The most prominent Conservative public intellectual in America weighs in on the tragedy in Tucson tragedy.
The Politicized MindThe argument Mr. Brooks makes is succinct and clear: unless you can draw a direct, causal relationship between a particular word or phrase or image and a particular act of violence, at worse you are being "shamelessly irresponsible". At best, "completely irrelevant".
These accusations — that political actors contributed to the murder of 6 people, including a 9-year-old girl — are extremely grave. They were made despite the fact that there was, and is, no evidence that Loughner was part of these movements or a consumer of their literature. They were made despite the fact that the link between political rhetoric and actual violence is extremely murky. They were vicious charges made by people who claimed to be criticizing viciousness.
Yet such is the state of things. We have a news media that is psychologically ill informed but politically inflamed, so it naturally leans toward political explanations. We have a news media with a strong distaste for Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement, and this seemed like a golden opportunity to tarnish them. We have a segmented news media, so there is nobody in most newsrooms to stand apart from the prevailing assumptions. We have a news media market in which the rewards go to anybody who can stroke the audience’s pleasure buttons.
I have no love for Sarah Palin, and I like to think I’m committed to civil discourse. But the political opportunism occasioned by this tragedy has ranged from the completely irrelevant to the shamelessly irresponsible.
The good news is that there were a few skeptics, even during the height of the mania: Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast, James Fallows of The Atlantic and Jonathan Chait of The New Republic. The other good news is that the mainstream media usually recovers from its hysterias and tries belatedly to get the story right.
In other words, the only case Mr. Brooks will accept is the "Manchurian Candidate": a specific trigger causing a particular result.
But of course, no responsible person would ever try to make such a case.
Instead, the case the responsible Left is making (and has been making since the 1960s) is that in order to grow and prosper, Mr. Brooks' Conservative Movement has created an immersive culture of vicious, violent, reckless, eliminationist language, iconography and actions that:
- Is continually pushed in a coordinated way in virtually every Conservative journal, book, teevee show, radio program and pulpit.
- Rewards those who constantly up the crazy.
There is no way to look at the rise of Beck and Hannity and Coulter and Levin and Savage and Gingrich and Falwell and Dobson and all the rest and pretend otherwise.
There is no way to look at a political Party that has made Rush Fucking Limbaugh its kingmaker and Sarah Palin its heir-presumptive and pretend otherwise.
There is no way to look back on the 1990s as a decade which was
- Poisoned by hysterical, violence-laced Conservative anti-government, anti-Left, anti-Clinton rhetoric and,
- Incised into our cultural history by the bombing of a federal building by a right-wing anti-government terrorist, the feting of Conservative extremist Rush Limbaugh for being the "Majority Maker" who led the Conservative takeover of Congress, and the impeachment of a Democratic President by Conservative extremist officeholders...
This is a pretty fair (if dramatic) picture of the state of Talk Radio as it existed in the late 1980s:
Who in their right mind would argue that things have gotten better or saner since?
Who in their right mind would argue that the "Mighty Wurlitzer" has gotten less influential or profitable since?
And this is at the core of the argument that Mr. Brooks desperately does not want to have: that his Conservative Movement has created a powerful, destructive, fanatic-promoting, constantly-escalating, self-contained, self-perpetuating culture.
A culture with its own language, mythology, religion, media, pseudo-science, magical math, imaginary villains and fictionalized heroic history.
A culture that is real, dangerous, paranoid, often-bigoted and upon which the success of Mr. Brooks' Conservative Movement is now entirely dependent.
A culture that has no parallel whatsoever on the Left, and cannot be wished or whitewashed or equivocated away by Mr. Brooks' constant lies to the contrary.
Somewhere near the end of the second act of Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (during a break in Jefferson Smith's filibuster against corrupt legislation being rammed through by a political machine) the affable front-man for that political machine -- Sen. Joseph Harrison Paine -- sums up the shape of the corner into which Mr. Brooks has painted himself:
If he's just that much right, I'm wrong.
If there is any merit to the argument that the Right has created a distinct, violence-fetishizing, extremist-promoting culture and that critiques based on the nature of that distinct, violence-fetishizing, extremist-promoting culture are legitimate, then Mr. Brooks is wrong.
Just as wrong as he can be.
And his whole, Centrist, false-equivalencing snake oil tent show falls apart.
So where can we look to find examples of Very Serious People making exactly this kind of argument-from-culture as a basis of framing condemnation and action?
Turns out we need look no further than Mr. Brooks' own archives.
In fact, back when the Neoconservative Mr. Brooks took up the task of defining the interior landscape those inferior, savage cultures which he was confident America could bomb and conquer into Jeffersonian harmony, he used to write oodles of this stuff, one example of which ("The Grand Illusion") I have parsed for you below.
When talking about a distinct, violence-fetishizing, extremist-promoting culture on the other side of the Earth, Mr. Brooks did not lack for a perfect, linear clarity when it came to explaining exactly what he thought was bent about their swarthy foreign souls:
The Arab world, though famous for its bazaars, has not defined national glory economically, Greenfeld adds. Instead, the rising radical groups today define greatness negatively through acts of anti-Western defiance.
