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As I have written about here many times, I consider myself a left-leaning centrist. I believe open-mindedness, moderation, and pragmatism are the keys to successful governing, and my views on many of the social issues I care about – separation of church and state being probably the biggest one – tend to skew left. In recent years, however, the failures of the current Democratic administration to live up to many of its important promises has caused me to take a serious look at the ideals of conservatism, and truth be told in many instances I like what I see. I’m in favor of individualism, of individual rights over group rights, I believe that citizens should be responsible for themselves, and should solve their own problems rather than expecting something from the government. I believe each citizen of appropriate age should be considered a rational, responsible adult, and treated as such, until there is evidence to the contrary. We should be given the benefit of the doubt by our government. Innocent until proven guilty. So why can’t I vote Republican for a high public office? Well, there are the social issues…

And then there’s this (and, as a bit of supplemental material I happened to find today, this): an article by John Avlon, writing for the Daily Beast, titled “False Flags, Sharia Law, and Gun Grabs: GOP Lawmakers Embrace The Crazy.”

It begins:

A few days after the Boston bombings, Stella Tremblay went to Glenn Beck’s Facebook page to express her conviction that the terror attack was, in fact, orchestrated by the U.S. government.

“The Boston Marathon was a Black Ops ‘terrorist’ attack,” she wrote. “One suspect killed, the other one will be too before they even have a chance to speak. Drones and now ‘terrorist’ attacks by our own Government. Sad day, but a ‘wake up’ to all of us.”

She then linked to a video at Infowars.com called Proof! Boston Marathon Bombing is Staged Terror Attack

Tremblay’s post, though, stood out from the wave of post-attack crazy because of her day job: she is a New Hampshire state legislator.

Like too many enthusiastic dupes, the Republican representative was echoing conspiracy entrepreneurs like Beck and InfoWars’ Alex Jones, who blend dark alternate history with a dystopian future, offering the listeners the “secret truth.”

Tremblay is part of a disturbing trend of – conservative state legislators and even congressmen entertaining conspiracy theories that are creepy and unseemly coming from average citizen, but a sign of civic rot when they start getting parroted by elected officials.

Of course, craziness is a bipartisan issue, with Republicans frequently pointing to former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as a Democratic example – but the right has been particularly prone to paranoia since Bush Derangement Syndrome on the leftt gave way to an epic case of Obama Derangement Syndrome from the other side.

Derangement on the right has reached a peak as the proliferation and influence of gangrenous conspiracy theories creep into core beliefs and take hold, as Avlon puts it, as “civic rot,” causing the rational brain to have to be (at risk of over-extending the metaphor) amputated.

What is unprecedented is not so much the zaniness of the beliefs, but the fact that the people promoting them are often those in power. Fringe belief used to be called that for a reason; it was relegated to the fringes of society. But now fringe belief has entered the mainstream of political discourse in a disturbing and damaging way, one which those receptive to such belief find destructively compelling. From the same article:

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The one thing missing from the Senate yesterday during the series of votes on various gun control proposals – seven in all – that was most important and crucial to the proceedings, the lack of which can be faulted for each bill’s defeat, and that which has indeed been largely missing from the entire gun control debate overall, is this: respect.

From Trevor Burrus, writing yesterday (before the vote) for the Opinion section at FoxNews.com:

This week the Senate is debating gun control, and we’ll see whether calmer heads can prevail. As I said in Fox News Opinion once before, the gun control debate is fundamentally a culture debate, dominated by extreme voices on both sides.

Very true. And both sides are guilty of, to put it politely, conduct unbecoming of, well, anyone:

Gawker illustrated this when it published a list of “all the a**holes who own guns in New York City.” Later, the upstate New York newspaper The Journal News printed a similar list.

The dramatic behavior of Gawker and The Journal News hurts the gun-control cause. Shaming gun owners will bolster resistance to all proposals, reasonable or not. As the culture debate rages on, Democrats and their supporters cannot continue to demonize and misunderstand gun owners.

