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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Why right-wing extremists merit attention

Last Wednesday, Instapundit wrote a fact-free post claiming that the Virginia Senate primary results, in which Jim Webb defeated Harris Miller, constituted yet another defeat for the "Howard Dean-Kos fringe." In response, I wrote a post documenting how factually false Instapundit's claim was (since Markos himself, along with "fringe" national politicians such as John Kerry, expressly supported Webb's candidacy). As I made clear in the post, it was not Instapundit's false statement per se that was significant. Instead, it is the continued smearing of perfectly mainstream Democrats (such as Howard Dean, or Kos) as being "fringe" radicals -- and interpreting all political events through that distortive lens -- that is so dishonest, a smear that is repeated endlessly by the national media. In an "Update" to his post, Instapundit was forced to retract his completely baseless claims about the primary results.

Yesterday (five days later), Instapundit responded to my post with all sorts of inaccurate claims and false accusations, and I posted my reply to it as an Update (Update V) to my original post. This morning, Markos also replied to Instapundit's response to me. As demonstrated by Markos' post (entitled "Instapundit is a Liar"), Instapundit's response is filled with demonstrably false assertions and strawmen (which forced Instapundit this morning to retract his statements yet again, apologize for them, and excuse himself by claiming that his misleading post in response to me was just "badly written"). Markos' post and my reply to Instapundit is comprehensive, so I won't rehash here all of the ways in which Instapundit engaged in his standard dishonest tactics when replying.

Suffice to say, Instapundit was forced to retract his original post on Wednesday only because my post highlighting his falsehoods received substantial attention (from Atrios and Markos, among others), and he was forced to retract still more false statements from his post yesterday for the same reason. But on an almost daily basis, literally, Instapundit engages in these same deceitful tactics. They are his staple. And they usually sit uncorrected.

Other than the fact that he was forced to retract these statements due to the substantial attention they received, there was nothing at all unusual about the dishonesty exposed in Instapundit's last two posts on this topic. Demonizing mainstream Democrats as "fringe" (even though it is his pro-war views which have been repudiated by most Americans), and linking to and promoting extremist viewpoints while keeping a safe enough distance to deny that he is doing so, is Instapundit's bread and butter. And those tactics are equally common among all sorts of right-wing media and even the national media itself.

But almost every time that I write about Instapundit, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter or others like them, I receive e-mail telling me that I should just ignore them, that they are too petty to bother with. I see from the comment sections of other bloggers who write about these extremists the same criticism -- that it is a mistake to "give attention" to these people because they are irrelevant and should just be ignored.

For multiple reasons, I could not disagree more with that view. People like Instapundit and Michelle Malkin have a daily readership which exceeds that of most American daily newspapers. Millions of people buy and read Ann Coulter's books and the national media repeatedly give her a platform. They represent the views of millions of Bush followers. To believe that they will just quietly fade away if they are ignored is pure wishful thinking, dangerous fantasy. The same thing was said two decades ago about Rush Limbaugh and, all that time, he has been pumping his hate-mongering into the heads of 20 million listeners on a daily basis.

Ignoring extremists is the worst possible thing one could do, and it is the biggest favor that could be done for them. The dishonest claims and manipulative tactics in which the likes of Instapundit and Michelle Malkin traffic are heard by enormous numbers of individuals and all sorts of influential people. To ignore them and to fail to respond to what they say -- to fail to expose their dishonesty and radicalism -- is to allow them to speak without challenge. The only result that will produce is to enhance their credibility and allow them to conceal their deceit. What possible rationale exists for that course of action?

More importantly, it is incomparably beneficial to expose the extremist, dishonest underbelly of the pro-Bush movement. They have made great political strides by focusing as much as possible on easily disliked political figures on the Left who are susceptible to being depicted (rightly or wrongly) as extremists (Ward Churchill, Harry Belafonte, Michael Moore, etc.) and then turning them into illustrative symbols of Democrats generally.

But while they do this, they also form highly beneficial alliances with the most extreme and radical elements in the political spectrum. Ann Coulter attends their most important political events and urges the murder of Supreme Court Justices and uses hateful epithets, prompting standing ovations. Dick Cheney's favorite place to express his political ideas is the radio shows of right-wing radio talk show hosts who spew eliminationist and extremists rhetoric on a daily basis. They are represented in the blogosphere by individuals who favor the war internment of Japanese-Americans, routinely call mainstream Democrats traitors, and issue threatening proclamations against the media for causing us to lose the war in Iraq. And they don't take any significant domestic policy steps without first clearing what they want to do with the likes of Jim Dobson and, before that, Pat Robertson.

But because many people believe that individuals such as Malkin, Coulter, Reynolds, and Limbaugh are so vile that they ought to be "ignored," Bush followers never have to pay a price for these alliances. They are allowed to milk the benefits of their confederations with extremists while deceitfully presenting a moderate, mainstream face to the country. They should not be allowed to get away with that. The more these extremists are focused on, the more attention they receive, the better it is. It is a good thing for Americans to know that the real face of Bush followers is Michelle Malkin, John Hinderaker, Ann Coulter and Jim Dobson, and to see clearly what that face really looks like.

Moreover, the blogosphere provides a unique opportunity to expose the true deceit and the real impulses which underlie most Bush followers' allegiance to that movement. Because people like Instapundit and Malkin post every day, and those posts remain there forever for anyone to read, a record is compiled of what they think and how they "reason." When the dishonesty of Instapundit's tactics is exposed, it matters not because it matters whether Instapundit himself is dishonest, but because the dishonest tactics he employs are employed widely and then become echoed by the national media. The benefits of exposing that dishonesty ought to be self-evident. When Instapundit is exposed for his deceitful use of the "fringe" smear, it weakens the credibility of that smear generally. That is why it is worth doing.

It would be nice and all if we had a political culture where extremists and those who traffic in character smears in lieu of substantive political arguments could simply be ignored, so that they would disappear. But the reality is the opposite. Our political dialogue, especially over the last five years, has been shaped primarily by those who specialize in demonizing political opponents as fringe lunatics, depicting disagreement as treason, and deliberately papering over complexities in order to spew misleading political slogans designed to propagandize rather than persuade. The lesson of the Swift Boat debacle, more than anything else, was that to ignore those individuals and those tactics is the best thing one can do . . . for them. It is surprising how many people seem not to have learned that lesson.

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