Issues Change, But the Script Remains the Same
The previous U.S. president unilaterally decided to invade Iraq in order to violently oust Saddam Hussein and ostensibly turn the nation toward democracy by force. The current U.S. president recently urged Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, to step down, but only after weeks of sustained, nonviolent protests from the Egyptian people calling for democracy.
Now, if you were forced to choose, which of the above actions would you label as ‘imperialist’? I know. You’re probably thinking, “Obviously, that would be the first one. Duh. No comparison.” And if so, you’re right of course!
But according to the unhinged James Lewis – of the equally unhinged, right wing conservative website, American Thinker – President Obama’s peaceful, nonviolent, non-show of force in Egypt was “an act of imperialistic aggression against a peaceful sovereign state.”
Oookayyyy. I don’t want to dive too deep into Lewis’s alternative reality, Glenn Beck-style end times rabbit hole, wherein, apparently, ‘Radical Left’ Communists and ‘Muslim radicals’ have formed an alliance with a view to dominating the globe (what?). But I do want to point out a couple of things about this.
The big thing that jumped out at me about Lewis’s article is how he couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge the driving force of this story: the legitimate grievances of the Egyptian protesters. Instead, Lewis seems more concerned about Obama and the thought that he might’ve hurt poor Mubarak’s feelings. For example, Lewis writes:
Enter Obama. What Obama just did was encourage a twittered revolt against Mubarak, and then publicly, brutally, in the most humiliating way, order him to resign.
Yes. Poor, poor defenseless, verbally disrespected, publicly humiliated dictators. Doesn’t anyone care for their feelings and sense of pride anymore? What has happened to this country in the age of Obama?
But seriously, what about the Egyptian people here? When the subject is the ‘Tea Party’, the folks at American Thinker can’t seem to stress enough the importance and inherent goodness of ‘the people’ rising up against arrogant, elitist, tyrannical rulers (read: liberals). But the Egyptian people? Meh, they’re probably just being tricked by a bunch of dangerous Leftist / Communist / Islamist agitators stirred up by Obama and posing as average citizens, or something. Better to leave things as they are.
Of course it’s one thing to be a bit cautiously skeptical about the current situation in Egypt. Mubarak’s ouster has left the military in charge for a transition period, and we don’t yet know if it is going to truly lead to a better, freer situation in the long run. The uprising is certainly exciting and important, and the people’s success so far is praiseworthy. But, still, some concern and watchful hesitation is understandable and appropriate. However, what right wing fearmongers like James Lewis and Glenn Beck are saying is quite a different thing. Their message seems to be that the ‘stability’ of the status quo is more important and much more desirable than risky revolutions in the name of justice and freedom.
And that attitude should surprise no one. Or rather, it should only surprise those who have bought into a false line about such conservatives in the current ‘Tea Party’ moment. That false line is that the Tea Party crowd is at all times interested in principled stands for liberty and against tyranny and oppression. But that, I think, is inaccurate. Perhaps some people in that crowd genuinely are, but in large part, the Tea Party most often tends to serve as a vehicle for pushing extreme conservative political goals and working against all liberal ones. It’s generally that simple.
I’ve suggested this point before: that right wing conservatives are, at best, highly selective about supporting freedom and democracy. And at worst, many are down-right uncomfortable with and opposed to such goals when it comes to the inclusion of people and ideas they don’t like and / or see as threats. One way to see this is to think about various social movements over time, particularly those with liberal goals.
For example, I’ve suggested in previous posts that conservatives like Glenn Beck, contrary to their claims, actually carry the political legacy of those who opposed the civil rights movement. Naturally, I don’t expect someone like Beck to ever really acknowledge this. Once such a freedom movement is validated and honored in history, very few want to be perceived as anti-that freedom and equality any more than anyone wants to be seen as anti-puppies (well, with the exception of this puppy-hating Missouri Tea Party it seems).
But the fact is that many people did oppose the civil rights movement for conservative reasons. Quite often, such opponents diverted attention away from the movement’s goals by claiming the movement wasn’t really about civil rights or equality or freedom at all, but was really about the purposeful division and destabilization of society by ‘outside agitators,’ likely as some backdoor Communist plot.
Now where have we heard that kind of language recently? Well, pretty much everywhere in the conservative media. James Lewis’s article is riddled with it. Similarly, here are a few things Glenn Beck had to say about the revolution in Egypt and other uprisings in the region:
“What is happening [in Egypt]…is a very well organized movement. It is organized by the Left, by labor unions, by the Communists, by the Islamic radicals, the Muslim Brotherhood… This is community organizing on a global scale”
“The average person on the street of — of Cairo thinks they’re swept up in some freedom movement. It is not about freedom. It is being orchestrated by the Marxist communists and primarily also the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“This is not a revolution in Egypt. This is an Islamist socialist revolution in Egypt. It has nothing to do with democracy.”
“The Communists, the radical Islamists, and the socialists will all work together to foment revolution and destabilize anything they can, because a stable world keeps them on the fringes and out of power.”
Unsurprisingly, Rush Limbaugh sounds like he’s on a similar page, asserting that:
I’m just gonna say one more thing about this crowd, and all this talk about a democratic uprising… [The protesters are] all leftists. They’re feminists. They’re avowed socialist, leftist, communists, environmentalists. I don’t believe that this is just spontaneity… This is the result of organizing. This is just classic community organizing in Egypt. That’s why Obama’s trying to connect himself to it.
It’s been the same with other issues too. Health Care Reform? Oh, that’s not really about health care, but about socialism and control, reparations and welfare, all ushered in by radical leftists. Gay marriage? That’s not really about marriage, but about a radical homosexual / liberal agenda to destroy traditional marriage and values.
And so it goes. Beck and other conservatives have already extended the same kind of language to their opposition to union protests in Wisconsin. But I realize that Lewis and Limbaugh and Beck (who is his own special kind of looney tunes) do not necessarily speak for all conservatives or the whole ‘Tea Party’ or whatever, and that there exists some range of views on these issues and various expressions of those views (though the conservative media talk radio / blog / Fox News / Tea Party axis often seems quite uniform). Some conservatives have, in fact, publicly disagreed with Beck and voiced cautious support for the Egyptian protesters. As always, it isn’t monolithic.
But my point here simply is this: Ever-present staunch defense of the status quo and opposition to social progress, and the rhetoric used in the process, is pretty much always and everywhere the same. And it’s a pretty well-worn playbook really. If you support the status quo or social regression, and you don’t like the goals of a progressive movement or policy, but those goals seem humane, just, and potentially popular, then you spend most of your time claiming that those aren’t the real goals, but just a pretext for unacceptably and destructively altering or eating away at the foundations of society.
So the issues change, particularly as progressive movements and victories force them to over time, but the script of opposition to such movements tends to remains exactly the same.