As we track the escalating number of incidents of right-wing fringers bringing guns to Obama events or other health create town hall events, we are, unsurprisingly, seeing various conservative websites mocking the public concern. “Oh, those Dems, they go all wobbly just because a few upstanding citizens show up with legal firearms.” Call it the new girly-manism, it’s a sign that Democrats are so many political panty-waists because they’ve never seen the gun culture up close or just get easily rattled.
It’s true that there are some regional divergences at work here. Weapons just don’t get carried around in public in say New Jersey or Connecticut the way they do in the South or especially the west.
But let’s be honest about what this is about. The right — the modern American right — has a very troubled history with political violence. The ideological pattern is clear going back at least thirty years and arguably far longer. A simple review of the 1990s, particularly 1993, 1994, culminating in many respects in the tragic 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal building in April 1995 tells the tale. Mix in the militias, the thankfully inept attempt on President Clinton’s life a few months before Oklahoma City (see Francisco Duran) and it’s all really not a pretty picture.
One moment stands out clearly in my mind. Back in the early days of the Bush administration, Mickey Kaus had a typically contrarian post in which he suggested that with the rising tide of animosity on the left toward President Bush it was only a matter of time before we saw the outcropping of political violence on the left, to parallel what we’d seen from the right with the Clinton-hatred of the mid-1990s. (Perhaps someone can dig up the post? Late Update: Found.) It was a typically Kausian post, not only for its strained contrarianism but more for its complete failure of predictive value. And the failure of anything in parallel to arise was even more telling because antipathy toward President Bush really did become entrenched, inflamed and profound. Far more than I would have imagined at the outset.
Now, I know we’ll likely get emails from right-wingers pointing out some animal rights activists who freed a bunch of gerbils, another fellow whose tires got slashed and no doubt a host of people with backwards Bs scrawled on their cheeks. But I think we all know the story here.
This isn’t a matter of fear, though like all patriotic Americans we react strongly to veiled threats against our legitimately elected president. It’s really more in the mode of the concern you show an old — perhaps estranged — friend or relative with a chronic alcohol problem or maybe one who just can’t kick the crack pipe and always has it hovering in the background — a threat to their well-being in moments of stress but also a constant temptation.
In a way you want to help. But mainly — and at the end of the day — you don’t want to let their personal demons drag the whole family down.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: the American right has a deep-seated problem with political violence. It’s deep-seated; it’s recurrent and it’s real. And it endangers the country. It just makes sense to say something the first time they hit the sauce and not wait for things to get really out of hand.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.