The Dartmouth Observer

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Saturday, August 03, 2002
How is Vijay Rao like Neville Chamberlain?

Both appease in the name of moderation! After all, as Barry Goldwater said, extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. In fact, MY GOD, our country was founded on the words of great men like Tom Paine, who in his 'Common Sense' called George III a tyrant. Our political debates were much more heated in the early days of the republic. How dare you go against our founding principles by calling for moderation? It is un-American! Heh.

But seriously, to those of you who say there is too much name-calling and over-hyped rhetoric, I want to pose a question. Which side does more of it? The Democrats? The Republicans? Or are they both equally at fault? (And if they are not, why are you not condemning one side more than the other?) Conservatives have used over-hyped rhetoric in an unjustified manner to a much greater degree. I admit my viewpoint is not neutral and welcome refutations to this post.

When Tom Daschle questioned Bush handling of the war, prominent Republicans called him disgraceful and challenged his patriotism (and did not feel they needed even to argue this). The GOP's strategy includes trying to paint Tom Daschle as the devil. (remember the commercial in South Dakota comparing him to Saddam Hussein?) In contrast, look at how mild mannered Daschle is, which is why the Bush people probably see him as such a threat. Think of the abuse Hillary endured (but she really is a closet Marxist, right?) One episode of the McLaughlin group actually debated whether Bill Clinton was Satin. Andrew Sullivan referred to leftists as a "fifth column," a ridiculous contention when that group is composed of mainly radical, but harmless and non-violent, tenured professors. Sean Hannity stifles any reasoned dialogue about anyone who says anything slightly negative about Sharon.

Also, there's a distinction that an earlier poster (Brent, I believe) pointed out between the rhetoric used by the establishment left and right and the extreme left and right. One will of course find extreme rhetoric on the extremes (hence-the extremes). Has any prominent Democrat called Ashcroft or Bush a fascist? I'm not certain, but I suspect the New York Times editorial board does not compare Ashcroft to Hitler.

Also, look how the debate is skewed rhetorically to the 'right' on issues like the pledge of allegiance: Almost everyone, Republican or democrat lines up to condemn a reasonable court ruling that arguably follows from precedent. You may disagree with the decision, but it's hardly as ridiculous as Bush (and many, many Democrats) make it out to be. In the 1988 elections, Bush 41 and many Republicans (including, I believe, John McCain) claimed or implied Dukakis was unpatriotic for vetoing a law that would have made it MANDATORY for all students to stand for the pledge of allegiance. Another case in point: Newt Gingrich and the right have continually demonized government and welfare mothers and all those communist Democrats who want to destroy your freedoms. Many on the right were too close to McCarthy for my taste all throughout the cold war in implying that Democrats were communist sympathizers. More extreme wing-nuts say income tax is akin to slavery, an oh-so subtle understanding of our 'peculiar institution.' Now of course there is rhetoric on the left. It's just amazing to me how little there actually is compared to conservative rhetoric of the past years and how successful elected conservatives have been in coarsening the dialogue.

Maybe you think demonizing government and welfare mothers is justified. Maybe you think The Dartmouth Review 'tells the truth' (and sometimes it does!) and is not extreme in some of its statements. I would say, yes, you can make that argument. But then you are making a political argument as to what is moderate and what is extreme. (Oh, and I might ask Vijay how he squares his call for moderation with having been listed as a Review contributor.) Part of the debate is defining what is moderate. Defending freedom can arguably mean we have to take to task the enemies of freedom. I'm certainly not willing to rule out that view with pious unsupported declarations.

Of course one can overboard in the Nazi references, but not all references like that are illegitimate. I will argue it is defensible to say that Ashcroft IS close to acting in a fascist manner. I do not think that is rhetoric; I think that is defensible if one means that Ashcroft is locking up U.S. citizens (and non-citizens) without trial or possibility of court review and thereby destroying any right of habeas corpus making the basis for freedom almost meaningless. If the President claims the sole power to indefinitely detain someone, anyone, on the basis that he has declared them an enemy combatant, that had elements of fascism (or something that is the opposite of freedom). And then there is the refusal of the Justice Department to rule out detaining Arabs in the style of Manzanar (check out the latest Village Voice). Maybe all this is not fascism, but the people would certainly be right to be reviled over this scary stuff. I get scared when, in response to Bill Maher's comments that the Sept. 11 hijackers were not cowards, Bush's spokesperson says that people should watch what they say. And don't forget the TIPS program, where postal workers and government employers are meant to report suspicious activities to the Justice Department: even some conservatives say that having our citizens spy on each other makes us too similar to the communist societies we defeated in the Cold War. I am a little frightened where we are heading. Could it be in a fascist direction, even if the actions today are not properly labeled fascist? If Ashcroft is not a fascist, it's not too unfair to call his actions eerily close to that for anyone who has an appreciation of liberty. Is that extreme? Or just calling it as one sees it?

Maybe you disagree, but argue about it. Don't pretend a call for less politics does not have political implications. Granted, rhetoric can be egregiously misused, but it can also combat abuses. We arguably need more outrage to stop these outrages from taking place and if that takes the form of rhetoric, so be it. That's a question of tactics. But in the spirit of (im)moderation, I will admit that there is a way in which Bush and company are not fascists: At least the fascists could claim they also made the trains run on time rather than cashing out their stock options just in time to take the train out of town. (Oh, and I hope my old friend Vijay does not mind a little ribbing!)