I vote Republican and have given money to GOP candidates. I’ve worked on one campaign in a fairly substantial role and I was happy to chip in when I could in smaller ways throughout the years for the cause.
I am going to continue voting Republican, but I want a different party, one not overcome by fear and anger, one that can reach out to all Americans and be seen by the world over as something positive. That means something about conservatism as it is articulated has to change. In what follows, I’m going to take apart a rant of Mark Levin’s point-by-point and leave nothing standing. It is a rant representative of an over-hyped frustration that could not possibly be uttered in a country less free, one not as willing to let radio demagogues make obscene amounts of money by stoking people’s worst fears and hatred.
I wish I could hit a “reset” button on all conservative media once and for all. There’s so much implicit and explicit racism out there, hatred for anyone different, get-tough rhetoric that doesn’t even come close to understanding the very real pain of others, conspiracy theory that shows no shame in accusing everyone and everything of plotting murder and theft that someone has to say enough. (Today on my facebook feed: someone seriously accused the President of trying to stage a kidnapping of the Libyan ambassador.) The worst part about all this hate is that it dresses itself up with flag-waving and Bible-quoting. I want my country back, and I want those who profit off hate to have some small doubt that Judgement Day will go well for them.
Mr. Levin’s rant is here, for those who want to follow along.
1. The Pretense of Theory
Mr. Levin’s rant moves so fast that one has trouble seeing what his complaint is. In one sentence, he says the government is run by lilliputians – tiny, trivial people. Then he right away says the President exercises no less than imperial authority and implies that the media is under his control:
But I’m just telling you, from an emotional point of view, it is just so damned infuriating to see the greatest country on the face of the earth run by a bunch of lilliputians, who are constantly attacking it from within. No discussion on the news programs about an imperial president exercising an authority he does not have under our constitution.
You could say this is a trivial complaint I’m raising. But remember that a number of right-wingers look to Mr. Levin to teach them what Tocqueville and the Federalist say about liberty. That sort of discussion turns on theoretical points like this: Would it be better for a government to be incompetent or efficient as regards our freedom? (The Federalist, btw, comes out very clearly in favor of a strong, efficient executive: “secrecy and dispatch.”)
So maybe the President is incompetent and tyrannical: who knows? Who cares? Levin’s whole game – the game of all conservative media nowadays – is that no matter what you think, you’re ready to vent. The venting is what’s important. It keeps you listening for hours upon hours every day, instead of reading books or talking to people or enjoying sunshine. It keeps people younger than 30 far, far away from conservative causes, has turned off every single minority in the United States, and perhaps worst of all, filters down into the indoctrination of a number of children. Trust me on this: no amount of conservative complaints about “leftist mind control” compare to what I’ve seen happen in isolated communities on the right.
2. Call everyone Hitler so you can ignore the fact they actually have to govern
There is, of course, no serious argument of how the President is actually “attacking [America] from within.” I assume, given Levin’s statement about the Second Amendment that follows, that this is about guns:
No discussion about all the lives saved and all the people protected as a result of the Second Amendment. Nothing. They continue to perpetuate the lie, the big lie that somehow, some new regulation, some new government fiat would have prevented what happened in Newtown, Connecticut. And then they pretend that they’re for law enforcement. They pretend that they’re hard on crime when they’re not.
So let’s talk about those executive orders the President’s been considering. The story on Drudge, of course, was that the President was going to outright ban guns. Everyone should know this is laughable. Weigel reports that what the President was working with was 3 “tweaks” of current law: more active prosecution of people who are already prohibited from purchasing guns, having a permanent ATF director, getting other feds to report mental health records. That was what prompted Drudge to post a picture of Hitler and Stalin over a headline about “executive orders” on guns.
Levin seems to have a talent for talking right past contradictions. Guns obviously can make policing harder in some circumstances, easier in others (i.e. if you live out in the middle of nowhere, you should have a gun and know how to use it). It would seem that if we’re talking about executive orders to make the government more efficient at tracking and prosecuting people already banned from having guns, then we’re talking about a government that is working to be “hard on crime.” As for Newtown: I literally have had conservative friends tell me that the only reason it was news was that liberals wanted to make guns look bad. Not a single, serious thought that maybe people in the media are actually people and were horrified just like anyone else with a pulse. I don’t know that “liberals” have problems with guns because they’re emotional and hate guns. I think they’re serious people responding to a serious problem. I may not like their solution, but at the same time, countries where you hear of massacre after massacre are countries with names like “Syria” and “Afghanistan.”
