Pick Wayne's Brain

February 23, 2013

Is Extremism in Denial of Liberty a Virtue?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 11:54 AM

I’m worried about my country. I’m worried because our open and free society has been manipulated by extremists bent on exploiting the worst in us in order to achieve their own very undemocratic, very anti-freedom, and very mentally unstable goals. The First Amendment protection of Free Speech is great and this wouldn’t be America without it, but just because you’re allowed to say something, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to treat what you say as valid, nor does it mean you have any right to demand that people do. And there has been a perversion of our Free Speech rights such that to question anyone’s right to say insane, even traitorous things, brings wrath that is, for reasons that escape me, treated as valid complaints. We have a Right Wing movement in this country so extreme that to call them “Conservative” is to misunderstood what true Conservatism is about. Barry Goldwater, in his acceptance speech as the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, said that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” A nice, patriotic sentiment, as patriotic pablum goes, but if we accept it as valid, must we also accept that extremism in the denial of liberty is no virtue? Yet this is exactly where today’s so-called “Conservative” movement has gone.

If you believe in reproductive freedom rights, then this is an area where you and the RW extremists shouldn’t even be in the same library, let alone on the same page of the same book. In 2011, “legislators in 24 states, many elected in the 2010 Republican tide, passed a record 92 laws restricting abortions“, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Some Republican extremists even want to ban contraception, an issue that was decided by the Supreme Court long before Roe v. Wade. If you believe that what you and your lover do as consenting adults in the privacy of your own bedroom/hotel room is your business and none of the government’s, how could you ever support a movement that would vigorously fight to regulate that activity? Is this extremism in the defense of liberty or in the denial of it? Should we really be treating what the proponents of these anti-abortion, anti-contraception laws say as valid?

Another issue sure to invoke Right Wing extremism is that of gun control. Now, I have some serious disagreements with Gun Rights advocates that the purpose of the Second Amendment was to serve as a check against a potentially tyrannical government. I agree that allowing citizens access to their own guns for purposes of community defense and security would have the side effect of helping to keep such a government in check, but I wholeheartedly disagree that this was its primary purpose. But try telling that to the RW extremists who believe that not only was this its primary purpose, but that it was its only purpose. You never hear some of these people mention militias or the “security of a free state,” but they can sure quote the second half of the Second Amendment. And lately, their rhetoric has become so extreme that they are claiming that President Obama is raising a private black army to massacre white Americans. Well, it’s not exactly what they’re saying, but it is one of the many false premises they’re using to denounce what the evil Obama “might” be doing. You know, “If he really is raising a black army to massacre white Americans, that would be a bad thing.”-kind of thing. Or, “If he really does go door-to-door to try to take away people’s guns [something which, in fact, he has NEVER proposed], then he can expect to meet a lot of resistance.” Except none of those things are happening. Not even close. They are grossly twisting and distorting a line out of a 2008 campaign speech. It’s true that Obama said, “We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.” But as with many of the more extravagant claims quotes from the RW, this quote is taken out of context. According to FactCheck.org, Obama “was talking specifically about expanding AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps and the USA Freedom Corps, which is the volunteer initiative launched by the Bush administration after the attacks of 9/11, and about increasing the number of trained Foreign Service officers who populate U.S. embassies overseas.” (Go to the link to see the full quote in context.) Now if people want to say these things, that’s all well and good. They’re as wrong as one can possibly be, but they do have a Constitutional right to say these nonsensical things. But what they don’t have is a right to expect us to treat them seriously and respectfully and to act upon those unfounded fears as if they have validity. They don’t.

As the late, great Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, from my own state of New York, once famously told a rival, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” The problem we face today is that facts don’t matter in our political discourse. (Even a lack of facts, such as that there is no evidence something happened, doesn’t even stop our elected officials from making outrageous claims that they did happen.) The RW does feel entitled to their own facts because they believe having an opinion is equivalent to having a valid opinion. They feel that not only do you have to respect the fact that they have an opinion (I do), but that you must respect that opinion (I don’t.) Is it any wonder, really, why our country is so divided politically?

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