The problem is predictably exacerbated by celebrities and those in the spotlight:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg laughably tried to bridge the culture gap with ads featuring a stereotyped gun enthusiast – identified by his rural setting, pickup truck, and Cabela’s-inspired wardrobe – whose finger is wrapped around the shotgun’s trigger, violating one of the fundamental tenets of gun safety.

Gun owners also feel exasperated when elected officials show their ignorance of guns. Recently, Diane DeGette (D-Co.) seemed not to know that gun magazines are reusable, echoing the famous description by Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) of a barrel shroud as the “shoulder thing that goes up.”

A few weeks ago, actor Jim Carrey released a satirical video called “Cold Dead Hand” on the website Funny or Die. Carrey places himself on the set of “Hee Haw,” resorting once again to the tired cliché that gun-rights supporters are ignorant yokels. He goes on to attack the size of gun-owners’ manhoods, and close the video with a one-finger salute.

Carrey previously established the communication baseline of this debate by taking to Twitter to call gun-rights supporters “heartless” and saying that those who purchased an “assault rifle” after Newtown have “very little left in their body and soul worth protecting.”

Carrey’s stereotyping of gun-rights supporters, and his rage at those who resist suggested reforms are perfect examples of “gun disgust,” the term I used in my previous piece to describe those who give guns the same emotional response as a dirty public restroom. Under this view, guns contaminate society, and thus deaths by guns are somehow worse than deaths by other instruments.

The message here also applies to the larger, more general divisions of the greater political scene – the very first step in getting anything accomplished, through any means, is coming to some level of mutual respect and understanding. We must be willing to believe that the other side may actually have good intentions, and maybe even common ground with us. This is the most important concept in bringing about an agreement.

In the case of guns, the gap is indeed largely cultural, as in rural versus urban, more so than it is rich/poor, black/white, liberal/conservative, or Republican/Democrat.

We cannot bridge the cultural divide until a respectful tone is adopted. That goes for both sides.

Gun-rights supporters need to stop characterizing all gun-control advocates as ultimately wanting to “ban guns.” Most do not. For gun control advocates, it would help to disavow the rhetoric of people like Jim Carrey and to treat gun-rights supporters with respect rather than elitist disdain.

If both sides can do this, some common ground might be possible. Expanding background checks and allowing for better mental health record-keeping could keep guns out of the hands of some dangerous people.

Though most of it is posted here, I recommend going back and reading this post through in its entirety. I, for one, was both glad and relieved to hear a like-minded voice and rational sentiment similar to my own coming from what I would normally perceive to be the “other side.”

My political blogging inspiration and idol Charlie Pierce has never been especially idealistic about the workings of government, but this post today is a particular extreme of unvarnished realism, even for him. And what’s worse, he seems to be right. Read on, and find yourself becoming depressed…or validated.

Watching the administration’s momentum fade on this issue is to see a president presented with the final, practical refutation of the speech that made him famous. It turns out there is a red America and a blue America. It turns out that there is a conservative America and a liberal America. It turns out that the things that divide us are stronger than the things that unite us. Or, at least, that the things that divide us are more politically salient than the things that unite us. The failure on guns is the last, final refutation of what Barack Obama said he believed about the people of this county.

It always depended on the notion that we were all together in the creative process of self-government. The fact is, most of us aren’t. Most of us have checked out. At the encouragement of two generations of ambitious politicians, we have accepted the notion that “government” is something alien, and therefore that it is something we cannot influence. You tell me that 91 percent of Americans support background checks. Wonderful. Put them on the ballot. They’ll pass, but only 40 percent of the eligible voters will bother to go to the polls, so where’s the danger to anyone in acting contrary to the expressed public will? Who does Mitch McConnell really fear in this particular controversy? He knows that there is a solid, active core of support behind the work he’s doing frustrating the expressed public will.

