Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Radical Right, The Extreme Right and The Republican Party

William E. Connolly
Johns Hopkins University

We have heard a lot lately, on the moderate media, about how it is time for leaders of the Republican Party to step forward, to exhibit enough courage to repudiate the extremism of the Tea Party, the language of violence peddled by Sarah Palin, Michel Bachmann, Sharron Angle and others, and the charges of Fascism and Socialism made against Barack Obama by Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh. 
The Republican leaders, they say, need to marshall “the courage” to call the extremists out. It is time to stop being “intimidated.” This language has emerged once again in the wake of the Arizona killings, and it is typically joined to ridiculous statements that both the Left and Right need to “tone down their rhetoric.” But there is a significant difference between radical rhetoric on the left or right and the extreme rhetoric of violence on the Right. This distinction is too often lost on those moderates who do not themselves speak out clearly enough against the language of violence. 
My concern today, however, is not with moderates (See Militant Pluralism and Exclusionary Extremism). It is with Republican Party leaders who refuse to oppose firmly the violent rhetoric of the extreme Right. Is it because, as moderates say, they lack courage? Or because, at some level, they identify and are protected by these same extremists? Sure, a few Republican leaders may lack courage, but it seems that a lot more are silent because their own radical fantasies of market purism, a small state, the absolute freedom to bear arms, and the reduction of “entitlement” programs is protected and buffered by the extreme Right. The extreme Right, in looking for a final battle to defeat the left and the middle, allows them to sound moderate. The extreme Right also provides the mobilization machine the radical Right solicits and needs.
The real situation is thus more disturbing and dangerous than moderates admit. A majority of Republican activists and leaders, joined by a large section of Republican Party followers, is attracted to the extreme ethos of the Tea Party, Limbaugh, Palin, Beck, Bachmann and the gang. Only they are too cautious to admit it directly because they fear that straight out admission would weaken them with Independents. That is a better explanation of the selective statements and silences in and around the Party since the election of Barack Obama. 
That is why the leaders are either silent when a political killing occurs, or explain away any connection between that killing and the violent rhetoric of the extreme right, or introduce a crude equivalence between the dissident left and the extreme right, even without identifying cases in which the first group deploys the language of violence or is involved in violence. 

For Examples of the Right's Violent Demonization of Liberals
These Videos Were Circulated Before the 2010 Midterms Under the Title
"America Rising" 
That is why they equate Sean Hannity with Keith Olbermann. That is why most celebrate an ever loosening of gun control laws; that is why they act as if “entitlement” programs are socialistic; that is why they campaign militantly against financial and corporate regulation in the name of a pure market that has never existed anywhere; that is why they speak in the name of a single, bellicose God for all Americans rather than a society of deep pluralism; that is why they resist unemployment insurance for the lower middle class; and that is why they push the filibuster envelope to the most extreme degree in the history of the country. 
Did you check out that recent Republican gathering when the leaders competed with each other to demonstrate who owns the most guns? What Republican leaders, today, call for gun control, even while they are happy to locate total responsibility for violence on a deranged individual who had ready access to a weapon with multiple clips capable of firing thirty shots at a clip?
So, we must distinguish between the radical Right and the extreme Right, while keeping alert to subterranean links between them. When the radical Right celebrates “the individual,” it also celebrates a predatory, unregulated market that places the lower and middle classes in a squeeze, promotes even more inequality, and periodically places the country and the world at the risk of collapse. 
At least four members of the Supreme Court are members of this radical Republican gang, too. They love to think of economic corporations as “persons,” while reducing the rights and protections available to regular people. They call themselves constitutional “originalists”–-only committed to following what the founders “intended”--while creatively reading the second and fourteenth amendments to support a world with more guns and more corporate power. 
They are “against judicial activism,” but ever so active in supporting the agenda of the radical Right and giving the extreme Right the armaments they seek. Several will vote against the mandatory provision in the recent health care legislation, but not because the constitution makes it necessary to do so. They will do so because they already support a radical version (or fantasy) of a minimally regulated market, without ever coming to terms with how minimally regulated markets generates crises over and over. 
The extreme right provides ideological cover for the radical, corporate, pure market, assault weapon supporting Right. with its eager embrace of state-corporate entanglements whenever it produces dividends for the rich. The radical right does not want to be touched by the dirty hands of the extreme right. But they don’t want to restrain or civilize it either. This is not because of a lack of courage. But because of a lack of integrity and care for the health and safety of a vast majority of the population.
It is time to stop talking about the need to generate courage among moderate Republicans. It is time, rather, for the moderate media to find the courage to define things as they are, even as the truth will bring down the wrath of the radical and extreme Right together. What is that truth? The radical Right of the Republican Party has fallen into an illicit love affair with the extreme Right attached to the same Party. Otherwise they would support significant gun control instead of handing weapons to the very same people they call “deranged individuals” once a killing occurs. They would also support effective programs for mental health in America, instead of leaving that issue “to the market.”



