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Tom Sullivan

Tom Sullivan

Posted: November 5, 2009 11:22 AM

"Our Weapon Is Fear"

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On Halloween, just ahead of Tuesday's local elections, we received a second attack flyer in the mail from conservative activists. This one was entitled "Save Our City." (Save it from progressive, radical, extremist socialists, that is.)

Last February, Mark Liebovich penned a New York Times column entitled, "'Socialism!' Boo, Hiss, Repeat," describing the resurgence of "socialist" as the rhetorical weapon of choice among conservatives. Their "permanent Republican majority" washed away by Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008 (and by the waters of Lake Pontchartrain), conservatives resurrected "socialist" to smear anyone to the left of Genghis Khan as anti-American or a heretic.

Last week, a squad of Republican cardinals bagged a "heretic," New York Republican assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava. Her voting record was only "slightly more conservative" than average for New York, making her utterly unacceptable to the tea-party Hard Corps. Scozzafava dropped out of the three-way race for NY-23 and endorsed Democrat Bill Owens, who Tuesday night won a seat held by Republicans for over a hundred years. Next, Newt Gingrich may have a date with the comfy chair.

But back to those socialists. Joshua Bolin of Augusta, Ga., founder of a Web site, "Reagan.org," calls socialism "something new for us to hit Obama over the head with." Exactly. It is a cudgel with all the intellectual content of "When did you stop beating your wife?" It is not meant to spark debate (intelligent or otherwise), but to stop it cold. It is a rhetorical taser for the fear center of the lizard brain.

As Bolin hints, facts are irrelevant. A fact is merely the stick closest at hand, and useful for hitting opponents over the head. Once the stick breaks (or is publicly debunked), it is disposable. Another will do just fine. Truth is just as disposable. A real fact, a "true fact" conforms to conservative orthodoxy and makes a suitable weapon against "socialists."

In a YouTube clip making the rounds on the right-wing spam circuit, the 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, a former Maggie Thatcher advisor and climate change skeptic, claims that a United States president, Barack Obama, will help create a "communist world government" in Copenhagen this December. "[U]nless you stop it," Lord Christopher Monckton warns melodramatically, "your president will sign your freedom, your democracy and your prosperity away forever, and neither you nor any subsequent government you may elect will have any power whatsoever to take it back again."

(Like when another president gave away forever America's power to torture people?)

To borrow from another Christopher (Buckley), does the modern conservative get "moist on his own petard" delivering such fear-mongering twaddle? Or after decades of looking for commies hiding in woodpiles, are they incapable of letting go of the S-bombs and the red-baiting? Is it because the vaunted collapse of communism was just another "Mission Accomplished" or because it is another case of "I wish I knew how to quit you."

Since losing the White House last November, America's disenCheneyed far right has renewed its obsession with rooting out the socialist menace they told us Ronald Reagan defeated when the Cold War ended twenty years ago.

And they wonder why in 2006 and 2008 American voters chose leaders who live in the 21st century, not in the last one.