There’s that problem with ultimatums – if you don’t follow through you confuse people, and if you do follow through you can come off as a self-righteous jerk, cutting off your nose to spite your face, as they say. In the Los Angeles Times, Joe Queenan explains:
As the battle over “Obamacare” was reaching fever pitch, Rush Limbaugh threatened to leave the United States if the healthcare bill passed. Well, the bill did pass, and he’s still here.
This reminded me of the time one of my friends vowed to change his citizenship and move to Ireland if George W. Bush got reelected. Bush did get reelected, but my friend never left New Jersey. Neither did my friend who said she’d move to France if Bush won a second term. Bush got his second term, but my friend never once budged from her New York apartment.
Her vow to scoop up her marbles and pack it in – just like Mr. Limbaugh’s histrionic vow to become an expatriate – fell into the broad, general category of the idle threat.
And everyone knows to dismiss some threats as hyperbole – a demonstration of your righteous anger, or a tantrum, depending on your perspective – but Queenan argues that if you make a threat you are honor-bound to go through with it. Otherwise, you are merely confusing the issue. So do what you say you’d do:
Last week I read about a new poll indicating that if the healthcare bill passed, 46% of primary-care physicians would close up shop. Well, it’s passed, so now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is, physicians of the republic. The same goes for you, Rush. First you threatened to leave New York City if a new tax on the rich got passed. The legislation is now law, but it took you a year to put your Manhattan apartment on the market. Then came the Costa Rica threat, but two weeks after Obamacare passed, you’re not there.
This is unmanly and unconscionable. If you tell everybody that you’re so fed up with the direction the country is headed that you’re going to leave, then you are morally obligated to leave, or at least give your fellow Americans a timetable for your departure. Otherwise, the rest of us find ourselves in a Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario, wondering what whopper you’ll tell next. But unlike the boy, who only told a fib, you committed a truly unforgivable crime. You got people’s hopes up.
But of course Limbaugh is not leaving. And that’s the problem:
In an interview with Harry Smith on CBS’ “Early Show” Friday morning, President Obama called out Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh as purveyors of “vitriol” – creating a climate in which he’s called a “socialist” and even a “Nazi.”
Smith asked the president if he was “aware of the level of enmity that crosses the airwaves and that people have made part of their daily conversation about you.” Obama replied, “When you’ve listened to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck it’s pretty apparent.”
Obama said this sort of thing is “troublesome” – perhaps meaning when a large block of the citizenry decides the duly elected government is illegitimate and, even more than that, an enemy of the people – but he said that sort of thing happens now and then, as it’s regularly recurring phenomenon:
Keep in mind that there have been periods in American history where this kind of – this kind of vitriol comes out. It happens often when you’ve got an economy that is making people more anxious and people are feeling that there’s a lot of change that needs to take place. But that’s not the vast majority of Americans.
But that’s not what the Republicans are saying – led by House minority leader John Boehner, they’re saying Obama is defying the will of the American people, who hate him and hate everything he’s doing – every man, woman and child feels that way. Everyone knows he’s evil, pure evil. And yes, there’s no data that show that, but the thought is that it’s so obvious you’d be an idiot not to see it – and anyone who doesn’t see that is thus an idiot. Disagree and you’ll be mocked as a fool. It’s basic politics. Don’t you see that everyone wants this guy removed from office, one way or another? Are you blind? It’s a rhetorical device – assumed unverifiable consensus.
But Obama would rather that particular rhetorical device weren’t being used quite so much:
Walking with Smith on the grounds of the White House, the president said that he is “concerned about a political climate in which the other side is demonized” and that “everybody has a responsibility, Democrats or Republicans, to tone down some of this rhetoric.” What’s different about today, Obama suggested, is the way overheated rhetoric has moved into the mainstream.
“It used to be that somebody who said something crazy, they might be saying it to their next-door neighbor, or it might be on some, you know, late-night AM station at the very end of the radio dial.”
But of course it’s gone mainstream, the staple of the most successful cable news network – run by a man who started as a political operative for Nixon and has a political agenda. Obama told Harry Smith that the name-calling didn’t bother him that much – all presidents develop a “pretty thick skin” – but he hopes he’s right in thinking that Americans will start to lose their taste for this sort of thing:
I do think that there is a tone and tenor that needs to change, where we can disagree without being disagreeable or making wild accusations about the other side. And I think that’s what most Americans would like to see, as well.