3. I thought Jesus said something about visiting him in prison. Apparently that has nothing to do with modern conservatism.
Levin now gets to the closest he possibly can to an argument. Liberals are soft on crime and want to take away your guns. By implication (he doesn’t say this, that would involve making an argument), their fear of violence is going to punish the good and reward the bad:
We have evidence over one decade after another of how the very same people pushing for gun control against law-abiding American citizens support radical left-wing judges who are soft on criminals, support weakened sentencing rules, decriminalizing this and that. Since when was Obama strong on fighting crime? Since when has Obama supported law enforcement? But here he is, you know, ‘we have to stop gun violence.’ No, we have to stop violent criminals.
You can see very clearly this is no argument. This is just “we let criminals walk around free.” Btw, it’s absolutely not true: we have the highest incarceration rate in the world – we throw everyone and their mother in prison. It is estimated one-third of those in prison are non-violent offenders. We get, as a result, a slightly lower crime rate than we would otherwise have. It isn’t anything to brag about: it injures many communities as well as many individuals. And don’t think for a second that we don’t throw people in prison that have no business being there. A get-tough-on-crime attitude invariably means people will have to face the legal system for all the wrong reasons.
To make things worse – and shame on modern conservatism for ever letting children think this way – I remember having a discussion about prison reform with a few friends. A young man joined in, who was seriously thinking of being a priest. We were talking about the AIDS rate of the prison population and recidivism programs we’d heard about. He listened, and without the slightest pretense of a joke, he declared that to solve crime, people should be thrown in prison and the key should be thrown away. (His ideological background: army brat & more conservative than Pat Buchanan). I’ll never forget that: the hate you spew and indulge in spreads to every corner.
Levin’s argument depends on a luxury. You can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself, feeling like things are going to hell, unless you have time for self-pity. Therein lies my biggest problem with modern conservative media: it fosters an attitude of victimization that is usually completely unfounded. People are being trained to lie to themselves for the cause. Meanwhile, people who have real problems on the right and the left suffer.
Also, it goes without saying: “how many guns does one need to stand up to violent criminals” is the question, not Levin’s declaration that the government wants to take away your guns and let you be eaten by whomever comes along.
4. Why does the radio host have to hint that the government is out to take everything away?
Levin does not end his rant subtly. He wonders why we need a national gun database. In doing so, he calls the VP a “moron,” because that’s a classy way to talk about policy when we have the problem that every other day we have shootings. Obviously no one might be able to use info about guns with reports about mental health to check in with people before anything happens. Nope. He implies that it’s all an excuse for something more sinister, something I’ve heard from the Right nonstop for 10 years now (remember when we were all supposed to be in FEMA camps? Remember when that didn’t happen? No? I have gold to sell you…):
Now, there’s a fury in me — I’m just being honest with you — that I’m trying to contain. Biden, the moron Senator from Delaware, taking his train back and forth and back and forth on Amtrak. Oh wow, what a guy. Anyway, so they may do by executive fiat — I’m trying to read between the lines — a national gun database. Now, why would we need a national gun database? Well, listen, we need to know who has the weapons, at all times, and how many weapons they have and what weapons they have. How come? Why? The guy that killed all those people in Newtown, Connecticut, we know who he was and we know who had the weapons, his mother. So what does this national database have to do with anything? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Oh, okay, but we need one anyway, right? To prevent what exactly? To prevent what?
Levin’s not going to complete this thought on the radio. He can’t. He’s built up to some version of “they’re coming for you,” but he can’t say that because his job is to sucker you into giving him your money and time every day, not get caught in an investigation. He’s either a nutcase or a scumbag. Right now, I don’t really care which: he’s dishonest and hurting my party and my country. None of this ranting is going to stop gun control. It makes all those who go “yeah! Levin’s right” be sighed at by the rest of America. And I’ve been really clear that it offends and hurts a host of others, from minorities who do have to deal with discrimination on an everyday level to homeschooled kids who hear this and only this from their parents nonstop for 18 years.