Weimar Politics in AZ

What do we know about assassination as a political tool?

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It works.  Not always, but enough.

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It can be effective even if the assassin is truly a lone gunman, truly crazy, utterly denuded of membership cards or explicit links to more formal political groups.

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It achieved the desired goal for the Confederate Party when Booth shot Lincoln.  White supremacists were able to play the politics of the next decade or so to resume, through the ballot box and violent terror, a political dominance that would only begin to wane almost a century later, and is not all gone yet.

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It was devastating in Israel, where the settler-Likud alliance managed to transform the course of Arab/Palestinian – Israeli-Jewish peace negotiations after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.

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And so on.  It works — when it does — because even though in the immediate aftermath of a political murder all parties may decry violence, the combination of the loss of leadership and the chilling effect of murderous force itself take their toll on the targeted side.

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So, while I agree with those who say that this particular assassin may not himself be a poster child for the presumptive murderousness of the American right, I think, as John put it and Kay echoed:

The point we have been trying to make for the last couple of years is that Republicans need to stop whipping up crazy people with violent political rhetoric. This is really not a hard concept to follow. There are crazy people out there. Stop egging them on.

Except I’d take this a step further, and say  — whatever the particular path this killer took to these murders — we need to follow that logic a little further, to look at what that rhetoric of hate is supposed to achieve. Sarah Palin et al., aren’t trying to debate. They are trying to gain power.  In that context, those on the right who chose to employ violent rhetoric do so to help gain ends that haven’t been won (or are too much trouble to acquire) by treading democratic paths.

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This isn’t new, of course.  Let me offer one example of this kind of tactic taken to an extreme.  I spent most of a decade working on a book (Einstein in Berlin) — and in it, I spent some time engaging the tragic history of the Weimar Republic.  I’m not going to apologize for Godwinizing here, because, as you’ll see, Hitler and the Nazis don’t make an appearance in the episode below.

Rather, in the early years of Weimar, you find murder turned almost into  a precision tool of politics, long before the Nazi party appeared on the scene. Between 1919 and 1922, the violent right reasserted its presence in Weimar governance while destroying the core of skill and leadership available to the left through a sustained and devastating campaign.  As I wrote some years ago:

Emil Gumbel’s dismal report, “Four Years of Political Murder” demonstrated the depth of the danger faced by the Republic, and by the left.  “The right is inclined to hope that it could annihilate the left opposition…by defeating its leaders.  And the right has done it” Gumbel wrote.  “All of the leaders of the left who openly opposed the war and whom the workers trusted…are dead.”  … Gumbel concluded, “the effectiveness of this technique is for the moment indisputable.”

The climactic and most famous assassination of the more than 340 political murders committed in this early period of Weimar came in 1922, when Einstein’s friend, Walther Rathenau, then Germany’s foreign minister, was killed.  Here’s what happened:

At about 10:40 a.m. on June 24, 1922, Walther Rathenau left his house in the countryfied suburbs of Berlin.  He settled into the back seat of his jaunty open car.  His chauffeur got behind the wheel.  There was no need for conversation between the two.  Rathenau, appointed Germany’s Foreign Minister less than three months before, drove to work each day along the same route at much the same time.  The driver put the car in gear and set out as usual up the Königsallee.  Germans are often parodied as creatures of order, and there was never a man who more aspired to be the perfect German than Rathenau.   By mid-1922 in Berlin, however, such precision had become not so much a routine as an invitation.

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Rathenau’s driver drove on sedately, hugging the middle of the road.  About three blocks from the house he slowed to cross a set of streetcar tracks.  As he did so, a six-seater open touring car drew level with Rathenau’s automobile.  There were a driver and a young man in the front, and two more young men in the back, all wearing leather coats and driving caps.  A witness said that Rathenau looked over, as if worried the cars might crash.  At that moment, Erwin Kern, twenty-five years old, a former navy officer, leaned from the window of the overtaking car.  He rested the butt of his automatic pistol on his other arm and aimed at Rathenau.  The range was no more than a few feet.   Rathenau was looking at his killer as the man fired.  Kern shot  rapidly, five times — the witness said it sounded like a machine gun – and Rathenau slumped over.  As he fell, one of Kern’s accomplices stood up and pitched a hand grenade into Rathenau’s car.