  1. This excellent post puts me in mind of a section of Joseph Crespino's book In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution (Princeton, 2007), on the Citizens' Council movement. (That section, incidentally, should be required reading for anyone interested in the most recent Haley Barbour kerfuffle: although Crespino was quoted in one widely reproduced story about the Barbour affair, it would have been better if the author had read this part of the book.) There, Crespino discusses the complicated dance through which the Councils, made up of of respected local businessmen and town leaders, would publicly distance themselves from racial violence, blaming it on working-class extremists, while privately encouraging and celebrating it. Crespino: "Whites who used violence against blacks knew that they could act with impunity thanks to friendly whites at the county courthouse. The comments of one Citizens' Council member reveal as much. When the local council chapter debated how best to handle threatened integration of the local public swimming pool, one of the town's respected leaders commented, 'I figure any time one of them gets near the pool, we can let some redneck take care of him for us'" (p. 26).

  2. Yes, Patchen, an apt comparison. Not identical, perhaps, because in this case it is not a conspiracy, but a set of understood affinities. William E. Connolly

  3. The photos add a element of reality to the piece that words often miss. James [midcan5]

  4. Radical Republicans in Congress now benefit from Tea Party "extremists," who make them look reasonable. However, this clandestine affair may play out in ways that will be problematic for many Congressional Republicans, who are as much corporatist as free market types. They use free market rhetoric to resist unemployment compensation, minimum wage etc. but are more than willing to bail out large investment banks. The original Paulson bailout required a coalition of corporatist Democrats and Republicans to outvote left Democrats and libertarian Republicans like Ron Paul. The House now appears to have more of the Ron Paul Republicans. Son Rand Paul has threatened to stall debt ceiling legislation in the Senate, where delay tactics have been increasingly prevalent. The Tea Party is insisting that the debt ceiling not be raised and that the Fed be held more accountable and stop bailing the big banks. Failure to raise the debt ceiling or save key banks could create fiscal chaos. If they gain sufficient leverage on this, many Congressional Republicans may have a problem with their Tea Party "allies." I’d bet on some kind of face saving compromise for both sides, but it is far from certain. If the debt ceiling is stalled or some big banks really allowed to fold absent any intervention, it would be hard to guess who would gain from the fiscal/political chaos that might result.

  5. Yes, John, good points. I think of neoliberalism as an amalgam of free market and corporate elements, with some parties focusing more on one than the other. That is why they pay little attention to the authoritarian, internal operations of corporations, or in most cases, to their size. That is why, also, Foucault can link neoliberalism to biolpolitics, while he sees less of it in classical market societies. It is a potentially unstable combination of forces, but they are continually drawn back together--in alliance with many evangelical market types, out of common opposition to health care, unemployment, corporate regulation, state involvement in climate change, etc., etc. It is a powerful machine with internal tensions. Thanks for your points. William E. Connolly