That may be another case of assumed unverifiable consensus. Rush Limbaugh would say he’s wrong, that most Americans want just the opposite. Obama may have won the election, but Limbaugh says Rush Limbaugh speaks for the American people, in spite of that vote:
I and most Americans do not believe President Obama is trying to do what’s best for the country. Never in my life have I seen a regime like this, governing against the will of the people, purposely. I have never seen the media so supportive of a regime amassing so much power. And I have never known as many people who literally fear for the future of the country.
Now that’s interesting. Obama can say look, the people voted for me, I won fair and square. And Limbaugh can say maybe so, but he himself speaks for the American people, not Obama, in spite of those votes – it’s obvious. And he uses that word – regime – as in Regime Change, the Bush-Cheney answer to all issues with Iraq, and they hoped with North Korea and Iran. You overthrow evil regimes – they’re not really governments anyway. The word was carefully chosen.
And Steven L. Taylor at PoliBlog wonders about that:
Now, I understand Limbaugh isn’t happy that the Democrats won the White House and large majorities in the Congress in 2008 and I fully understand he doesn’t like health care reform. I further understand that a lot of Americans agree with him and that is more than fair enough.
However, the part that strikes me, and that has struck me from other similar utterances, is the idea that the administration is governing “against the will of the people.” I assume by this is meant the fact that a plurality of the public was opposed to health care reform (although other polling indicates otherwise – we’ll leave that aside for now) and, perhaps, the fact the majority of persons see the country on the “wrong track.”
But Taylor notes that “one of the cool things about representative democracy is that regular elections mean that accountability is always nigh.” If the Democrats are contravening the will of the people “a reckoning is coming” – and that would be elections. We do have those. In facts we had those:
…like it or not, Obama won the presidency with a very comfortable margin (both in terms of popular and electoral votes) and the Democrats won wide margins in the Senate and House. One may hate that fact and the legislative outcomes that have resulted, but to cast the situation as illegitimate in any way is simply wrong.
To put this all as simply as possible: how else can we determine the “will of the people” save via elections?
Well, the answer to that is obvious. Listen to Beck and Limbaugh – both, and Boehner and the Republicans, are actually arguing, day after day after day, that elections don’t matter, that democracy, where the will of the people determines policy, will fail if we rely on the results of elections, which don’t represent the will of the people at all. Turn to Fox News. You’ll see. And if you follow their logic the answer to all our problems would be simple – don’t let people vote, as that doesn’t tell you anything, obviously.
That’s where the logic leads, and Taylor adds this:
I keep thinking about the fact that Edmund Burke, considered by many to be the father of modern conservatism, famously argued that the legislator’s job, once elected, is to do what that legislator thinks is best while in office and then the voters have to right to endorse or reject those actions at the next election. He did not see the legislator’s job to be to stick his finger in the air to figure out which way the wind is blowing (a mode of political behavior that Limbaugh frequently has criticized). There is also the famous statement by Vice President Cheney, in regards to President Bush: “This president does not make policy based on public opinion polls; he should not. It’s absolutely essential here that we get it right.”
Limbaugh is well known for liking to say “we have a republic, not a democracy” by which he seems to mean that majority rule is not what should rule the day. … Limbaugh is not being consistent here.
As I recall, Limbaugh used to be extremely critical of the Clinton administration for governing “by the polls” as that was considered to be kowtowing to the opinion of the moment rather than doing the right thing. I seem to recall, in fact, praise of Bush for not being a slave to polls.
Ah well – things change. The health care bill had to pass the Congress via a supermajority in the Senate – and did. But no one should have voted, really. The Republicans did try to stop the voting – invoking that cloture rule, as they have on all legislation – because in a democracy if you let people vote, and the majority rules, or even the major plus ten percent, bad things happen. You get an illegitimate “regime” if anyone votes.
And now many people believe that. That’s pretty neat trick. Imagine a politician who lost an election sitting in a corner and screaming that yes, only four people voted for him, but absolutely everyone agrees with him on everything, and always had and always will – and talk radio and a major news network spends hours each day saying that’s true, absolutely everyone agrees with him and votes don’t matter. It’s a new world.
Of course some have to be dragged kicking and screaming into this new world, like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews:
The use of the word regimes in American political parlance is unacceptable and someone should tell the walrus to stop using it… I don’t even think Joe McCarthy called this government a regime.
But this wasn’t Joe McCarthy finding communists under every rug. This was just the morbidly obese Rush Limbaugh saying that having a duly elected government decide policy based on people voting is tyranny and must be stopped, one way or another. Is that so hard to understand?