Rathenau’s driver pulled over, then sped on to the nearest police station.  As he drove, the grenade went off, jolting the car forward.  The driver kept the car moving, though, and a young woman walking by, a nurse named Helene Kaiser, leapt into the passenger compartment.  “Rathenau who was bleeding hard, was still alive,” she said.  “He looked up at me, but seemed to be already unconscious.” The chauffeur turned the car round and raced back to Rathenau’s house.  His bleeding body was carried back inside, and set down in the study.  By the time the doctor arrived, Walther Rathenau was dead.

Who were the murderers?  No one, really.   They were just pissed off, underemployed, violent young men,* ex-military, (a couple of them), meeting and talking in the context of a sustained and successful campaign to paint everything about the Weimar democracy as a betrayal of the “true” Germany.

Kern and his band of four other disaffected students and veterans found each other, and began to plan to assassinate some Jew prominent enough to matter.  They settled quickly on Rathenau — he was the most obvious target, as made clear by the doggerel rhyme that had become popular among nationalist and anti-Semitic circles:  “Knalt ab den Walther Rathenau/die gottverdammte Judensau.” (“Shoot down Walther Rathenau/the goddamned Jewish sow.”)  The conspirators began to study their intended victim, learning his habits and his routes.

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… A test run on June 20 convinced Kern that a revolver would not do; he would need an automatic to be sure of hitting his target.  He picked one up that evening, no great feat in the gun-ridden Berlin of 1922.  On the morning of June 24, car trouble almost sidelined the murderers, inviting unhappy comparison with the Serb gang that had by blind luck managed to kill the Archduke Ferdinand in that distant Sarajevo of June, 1914.  But the car revived just in time.  They pulled out of an alley behind the minster’s car.  Within minutes, Walther Rathenau lay bleeding to death.

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Rathenau’s death marked more or less the end of the murder campaign.  But that was not because the outpouring of sorrow and anger at his killing finally compelled the German right to cease their viciousness. Rather, it was because the battle was won.  The left had been substantially weakened, and the stage was set for a resurgent center right — and ultimately, the far right as well.

History does not repeat itself.  The United States in 2011, after more than two centuries practice at constitutional democracy (and all our experience of its ups and downs), is not Weimar Germany, emerging from catastrophic defeat in the midst of international sanctions and constant internal strife.  Sarah Palin is no Erich Ludendorff, that’s for sure — for all her seeming willingness to ascend to power on her reputed skills with firearms.

But even if repetition is a myth, our past still echoes across time — and listening carefully, we may find clues to the meaning of what is happening right now.

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Rathenau was murdered by sane conspirators motivated by those who created a climate of hate in which a disgraced militaristic right could return to the political arena.  Rep. Giffords was shot and others murdered by someone who may well be crazy — but that man acted within a context in which her colleagues and allies deemed it OK for an allegedly sane “leader” who lost the last election to post crosshairs over the names of her political opponents.  So here’s the lesson I draw from all of this:

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The least we can do for Gabrielle Giffords, Judge John Roll, Christina Green and all the other victims of this murderous attack is honor them through acts of memory, so that whenever next someone advances or excuses the rhetoric of violence we say “no, not this time, not mindful of those we’ve already lost to this kind of evil.”  Naming and Shaming is not just good clean fun at this point; it’s a duty.  We have to do whatever we can to make it political kryptonite to play in that (quick)sandbox.**

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As a late addition to that thought — if John Kyl, Senator and Congressional colleague to the terribly injured Gabrielle Giffords, thinks it “inappropriate” for the Pima County Sheriff to condemn the vitriolic rhetoric of talk radio and its consequences in Arizona, then he is, as Mistermix suggests below this, exactly wrong.  I’d go further.  In trying to muzzle the sheriff, Kyl is not just an assh*le. He’s part of the problem, an enabler of those who incite violence for political ends, and he should be contemned as such from every corner.

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*An odd and sad footnote to that murder, the driver of the death car ultimately repented and recanted, joined the French Foreign Legion on his release, and was instrumental in saving Jews in Marseilles from the Holocaust.

**Not to blog whore, and to make sure I relegate to a footnote my contempt for a mostly negligible person in our civic conversation, let me here echo DougJarvus’s snark about McArdle et al.’s defense of open carry protests at presidential events.   Here’s my post on that subject, with a full frontal assault on McArdle’s capacity for reasoning, moral or otherwise.  It was fun to write at the time.  Rereading it now just makes me sad.

