Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gail Kerr on the "hate-filled" GOP fringe

Gail Kerr in today's Tennessean exposes the right wing fringe that has gained influence in the Republican Party. Since access to the Tennessean on-line is now restricted to subscribers, (or at lease I think access is now restricted) you may not be able to see the article.

Below is an excerpt from the article Hate-filled GOP fringe bullies its own:

... a small segment of the nuttiest members of the GOP, controlled by the tea party and the National Rifle Association, is hellbent on revenge against GOP leaders who don’t share its narrow agenda. It is an agenda based on hate.

They hate gays. They hate Muslims. They hate the United Nations. They hate anyone who reasonably believes business owners’ property rights trump free-wheeling gun rights. And, apparently, they hate the idea of Tennessee growing jobs. Because if you saw this sort of bigotry spewing out of a state, why would you want to locate your new plant there?
She reports how Bill Haslam has become a target of this fringe and that ten county Republican Parties have passed resolutions condemning Haslam for the hiring of a Muslim women to an important post in his administration.

I agree with much of Gail's concern. I agree with her when she says this fringe is the "nuttiest members of the GOP."  We have some real loonies in the Party and some of them have gained positions of influence. There are primarily three different issue that motivate this fringe: Agenda 21, Islam and Sharia law,  and gun rights. The three issues have created three different fringe factions but there is some overlap.

The Agenda 21 people can range from those who have a mild concern to real kooks. Agenda 21 is a 20 year old UN study that encourages sustainability. Those who are fearful of Agenda 21 believe it is a plan to take away private property rights, take away our cars and drastically change the American way of life. The more extreme of the anti-Agenda 21 people believe it is a plot to kill 96% of the world’s population by poisoning them with aspartame and fluoride. Anti-Agenda 21 people see elements of the plot in everything from mass transit to planning and zoning, to reintroduction of Wolves into the wild, to traffic roundabouts to bikeways, greenways, traffic calming and wide shady sidewalks. The John Birch Society is the group behind the anti-Agenda 21 campaign. The John Birch Society was denounced by William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater in the early 70’s and was pretty much driven from the Party and had almost disappeared but with the advent of the tea party movement has made a comeback.

The people in the anti-Muslim or anti-Sharia movement believe the Quaran and Sunna must be taken literally and they believe that all Muslims are called upon to lie and deceive and make war on all non-Muslims. They do not consider Islam a religion but consider it a political ideology and many believe the First Amendment should not apply to Muslims. They do not believe that one can be a Muslim and be a loyal American. They think all Muslims are potential terrorist and Mosques are terrorist training centers. Looking at what is happening in Europe and the threat of radical Islam throughout the world, I understand their concern and think we should be vigilant. However, not all of Islam is monolithic, immigrant Muslim will assimilate and moderate and of course Muslims are covered under the First Amendment.

The gun rights people are mad because the guns is parking lots bill did not pass. Obviously the second Amendment is a protection against government and not a protection against your employer. The Second Amendment does not mandate that you be allowed to carry your gun onto the property of another without that person's permission, but that is the position the gun rights activist take. How one can adopt such a distorted view of a basic constitutional right, I do not understand.

I think all of these factions have the potential to be dangerous and I think they are all wrong. I agree they are “bullying” in their tactics, especially the gun nuts who are seeking to make an example out of Debra Maggart. Political activism and expressing a political opinion or petitioning the government is not in itself "bullying"however.

I do not agree with Kerr and I do not think the people who make up these faction are “hate-filled.” They are misguided and their logic is faulty but in general they are good people. I fear some of the anti-Sharia hysteria could attract the haters who may decide to commit vigilante justice upon perceived terrorist-in-waiting, but the people I know in the anti-Sharia movement are not themselves bad people.

Gail Kerr in her article also mentions an anti-gay element to this fringe movement. I have not seen that. Many conservatives look upon homosexuality at a deviancy and most support traditional marriage, but I do not hear anyone spending a lot of time or energy or placing much focus on the issue of homosexuality.

Kerr also implies this fringe movement to be racist when she says that they hate anyone who looks differently and when she quotes someone who says, “Forty years ago, these same people would be as upset if the governor hired a black person.” I can tell you with certainty, this fringe movement is not racist. I think we are over racism in America. A local leader of the anti-Sharia movement is a well-know local radio personality who happens to be African-American. The tea party and the Republican Party are well integrated and I see no vestige of racism in either. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former presidential candidate Herman Cain. and Florida Representative Allen West are prominent African Americans deeply admired by many who consider themselves part of the tea party. It is simply wrong and maybe even evidence of being "hate-filled" to call the tea party or this fringe we are speaking about "racist."

I also know Kerr to be wrong when she says this fringe is "controlled by the tea party."  The tea party is not a party or an organization. There is no membership or structure to the tea party. There are numerous tea party organizations, but no "Tea Party."  The tea party can't control anything. You can't join and you can't be kicked out. People self identify as part of the tea party. It is a movement, not an entity. 

While I am concerned about the radical fringe that has gained prominence in the Republican Party, one thing to keep in mind is that it is a fringe. The tea party brought a lot of new people into the Party, most motivated by opposition to Obamacare, run away deficit spending and an expanding role of government. Most members who think of themselves as part of the tea party never became full time activist. They attended a few rallies, expressed their displeasure and waited for the next opportunity to vote. They may have given money to a candidate or went door to door for a candidate, but most never became part of this fringe I have described.

Also to keep this in perspective, the Occupy movement was much nuttier than the nuttiest of the tea party. All kinds of kooks tied themselves to the Occupy movement including Nazis, Communist, anarchist and every permutation of leftist wacko nut job and conspiracy theorist. The Democrats were blessed in that the Occupy movement did not hang around long enough to gain prominence in the Democratic Party. It was a flash in the pan that disappeared.

Another factor to consider in order to keep this in perspective is that a small group who believe anything could take over either one of the major parties at the county level. In some counties, people have to be begged to take the available seats on the County Executive Committee. In some counties, a voting bloc of a dozen could take over the Party. Because a certain County party passes a resolution does not mean that, that resolution is reflective of the way Republicans think in that county.

Despite being embarrassed by the Kerr article and despite thinking she got much of it wrong, I am not disappointed to see her article published. I have been wondering how much longer what has been happening in the Republican Party could just be ignored. The grownups and sane people need to retake the Party. Good Republicans need to run for position in the county Parties. The bullies need to be stood up to, as is happening when Republican leaders rally around Debra Maggart. The John Birch Society led conspiracy theorist need to be stood up do as they were when Governor Haslam refused to sign that silly resolution concerning Agenda 21.

I hope the fringe has seen their best day and are now in retreat. I hope the John Birch Society, with their tin foil hats firmly in place, will go back to meeting in secret. I think the Republican Party will be Ok. I think sanity will prevail. At least, I hope so.

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