Read it here.

Though this reaches kind of far into the childish and petty – which I try to avoid both participating in and even acknowledging – I think it is worth pointing out what is happening, for anyone like me who didn’t know anything about it. From admittedly liberal news sight PoliticusUSA.com comes this article, first pointed out to me at The Secular Jurist (emphasis mine):

More dirty tricks by a desperate minority: The 2012 election taught conservatives that they are the minority, even on social media like Twitter and Facebook. While the Tea Party has started their own version of Facebook (tick tock — waiting for them to be sued for stealing the layout), their solution on Twitter has been to silence speech they don’t agree with by spam blocking en masse to get progressives suspended. Last weekend they got over a dozen accounts suspended.

“#TGDNexposed” was trending on Twitter after progressives uncovered the coordinated assault. Zach Green, Founder of UniteBlue.com, explained to Politicus how conservatives are trying to silence the speech of progressives using the hashtag #TGDN, “A group of conservatives organized under the hashtag #TGDN has been targeting progressive accounts with the intention of getting them suspended. They report progressive accounts as Spam, which is particularly effective against smaller accounts with few followers. We’re helping the Left find and follow one another so they are protected.”

Into this assault stepped #UniteBlue. Mr. Green described #UniteBlue in an interview with Politicus as “a watering hole for progressives to connect on Twitter. Our sole purpose is to connect the Left with the understanding we’re stronger together.” Unite Blue functions on Twitter as a list to protect progressive accounts from being suspended via conservative “spam blocks” by getting them more followers.

I, for one, am about to totally go and de-friend everyone not listed as “Liberal” on my Facebook account. That’ll show ’em.

Spam blocking in order to silence progressives is just another tactic of a minority trying to hijack the dialogue. Remember the death panel town halls of 2010? If they can’t win with messaging, they will resort to dirty tricks executed with the necessary belligerence of the minority.

Zach broke it down for Politicus readers, “The 2012 election showed progressives simply outnumber conservatives now. Republicans saw that, and their solution is to silence the Left. Make voting harder. Gerrymander districts. Rig the Electoral College. Spam-block and suspend accounts. UniteBlue will work to connect the Left on Twitter because we’re stronger together.”

Though the inclusion of ‘spam-block and suspend accounts’ in that list of truly despicable and troubling fringe-conservative plots is enough to give you a migraine from the cognitive dissonance it invokes, it is a fundamentally dishonest attempt by the right to silence what the don’t want to hear. Hopefully this story won’t get too much play – I’d rather liberals not be seen losing their shit over anything anyone does on Twitter – but it does seem unavoidable to conclude that the only thing more petty than making a big deal about this is the original act itself. Getting people blocked on Twitter? Come on people. It does give you a pretty good idea of where the average, man-on-the-street conservative extremist’s head is.

Gentlemen, start your engines.

Despite recent events widely seen as setbacks for and reasons to be doubtful of the GOP’s seemingly-inevitable and hopefully-inexorable Bataan death march toward positive change and a new amiable condition with certain majorities of the citizenry, and continuing an equally-improbable recent trend in good ideas coming from unlikely sources, Karl Rove, of all people, has had a good idea, and has done something very necessary that will better his party. This comes with many, um, caveats, of course. I’m sure he’s not doing it for the betterment of his party – he’s likely hedging his bets, so that he doesn’t get so thoroughly trounced again as he did in 2012, with his reported one percent return on investment outraging his American Crossroads donors – and it’s far from certain to work as planned. One potential downfall would be the new organization, the American Victory Project, turning into or being co-opted by the ultra-conservative fringe they’re trying to stop – or in some places, usurp. (If I was on the other side, that’s what I’d do.) Another is the likely amount of general trouble this will create, in the chaos of the GOP doing battle with itself. The civil war is beginning. Brother against brother. At least, I hope.