Images:  Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Death of Caesar, 1867.

Francisco de Goya, The Third of May, 1814.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, The Actor, before 1861.

49 replies
  1. 1
    jk says:

    Tom,

    Great post and great images as well. In terms of the crosshairs graphic used by SarahPac, there’d be no SarahPac in the first place if it wasn’t for that asshole John McCain plucking Palin out of obscurity to try and save his campaign.

  2. 2
    efgoldman says:

    Jeebus.

    That’s all.

  3. 3

    Thanks for this. One of my huge issues with how we approach the Nazis is that we tend to treat them like monsters — and by that, I mean we teach as though Hitler emerged full-formed from some depraved cave of Hell. Moreover, that he brought his associates from that same foul place, and mesmerized an entire country into the foul acts they consented in.

    This commentary underlines that Hitler rose in a environment primed for his level of hatred. Without that underlying knowledge, we risk missing the lessons of history around this foul acts, risk repeating them — this time, with nukes.

  4. 4
    Dennis G. says:

    This

    In trying to muzzle the sheriff, Kyl is not just an assh*le. He’s part of the problem, an enabler of those who incite violence for political ends, and he should be contemned as such from every corner.

    Is exactly right. We can’t stand by and say this is just wingnuts being wingnuts when they say this shit–they need to be called out on it as do any in the media who give them a pass.

    Nice post.

    Cheers

  5. 5
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    One can argue that the German people were so fed up with the seemingly constant political violence in their streets, the fights between Nazis and Communists, that they welcomed the relative peace (of the gun) that followed Hitler’s ascension to power. Of course, there was a bit of additional, intraparty violence yet to come, but the thing was, the battles in the streets were over. The Nazis won, the Communists lost, and that was that.

    Well, except for that nasty part of Allied armies sweeping into Germany 12 years later, of course.

  6. 6

    @jk: I’m no fan of McCain. My personal feeling is that McCain did himself, Palin, the GOP, and most critically the country he claimed to serve a disservice by not just bring in her in, but by not prepping and vetting her for the job. A lot of her reactions are of someone who simply isn’t grasping the non-unique role she plays in the national media…or that the national media plays her with.

    But it’s insane to keep pointing out he brought her to the national stage. She’s an adult, dammit. McCain didn’t force her to do those damn crosshairs; she made a choice and we need to focus on that, not on second-order causes.

  7. 7
    Cat Lady says:

    Great post Tom, with the added benefit of having a painting by my favorite painter. All I know through all of this is that we seem to be incapable of learning from the past, therefore condemned to repeat it. Palin however should be condemned, period.

    ETA: Samurai rocket launcher? Paging John Belushi

  8. 8
    Teri says:

    The use of this political rhetoric is already being felt by the “RINO’s” or moderates in the republican party. The head of the Tea Party express has already stated his goal of getting control of county republican parties in the next year prior to 2012 primaries. People are being driven out of the party because they are fed up with the vitrol. They are also not willing to subject their families to the 24-7 abuse that these rabid anti-democratic hate mongers. I wrote a letter before to my Republican Party Chair prior to Christmas, decrying the tactics being used by our congressional representatives surrounding the health care bill for first responders. As a result of that letter I have had to change my phone number, cell number and public email. My husband had had people at work tell him he should divorce me, I have had people I thought were good friends turn their backs on me. The control of messaging, the unreasonable fear of any disagreement is appalling. Right now I am no longer a republican or a democrat but disgusted with the political process. I fear for how we as a nation will continue to react, or will apathy wash over us after the 24-7 news cycle waxes on? We refuse to look at our past actions to inform on what our future course is going to look like. The inability to reason that actions and words have consequences, that their is a sequence of events in play is astounding. I fear we have programmed our future by willfully ignoring the present. Will enough “moderates” stand up and say ENOUGH?

  9. 9
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    What McCain’s selection of Palin told me, at the time, was McCain did not comprehend the gravitas of the decision. It became painfully obvious that Palin was not vetted, at all, by McCain’s staff. It seemed like an impulse buy in the checkout line. Palin was not only unprepared, the staff was unprepared for her. The fact that she couldn’t answer the simplest damn question in the world (“What newspapers and magazines do you read?”), a question I was asked when I was on jury duty when I was 19, and then indignantly called it a “gotcha” question is indicative of a mind that is far from ready to assume even the smallest degree of responsibility for anything.

