After accusing the Tea Party of being racist, sexist, homophobic, stupid, fake, and violent Timothy McVeigh prototypes, you'd think that the well of insults would be getting dry. In his Boston Globe column "Screaming Extremism," Neal Gabler, however, manages to find a new one: The Tea Party is like al-Qaeda. His comparison reveals the left's upside-down vision of both the Tea Party and the threat of terrorism.
Gabler doesn't argue that the Tea Party is striving for a global Islamic caliphate, or that Osama bin Laden is a small-government libertarian. It's nothing so simplistic as comparing the goals of two political movements. Rather, the Tea Party and al-Qaeda are alike in their methods: Both are "extremists" who try to be, in Gabler's metaphor, the loudest voice at the cocktail party:
To assure yourself of attention, you have to do something so startling that you effectively stop the conversation altogether. In effect, you have to blow up the World Trade Center, or paint the streets in human blood as protesters in Thailand recently did, or threaten lawmakers and even spit on them as the Tea Partiers did, or call President Obama a traitor or a Hitler. You have to be an extremist.
Gabler continues the comparison by noting that "Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri, were wealthy and well-educated," and so are the Tea Partiers!
So well-heeled al-Qaeda fanatics screamed their message on 9/11, and prosperous Tea Partiers scream theirs in a peaceful march on the Washington Mall -- what's the difference? Painting the streets with human blood, spitting -- it's all about expressing one's rage with bodily fluids.
The moral equivalence is stunning, even for the relativistic left. Even if Tea Party members did the abhorrent things they are charged with -- apparently Gabler missed the videotape discrediting the spitting accusation -- it is idiotic to weigh mass murder and unfulfilled, vague "threats" equally.
Besides being another unsubstantiated, politically motivated slander of the Tea Party, the al-Qaeda comparison runs into difficulty when we consider that many on the left have excused terrorism as a cry for help from those without a voice; terrorists are driven to fanaticism and have no choice but to raise their voices at the cocktail party.
Australian philosophy professor Robert Young reports in his essay "Political Terrorism as a Weapon of the Politically Powerless":
Such defenses of terrorism as there are often begin from the contention that, in at least some circumstances where it is not possible for those with a serious grievance to get the political powers-that-be to give them even a hearing, terrorism may be the only remaining resort.
A majority of Americans today, however, fit the above description of the "politically powerless." We have serious grievances and are unable to get "the political powers-that-be to give them even a hearing." The Democrat leadership, for example, refused to listen to the will of the majority when they pushed through the stimuli and the health care bills. For that matter, they refused to listen to their Republican congressional colleagues. Every day, it seems that the president is "Rahming" through a new expansion of government in a race against the November elections, when he might lose his majority in Congress. While the president has the power to push through his agenda, he reacts to those bringing grievances with the smug arrogance of a man who knows that he doesn't have to pay attention to the little people. (And to think Clinton was criticized for governing by poll, as if making decisions unsupported by the majority were a sign of bold leadership.)
In addition to having more empathy for violent terrorists than for the Tea Party, the left also fears the Tea Party more than it does terrorists.
We live in a world where hundreds of thousands of radical Muslims, given the opportunity, would happily detonate a dirty bomb in New York, or an electromagnetic pulse bomb to bring down the world's financial system. This threat is consistently downplayed by the left: George Bush overreacted to 9/11, using the time-tested Republican strategy of fear-mongering to scare Americans into going to war for oil, or some such nonsense. The phrase "War on Terror" exaggerated the threat from a ragtag group of disgruntled Asian youths and thus has been banned by the current administration.
The Tea Party, however, is portrayed as a powerful, dangerous force. Many such accusations -- playing the violence card, as Rush Limbaugh described it in the Wall Street Journal -- have been in the news lately. CBS News recently asked: Could Tea Party Rhetoric Lead to Another Oklahoma City? They cite a CBS poll showing that "thirty-eight percent of Americans now see domestic terrorism as a more serious threat than international terrorism ... that's up eight points from 2002." CBS offers the poll as evidence of the danger of right-wing militias, neglecting to consider the string of front-page stories about radicalized American Muslims like Major Hasan or the New York residents plotting to blow up the New York subway.
Gabler's article adds more hate-filled rhetoric to the fire:
[It] is the savage movement and vicious individual that gets the attention -- not because they are necessarily more bloodthirsty than their fanatical forebears, though they may well be, but because they are more dedicated to standing out amid the clutter.
In addition to throwing around words like "savage" and "vicious," the phrase "though they may well be" is revealing. Gabler fears the Tea Party's "bloodthirsty," "fanatical" urges, heading down the path into ACORN chief Bertha Lewis's paranoid fantasy-land, where an armed Tea Party insurrection will throw socialists, gays, and people of color into internment camps.
Ms. Lewis is an extreme example, but the general sentiment of alarm about the Tea Party morphing into an armed militia is widespread. It is a ridiculous assertion if we consider the imbalance of power between the two sides.
President Obama controls the coercive force of the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and a good portion of the Judicial Branch, backed by the FBI, the CIA, the IRS, the state and local police, the National Guard, and if things get really bad, our armed forces.
On the other side is a group of American citizens waving signs quoting Thomas Jefferson.
The Tea Party is one manifestation of our feeling of powerlessness. The media like to dismiss the Tea Party as a "mere" ten to twenty percent of voters, but the backlash against metastasizing government is much larger. We live in a democracy, and the Tea Party does not advocate terrorism, nor armed insurrection. You rarely even hear civil disobedience, a tactic praised by left and right alike, suggested as a course of action. The Tea Party I have seen and heard puts its faith in the democratic system. Its strength is founded on the vote, which fortunately still wields awesome power in our political system. Now that's something the Democrats can legitimately fear in November.
Peter Wilson is a writer who blogs at walkingdogcapitalist.