddly familiar? Wait a second . . . it'll come to you . . . yes, that's right, it's 2003 all over again!... The party in power is busy branding the opposition as something close to traitors... the opposition is staging increasingly freakish demonstrations, while the loud lunatic fringe starts looking for fascist jackboots and death squads behind every tree. The party labels have switched, but the vitriol, and the emotional tenor of the debate, seems very much the same. You'd think that the various players would have learned something from our last outing."

It seems that the political Left has delighted in playing a childish game of "your side is crazier than my side" while sensible conservative commentators have been quick to retort that the Left has been just as violent and come off just as crazy as recently as a few years ago. Or do I claim that conservatives are more sensible right now only because I'm on the objectively crazier side? Is Megan McArdle generally right in her equivalency of extremism on both sides of the debate?