by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
April 8, 2011
RIGHT-WING BULLIES CLAIM VICTIMHOOD WHILE ATTACKING THE LEFT
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- No one does the persecution complex quite like right-wingers.
The right sees enemies everywhere, but their preferred tactic seems to be to find some low-level and relatively powerless individual who happens to oppose their policies, and then attack them without mercy.
Why does Glenn Beck obsess over Francis Fox Piven and call her one of the most dangerous people in America? Most Americans have no idea who she is. The few who do know who she is know her as a professor at City University of New York, a woman who is a respected political sociologist and writer, and who has been an eloquent advocate for grassroots democratic political activism for decades.
But by demonizing Piven and turning into a caricature of the radical college professor who hates America, Beck and others like him accomplish two things. They feed into their audiences' resentments of the so-called liberal elite, and, through the death threats and harassment that usually follow, intimidate others who oppose right-wing policies into silence.
To Piven's credit, she continues her work and is determined not to let the right-wing haters intimidate her. At 78, she's been around long enough to know that she alone is not Beck's target - it's the entire progressive movement. It's unions and academia. It's environmentalists and gay rights activists. It's civil rights groups and community advocates. Every person and every organization that believes in the ideas of social democracy, economic justice and equality for all are targets for the right.
When it comes to gaining and holding on to political power, Republicans are never afraid to go where honest, decent politicians fear to tread.
For example, in Wisconsin, Republicans are using that state's open record laws to get access to the emails of University of Wisconsin professor William Cronon.
Why? Because Cronon wrote about the links between the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative public policy group that works with Republican lawmakers, and the legislative agenda of Gov. Scott Walker. ALEC is one of several conservative public policy groups funded by Charles and David Koch, who also provided significant support for Walker's 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
Another conservative public policy group bankrolled by the Koch brothers, the Mackinac Institute, is employing similar tactics against the labor studies faculty at three Michigan state colleges and universities, for the same reason. They are looking for emails regarding Walker and his campaign to bust the public employees' unions in Wisconsin.
Open records laws are generally used to help the powerless learn about the activities of the very powerful. They are generally not employed by politicians looking for embarrassing emails to discredit their opponents. Yet the Republican Party in Wisconsin and Michigan, which presently controls the respective governments in both states, are portraying themselves as the victims in this case.
That's the difference between the left and the right. Liberals merely oppose the right's ideas. The right not only attacks the left's ideas, it openly questions whether the left should be allowed to exist, and then plays the victimhood card on the rare occasions that someone on the left punches back.
Think this is hyperbole? Read the right-wing blogs and pundits, listen to right-wing talk radio and watch Fox News Channel, and you will hear one message repeated over and over and over - Democrats and liberals are America-hating traitors that are out to destroy our nation.
The left has nothing comparable. This is not to say there are not extremists on the left, but the eliminationalist rhetoric that now fills the airwaves is coming from only one side, and any attempt to compare Michael Moore with Glenn Beck comes off as ridiculous.
Even worse, the Democratic Party and the so-called liberal establishment refuse to confront the right-wing bullies who have been doing this since the dawn of the Clinton presidency, and call them out when they engage in scapegoating and hate-mongering.
When ACORN was attacked, de-funded and put out of business by Republicans last year, most Democrats ran for cover and refused to stick up for the organization. Now Planned Parenthood and AARP are under attack by Republicans in Congress for the crime of opposing conservative policies, and most Democrats remain too afraid to take on the bullies.
When members of Congress received death threats for supporting the health care reform bill last year, the nation yawned. It took the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in January for many Americans to discover that the overheated rhetoric of the right has consequences.
The massive response to the power grab by Scott Walker in Wisconsin was a long-overdue wake-up call to the left. Conservatives are playing for keeps. They know that, given the weakened and disorganized state of liberalism and the Democratic Party, they have enough money, influence and political power to ignore the will of the people and push through policies that benefit their wealthy benefactors.
Yet, with all that money, power and influence, they are still frightened of a handful of professors who dare to speak up. That fact gives me hope. The right thinks they can frighten their opposition into silence. But the more of us who speak up, and challenge the right's anti-democracy, pro-corporate agenda, the better our chances are of stopping them.
AR Chief Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.