As reported by The Guardian:

Republican donors are setting up a multimillion-dollar war chest to help protect electable party candidates from primary challenges from “undisciplined” candidates from the fringe right.

The Conservative Victory Project, set up by the Karl Rove-backed Super Pac American Crossroads, seeks to become a bulwark against the kind of extreme views that have seen the party lose Senate seats in recent contests.

The people behind the idea said it is a push against indiscipline rather than any particular ideology. But it comes as the Republican party seeks to define itself after November’s presidential defeat amid an apparent battle for the heart of the party.

It is also being framed by some as a push against the influence of the Tea party, the likes of which have seen the GOP dragged to the right in recent years.

This move is purportedly more a reaction to the un-electability of the finge candidates and the new logistics of electoral politics that we saw in 2012 – Todd Akin, for instance, was supposed to be a shoo-in for his Missouri seat until he opened his mouth about rape – rather than a pushback against any specific ideology. And actually, if that turns out to be true, I think that’s good. It gives the GOP mainstream a practical, pragmatic reason to take action towards thwarting the extremists and against their primary candidacies, and a clearly defined goal to shoot for that everyone can get behind – nominating an electable conservative candidate with broad appeal – which gives the Project itself a likely broad base of support. It is a good first step, strategically, to bringing the party back toward electability if not common sensibility.

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The only freedom which counts is the freedom to do what some other people think to be wrong. There is no point in demanding freedom to do that which all will applaud. All the so-called liberties or rights are things which have to be asserted against others; who claim that if such things are to be allowed, their own rights are infringed or their own liberties threatened. This is always true, even when we speak of the freedom to worship, of the right of free speech or association, or of public assembly. If we are to allow freedoms at all there will constantly be complaints that either the liberty itself or the way in which it is exercised is being abused, and, if it is a genuine freedom, these complaints will often be justified. There is no way of having a free society in which there is not abuse. Abuse is the very hallmark of liberty. Except in a society of saints, if there is no visible abuse, you may be sure that in practice there is no freedom.

– Lord Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone, a conservative British politician known for his length of time in office and his writing, 1907-2001

I’m a little behind the curve on this, as it’s been circulating around the internet since at least the 16th, but in case you haven’t seen it, this video is worth watching for two reasons: 1) sheer entertainment value; and 2) it is a beautifully emotional snapshot of free speech at work. This may seem an odd characterization, because though it may be emotional, it is far from what anyone would picture as “beautiful.” What I mean is that in any society that holds the right of free expression dear, that holds the right of free speech to be self-evidently true, people such as this proclaiming tirades such as this are an unavoidable side effect. And though I agree with absolutely nothing that he says, and in fact find his assertions to range the gamut from ridiculous to despicable, I believe this sort of action – as crazy and annoying and lampoon-able as it might be – should be celebrated by free speech advocates. This is what it’s all about. The right of free speech wasn’t instituted to protect the conventional, the uncontroversial, the typical, the mundane, the widely-known and widely-agreed-upon. Those assertions need no protection. The right of free speech was forged of controversy, intended to protect such speech that would lead the speaker to be ridiculed, despised, lampooned, and called crazy. Were it not for this, most if not all of our renowned historical figures and leaders of change would have never been heard, for they have all been ridiculed, despised, and lampooned before they were respected. Knowing this man can say whatever he wants is how I know I can say whatever I want, or that the New York Times can, or that the NRA can, or that the ACLU can. And I believe this right protects one side of the aisle as fully and equally as the other.

This video if of conservative talk radio host and well-established right-wing conspiracy theorist – and self-described libertarian and paleoconservative – Alex Jones, espousing some high-quality Grade A crazy, in an increasingly-enraged, vituperative rant that would make Rush Limbaugh jealous. Proceed, and bear witness to that most beautiful of personages which the Bill of Rights hath wrought.

alex jones

(Credit goes to The Great Antagonizer’s blog for turning me on to this video.)

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