Maybe the model should be Donald Trump and The Apprentice, given a recent Tea Party rally:
At least 9,000 people streamed into tiny Searchlight, a former mining town 60 miles south of Las Vegas, bringing American flags, “Don’t Tread on Me” signs and outspoken anger toward Reid, President Barack Obama and the health care overhaul.
Palin told them the big-government, big-debt spending spree of the Senate majority leader, Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is over. “You’re fired!” Palin said.
But she, unlike Limbaugh, was timid. She was talking about upcoming elections. But it was unclear what the audience thought she meant. Still, the idea is there – someone gets to take charge and say “You’re fired!” That is quicker and easier than that messy stuff with elections.
And people would rather bypass those. In fact, Florida Urologist Jack Cassell has a message for anyone who supports President Obama and health care reform – find a new doctor. He posted a sign on his front door – “If you voted for Obama seek urologic care elsewhere. Changes to your healthcare begin right now, not in four years.”
And there’s this:
In his waiting room, Cassell also has provided his patients with photocopies of a health-care timeline produced by Republican leaders that outlines “major provisions” in the health-care package. The doctor put a sign above the stack of copies that reads: “This is what the morons in Washington have done to your health care. Take one, read it and vote out anyone who voted for it.”
And one “karoli” fills in the details:
Beyond the obvious temper tantrum, I’m at a loss to understand exactly what his problem might be. It’s not like he accepts patients from a myriad of insurers. According to his Doctor.com listing, the only insurance he accepts is CIGNA. Since he’s a specialist and surgeon, I can only assume he’s a little angry that he might get some new patients down the road as more people are able to get health insurance and seek medical treatment?
Oh, and in case you wondered, the answer is yes. He’s a registered Republican, and his wife is running for local office. For all of his education, it seems he can’t be bothered to read the actual provisions of the law, preferring the Frank Luntz abbreviated version instead.
And his Democratic congressman, the blunt Alan Grayson, was not amused:
The outspoken Grayson described Cassell’s sign as “ridiculous.”
“I’m disgusted,” he said. “Maybe he thinks the Hippocratic Oath says, ‘Do no good.’ If this is the face of the right wing in America, it’s the face of cruelty…. Why don’t they change the name of the Republican Party to the Sore Loser Party?”
And too, who wants to be treated by a totally pissed-off urologist? You don’t want such a person mucking about with your personal plumbing, even if you’re a staunch Republican. Still Grayson was onto something with that Sore Loser Party comment, although these folks would say they wouldn’t be losers if this were a real democracy, where elections with that voting stuff didn’t count for anything at all – they’d be winners.
But the odd story of the day was this:
The FBI is warning police across the country that an anti-government group’s call to remove governors from office could provoke violence.
The group called the Guardians of the Free Republics wants to “restore America” by peacefully dismantling parts of the government, according to its Web site. It sent letters to governors demanding they leave office or be removed.
Investigators do not see threats of violence in the group’s message, but fear the broad call for removal of top state officials could lead others to act out violently. At least two states beefed up security in response.
Actually the letter to all fifty governors told them they had three days to do what was demanded of them, or they would be removed, one way or the other. They didn’t specify how they’d be removed, but the clock is ticking. Only the website said it wouldn’t be violent. The letter didn’t say that. The FBI seems worried someone will help out the Guardians of the Free Republic, should they not comply with the will of the people.
And the AP story adds context:
The FBI warning comes at a time of heightened attention to far-right extremist groups after the arrest of nine Christian militia members last weekend accused of plotting violence.
In explaining the letters sent to the governors, the intelligence note says officials have no specific knowledge of plans to use violence, but they caution police to be aware in case other individuals interpret the letters “as a justification for violence or other criminal actions.”
The FBI associated the letter with “sovereign citizens,” most of whom believe they are free from all duties of a US citizen, like paying taxes or needing a government license to drive. A small number of these people are armed and resort to violence, according to the intelligence report.
And there’s this:
Last weekend, the FBI conducted raids on suspected members of a Christian militia in the Midwest that was allegedly planning to kill police officers. In the past year, federal agents have seen an increase in “chatter” from an array of domestic extremist groups, which can include radical self-styled militias, white separatists or extreme civil libertarians and sovereign citizens.
It happens, and at salon.com Mike Madden looks into the Guardians of the Free Republics:
Any minute now, all 50 governors should begin implementing a plan to eliminate mortgages, waive auto registration requirements, abolish the IRS, and generally restore the proper constitutional order circa December 1860. Either that, or resign.
