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The question was raised last week, starting with a report from the Department of Homeland Security that warned of a recession-fueled growth in right-wing extremist groups that might be inclined to take violent action against the government. Conservative bloggers and commentators protested loudly, and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was forced to issue a statement saying her department doesn’t monitor ideology or political beliefs.
That dust-up, though, was followed by the anti-tax "tea parties," where protesters carried signs warning of the "tyranny" of the federal government and suggesting the possibility of a revolt. Texas Gov. Rick Perry even mused about his state’s possible secession from the union.
Is a violent struggle in America’s future? Or is the rhetoric on both sides overblown? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica commentators, weigh in.
The Homeland Security report was, well, dumb: So vague as to be meaningless, it’s no wonder conservatives felt a bit of chill in their rights to free expression.
Still, some of that expression has been a bit over the top lately, and it hasn’t been restricted to the fringe elements of the right. Can you imagine how Republicans would react if a Democratic governor spoke of secession? Or if a Democratic congresswoman suggested — as did Rep. Michelle Bachmann — that her constituents should be "armed and dangerous" against energy taxes? Or if a Democratic congressman mused — as did Rep. Michael McCaul — about shedding "the blood of tyrants" at a rally against federal taxes? We’d never hear the end of it on Fox News. The demands for apologies and resignations would be unceasing.
Apparently, though, this is all "political theater." We’re not supposed to take elected Republican officials and mainstream conservatives seriously when they speak of tearing the United States asunder or overthrowing the government. Words and ideas matter, except when they don’t.
Okay. But next time some goofball Hollywood star talks about leaving the country because a Republican has been elected president, I really don’t want to hear conservatives howl in protest about how it proves that liberals are un-American crybabies who take their toys and go home when they don’t win. Threatening armed revolution is a lot more rhetorically extreme than talking about leaving the country. Conservatives either mean what they say or they don’t, but they shouldn’t get to have it both ways.
One administration ago, "dissent was the highest form of patriotism." The other day, a few hundred thousand people rally against big government overreach, a Republican congressman invokes Thomas Jefferson’s quip that "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants," and suddenly the patriotic dissenters of yesterday are worried about extremist right-wingers inciting violence, sedition and bad vibes.
Truly, elections matter.
But Jefferson, that wily old revolutionary, is instructive as always. The sage of Monticello would admonish conservatives upset about taxes and spending to remember how "prudence will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes." He would also remind them that most people are creatures of habit, often content to suffer the injustice of working several months out of the year to pay their taxes than to "right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."
Jefferson would also note that "when a long train of abuses and usurpations… evinces a design to reduce (the people) under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."
There is some genuine discontent among millions of Americans who either didn’t vote for Barack Obama or voted for "change" and got trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.
But Texas isn’t going to secede from the union and anti-tax conservatives aren’t about to take up arms en masse against the revenuers. Don’t be silly. The way revolutions get done in this country is at the ballot box. It just so happens that another election is scheduled for 2010.
Voting is an act of resistance. Everything else is just bluster.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.)