Turns out, when brown people in faraway lands do it, it's not some inexplicable and untanglable welter of competing socio-psychological forces that motivate them. When they do it, Mr. Brooks is unequivocal that it is their culture that drives them relentlessly on:
Superseding market entrepreneurs, there are terror entrepreneurs competing to see who can issue the most militant call and perform the most galvanizing act of violence. They are driven by resentment toward the West, but also by the internal competition for prestige and standing.Mr. Brooks believes that groups that define status by out-crazying the last guy are dangerous.
Mr. Brooks also believes that only a great fool would continue to ignore such an obvious and growing danger:
Worse, more and more people are falling for the Grand Delusion — the notion that if we just leave the extremists alone, they will leave us alone.I agree.
With perfect predictably, this was, of course, followed by the ritually dishonest parceling out of blame for the failure of Mr. Brooks' Awesome Iraqi Adventure that has become his stock-in-trade: an imaginary Right that wants to irresponsibly turns its back on the world exactly counterpoised with a fictional Left some of whom refuse to believe that we have any extremist enemies that might hate us for no good reason, and others who think that maybe that the whole thing was "exaggerated by Karl Rove for the sake of political scaremongering."
(Because, hey, who in the world could believe that a sober, sensible statesman like Karl Rove who routinely used his privileged position at the White filled the media with language like this:Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.And thisLet me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.could possibly be accused of "scaremongering" for base, political ends?)
But following his obligatory false-equivalence-drawing, just in case you had missed his real thesis, Mr. Brooks drove it home hard (emphasis added):
The blunt fact is that groups of Islamic extremists will continue to compete and grow until mainstream Islamic moderates can establish a more civilized set of criteria for prestige and greatness.
Today’s extremists are not the product of short-term historical circumstances, but of consciousness and culture. They are not the fault of the United States, but have roots stretching back centuries. They will not suddenly ignore their foe — us — when their hatred of us is the core of their identity.
And there we have it: Mr. Brooks' own argument-from-culture in his own words.
And using the same, concise template Mr. Brooks has provided us for critiquing the dangers of sinister foreigners, who in their right mind could possible look at Mr. Brooks' own Conservative Movement and not see that it is dominated by extremists who are a product of "consciousness and culture"?
Who would ignore the fact that Mr. Brooks' Conservative Movement will continue to spiral deeper into rage, bellicosity and paranoia as long as profit, ratings, electoral success and all the other measures of "prestige and greatness" on the Right are driven by slaking the appetites of thugs and monsters?
Who will continue to pretend that Mr. Brooks' Conservative Movement does not have "roots stretching back centuries", deep into the heart of our nation's white supremacist past as well as into the John Birch movement, our many Christopathic Dominionist cults and on and on and on?
And most tragically, what Serious, Responsible Person would dare to deny that Mr. Brooks' Conservative Movement "will not suddenly ignore their foe" — the Left — when "their hatred of us is the core of their identity"?
This critique is at the heart of a national conversation we desperately need to have.
A national conversation that is decades overdue, that men like Mr. Brooks were only too anxious to have when the subject was "Arabs" and "Iraq", but that men like Mr. Brooks will never permit to be re-imported for domestic consumption long as they sit at the head of our national media Grownups Table.
UPDATE: Turns out this issue produces some strange bedfellows (from the "Daily Dish"):
To inquire into such a hideously violent culture, where you are put in cross-hairs, endure countless threats, have an opponent posing with an M-16, and a brick thrown through your campaign office window ... and then end up shot at close range? Well, it's a no-brainer. Brooks' own paper today has an enlightening story about the particularly fetid and violent atmosphere in Giffords' district. It's good journalism. But according to Brooks, it is an offensive irrelevance. It should not have run.
UPDATE: Shakes, of course, just keeps making sense:
There is no leftist equivalent to Michael "Howard Dean should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war" Reagan, or Michael "Smallpox in a blanket, which the U.S. Army gave to the Cherokee Indians on their long march to the West, was nothing compared to what I'd like to see done to these people" Savage, both nationally syndicated radio show hosts.
There is no leftist equivalent to the Minutemen and other radical and eliminationist-spewing anti-immigration groups, some of whom have been subcontracted to work the border by the US government.
There is no leftist equivalent to radical and eliminationist-spewing anti-choice groups, who openly target doctors and call for their assassinations—and had a success just last year in the murder of Dr. George Tiller—and whose leaders get featured in whitewashing profiles in the Washington Post.
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
This is not an argument there is no hatred, no inappropriate and even violent rhetoric, among US leftists. There is.
This is evidence that, although violent rhetoric exists among US leftists, it is not remotely on the same scale, and, more importantly, not an institutionally endorsed tactic, as it is among US rightwingers.
This is a fact. It is not debatable.