That’s the gist of the demand letters sent to statehouses around the country this week… Either governors agree to go along with the group’s “Restore America Plan,” or the group’s “de jure grand juries” will remove them from office.
And this stuff is pretty basic:
The Restore America Plan, as laid out online, basically involves dismantling most of the federal government. The “territorial jurisdiction United States Federal Corporation, posing as the de jure United States of America,” for instance, would be “terminated.” So would marriage licenses, which the group says give too much power to courts that aren’t established properly under the Constitution, and birth certificates. (Don’t worry, though; according to one like-minded Web site, “Social Security payments will not be interrupted.”)
Madden sees what he calls a jumble of paranoia about the government, about banks, about corporations, but he cites their site in the real issue, the courts:
With restoration of the de jure judicial institutions in Phase 2, we are also enacting the: Bill of Rights of Law to prevent once and for all the “legal” franchise perversions of law into at-law, territorial, admiralty/military aberrations.
There will be no such entity as a non-Article III court, even when administering the admiralty law venue for genuine issues of the high seas and international commerce.
Admiralty law? What?
For years, the truly paranoid have distinguished themselves from ordinary skeptics of government power by insisting that the flags on display in courtrooms somehow prove that something weird is going on there. And they base it all on admiralty law. The decorative gold fringe many flags sport, apparently, indicates that the courtroom is under martial law. Military flags, see, are required to have gold trim. At some point, someone decided that meant any flags with gold trim are, therefore, military flags – which makes courts military courts (which is why federal judges are appointed by the president, instead of elected directly). By misreading some obscure portion of international admiralty law, the people behind this theory have deduced that any room with a military flag flying is subject only to military law. “When you enter a courtroom displaying a gold or yellow fringed flag, you have just entered into a foreign country, and you better have your passport with you, because you may not be coming back to the land of the free for a long time,” one Web site dedicated to the notion declares.
Yes, that makes little sense, but they have demanded the governors agree, or else. And then it gets dicey:
Federal courts receive a constant, low-level barrage of filings insisting that they’re entirely illegitimate because of the flag, and also because the people they’re trying to prosecute or sue are “sovereign citizens” or “flesh and blood people” and therefore not subject to the courts’ laws. That theory is rooted in the far-right Posse Comitatus movement; essentially, adherents think the government came up with some way during the Civil War and Reconstruction to deprive citizens of the rights they were supposed to have. Before the 14th Amendment was passed, no one was a citizen of the US, but rather of whatever state they lived in, according to the theory – which is the way it’s supposed to be. By returning to the way things were before then, you can reclaim your proper rights from the government that’s usurped them.
You see where this is heading:
Of course, it doesn’t take a lot of digging to see a certain problematic racial angle to all of that, especially when those theories lead to demands that the governors act against the federal government while the first black president is in office. Indeed, groups that track extremists note that some adherents of the “sovereign citizenship” doctrine claim blacks are only 14th Amendment citizens, not sovereign ones. (Though, recently, despite the theory’s origins in right-wing white groups, some black defendants have started using it in federal drug and murder cases.) Which is one reason why authorities took the demand letters seriously when they started arriving in the last few days.
But Madden points out no one should worry, really, because the best part of the Restore America Plan is that no has to do anything at all – “With thousands of you consumed with vision and hope, most of those who have contacted us thus far WILL NOT NEED TO TAKE FURTHER ACTION AT THIS TIME.” And they add this – “You can literally sit back and await the changes that are coming, and be ready if we should contact you.”
They seem to think the will of the people will prevail, as they sent their OR ELSE letters to all the governors and the governors will have to do the right thing, in three days, or resign, because if they don’t… well, they will. It’s obvious. Everyone knows that. And who needs elections? The letter will do the trick. The people will prevail.
But that’s problem with ultimatums – if you don’t follow through you confuse people, and if you do follow through you can come off as a self-righteous jerk, or a sore loser.
It’s the same old story, except this time you have a whole industry – talk radio – and a major network – Fox News – saying you’re not a loser at all, as all that voting stuff is actually tyrannical oppression by the majority, which isn’t really the majority, even if the facts say it is. Nixon was always talking of the Vast Silent Majority that really agreed with him – his communications director, Roger Ailes, who now runs Fox News, must have thought that up. But they might have been there, or actually were there. But this takes that notion to a whole new level.
And we really do live in a new world. So get used to it, or else… or something.