Who You Callin’ Extremist?

Watch Who You Call Extremist Some Orange County GOP leaders think Ron Paul and libertarians are America-hating crazies, but they are the ones who are nuts

by Steven Greenhut by Steven Greenhut Recently by Steven Greenhut: Breaking the Code of Silence

My idea, put forward in last week’s column, to break California into four separate states was met with an overwhelmingly positive response, which leads me to believe that Californians might have an amicable geographic breakup that allows our various regions to go their separate ways. This week, I’m writing about another political divorce, albeit one sure to be full of bitterness and custody disputes. It involves the future of the Republican Party and the conservative movement, following the GOP’s well-deserved November election drubbing. Based on a revealing debate among Orange County bloggers last week, I can guarantee that this is going to be one nasty split.

Quite simply, as the vanquished GOP struggles to find its voice and reach out to voters, some party activists and right-wing leaders have decided that the real problem isn’t just President Barack Obama, but the small-"l" libertarians who still remain within their midst. Local activists, writing in an establishment GOP Web site, accused me of "jumping the shark" — i.e., of no longer being relevant — because of my July 4 column that poked fun at U.S. military adventurism and the possibly illegal policies of U.S. spy agencies. But it’s not about me, really. The article, written by GOP/Red County honcho Chip Hanlon, uses my column as an example of the supposed extremism and America-hating found within the libertarian movement and takes pot shots at former GOP presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul.

Hanlon goes for the easy straw man: "They argue — with the benefit of hindsight — that we should never have gotten involved in World War II, that Abraham Lincoln is one of history’s worst war criminals … . Their ‘philosophy’ is really pretty simple: Libertarians hate government, period, and the government they hate the most is their own. … When their full belief system is known, however, support of Libertarians like Paul cannot be defended. But folks like Paul are learning, becoming better at hiding their extremist views."

The GOP establishmentarians mocked the (mostly calm) libertarians who commented on such mischaracterizations. One of the Republicans actually blamed libertarians for the GOP’s defeat, as if we’re the ones who had spent the last eight years abusing presidential and congressional powers. Like totalitarians, they invited us to renounce our "extremism," make a public apology and join their cause to limit government, which is akin to a drunk calling on members of Alcoholics Anonymous to join him at the bar if they really want to fight alcoholism.

The GOP can’t claim to fight for smaller government. The Bush administration set spending records, doubled the national debt, vastly expanded Medicare entitlements and waged a costly Iraqi adventure that has caused tragic losses of life. Some of us are tired of believing empty GOP promises, and prefer to look at the dismal record. Some GOP folks claim to be critics of the Bush-era GOP excesses, but I was at the GOP convention and watched them cheer John McCain and even Karl Rove.

Since the election, the same GOP that has sung hosannas to the empty vessel of Sarah Palin has gone out of its way to depict supporters of Paul as cultlike camp followers. Unlike Palin’s acolytes, we don’t like Paul because he’s good-looking or tells folksy stories or goes moose hunting or has really cool glasses. We simply like most of the age-old ideas he espouses, as he’s one of the few national figures who still espouses them. It’s about the ideas, not the personality. Yet we’re the crazy people here?

Let’s face the obvious. Republicans in Orange County and elsewhere want us to get the hell away from their movement and to stay away. I left the GOP last year for the Libertarian Party and highly recommend it. Sure, the LP is ineffective and a bit odd, of course, but it’s better than being stuck in an unhappy marriage with a mean-spirited, abusive and angry loser of a spouse.

Maybe the Red County reaction is proof of the long-awaited and much-needed end of the old Reagan coalition, which was comprised of small-government types, social conservatives and military hawks. The GOP is still home for social conservatives and military expansionists, but there’s nothing left of value for believers in liberty. And I am so sick of all the Reagan idolatry by that side. I like Reagan, but he did, in fact, expand government. His legacy shouldn’t be off-limits to criticism.

Ironically, it wasn’t that long ago that our ideas were the conservative mainstay. We believe that government should be small and accountable and should stick to protecting the life, liberty and property of American citizens. We believe in maintaining a strong defense, but not in seeking dragons to slay around the globe. Traditional conservatives throughout the history of the nation were highly suspicious of federal power, especially federal law-enforcement powers. Modern conservatives defend the federal government’s use of waterboarding and the Bush administration’s aggressive internal security expansions.

Who are these people to dictate the political mainstream? The Red County bloggers accuse libertarians of being extremists, and used guilt-by-association tactics to smear libertarians, yet when I pointed out that one prominent writer at the blog, and someone who has joined in the "libertarians are extremists" commenting, has ties to a form of fundamentalist Christianity that wants our society run by Old Testament law, they got all huffy. He says he no longer is a Christian Reconstructionist, which is fair enough. But they miss my point: If I’m held accountable for every view by every libertarian, then they should at least be accountable for views they have expressed in the past and currently publish on their site.

I spent some time on Red County following this dust-up and found one occasional columnist arguing, "Domestically, we should rewrite our sedition law, the Smith Act, to the original 1940 standards in order to resist the attempt to establish Islamic law in America. We should follow Russia’s lead in not allowing further building of mosques or Islamic schools in America until Saudi Arabia reciprocates. … Our response to an Islamic challenge could well result in vastly expanded Christian political dominance in America. … If secular America fails to step up and recognize the incompatibility of the Islamic ideology, Christian America certainly will."

Does re-establishing 1940s-era sedition laws and abridging religious freedom sound mainstream to you? Red County also features a diary that called for handcuffing, prosecuting and sentencing to "hard time" corporate executives who hire illegal immigrants — yet another moderate, mainstream position!

I used to do Republican political organizing at the Iowa caucuses, and many of the Republican activists I dealt with were racist, angry nutcases. I recall one local GOP activist I had to contend with who advocated the murder of abortionists. Given the common Mexican-bashing among GOP activists, maybe it’s fair to say the conservative mainstream holds racist views. Didn’t a prominent conservative congressman propose nuking Mecca?

Every movement is filled with people who have some, er, unusual views. I can do the same thing as Hanlon: mock and mischaracterize the conservative worldview and dredge up the many crazy things I’ve heard from right-wing kooks over the years. Maybe we should all just read the loopy Free Republic Web site to see the level of discourse on the mainstream GOP Right just as Red County points to comments on libertarian sites as proof of where the libertarian mainstream lies. Their goal clearly is to silence our views by engaging in a game of gotcha, not engage in serious debate.

Let’s just end the fighting. Those who believe in truly limiting government, in domestic and overseas affairs, should realize that we are no longer part of the conservative movement and certainly not welcome in the Republican Party. We’re not loved or wanted. Don’t despair. I can guarantee that it’s far more entertaining watching Republicans lose elections from a distance than from within their crazy, immigrant-bashing, warmongering, torture-endorsing, government-expanding, civil-liberties-trouncing hothouse.

Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register. He is the author of the book, Abuse of Power. Visit his blog.

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