    McCain’s staff should have picked up on all of this in a vetting process, but did not. It’s as if McCain basically said, “well, if I can’t have Joe Lieberman, well, I’ll show you assholes!” and picked Palin instead.

  10. 10
    Nutella says:

    They were just pissed off, underemployed, violent young men, ex-military, (a couple of them), meeting and talking in the context of a sustained and successful campaign to paint everything about the Weimar democracy as a betrayal of the “true” Germany.

    Everything about the current democratic government as a betrayal of the country — Where have I heard that before? Here we say “I want my country back” and talk about treason and liberal treachery.

  11. 11
    Derek says:

    What happened is bad just, bad. Bad for everyone in the country. It shouldn’t matter about the politics, the act of assassination is the darkest of vileness, and in response, regardless of clique, we should just be moved to be better to each other. For the sake of it. For the right of it. The idea that your rhetoric could possibly have been the catalyst for the lone, crazed gunman should be the stuff of nightmares and end of sleep for anyone. The concern shouldn’t be “how do I pre-exonerate myself”, but “how do I make this not happen, ever”.

    What this one man, under whatever influence is just bad, poison in our bloodstream. The first concern should be to make ourselves healthy. Not tear ourselves apart. I wish we were capable of being better to each other, times like this make feel like that is a naive wish.

  12. 12
    Alex S. says:

    The right is trying to destroy the civil society, probably because they’ll lose their power if they fail and things may run their natural course. Would there have been a 2nd term of Bush Jr. without the gay-baiting? Would there have been a President Nixon in 1968 without the southern strategy? It’s about time this behavior gets exposed to a wider audience. No matter how the investigation turns out, the discussion needs to take place. Death threats against Obama exceed those of every other president. Last summer, the organisations of Dick Armey and the Koch brothers financed political outrage to disrupt townhall meetings to prevent an open discussion of the health-care bill. Rep. Tom Periello had to fear for his own life, because he received just as much vitriol as Rep. Giffords.
    I also don’t care anymore about those concerns of “politicizing the debate”. It has been politicized from the start. If Sarah Palin says that she isn’t responsible for the shootings she is just as politicizing, because if noone knows anything, how can we know what isn’t true? The difference is that noone will act because of my speculation or because of the speculation of anyone else here whereas Palin (or any other elected official of national prominence) has got the media and the party apparatus available.

  13. 13
    BonnyAnne says:

    I’ve been meaning to read Einstein in Berlin for … approx … quite a while now, and it wasn’t until you called yourself out on it that I realized you’re that Tom Levenson. Guess I should get around to the book, eh? (now I feel all shy.)

    Most of what I knew about the Middle East as a very small child came from Gerome’s paintings. In light of the other imagery about the ME out there, it could have been a far worse education, and it showed me some of the beauty of the various cultures (Rustem Pasha Mosque especially). Glad you shared.

  14. 14
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the power of the Dolchstoßlegende in the Weimar period. It’s useful to see how it’s reflected in contemporary American politics…particularly in regards to the myth of the soldiers returning home from Vietnam who were spat on in airports. Actually, it seems, they had a rougher time at the VFW hall.

  15. 15
    Davis X. Machina says:

    The idea that your rhetoric could possibly have been the catalyst for the lone, crazed gunman should be the stuff of nightmares and end of sleep for anyone.

    It’s not like you have a personal vendetta against the kulaks. You might have gone to university with Social Democrats. You might have a Japanese gardener, or even a few Jewish friends. Your wife’s people might be Hutu, or Tutsi.

    When you’re on the right side of history, when you know how the story comes out, has to come out, when you can determine in advance, due to the inexorable forces of nature, against which individuals are powerless, who the inevitable winners and losers are, and you’re not them, it’s easy to sleep.

  16. 16
    ppcli says:

    Excellent post. It’s good to be sceptical of over-use of allusions to Nazis and Nazism, but it’s also important not to let that scepticism to keep us from being aware of genuine affinities when they exist.

  17. 17
    mai naem says:

    I am going to call Kyls, McCains and Brewers offices in the AM and give them a piece of my mind. As far as I am concerned this crap can be laid at their doors. I saw Brewer’s little statement and the stupid woman was going on about hoe Giffords was a friend not just a colleague and then the reporter asked exactly when she remembered dealing with Giffords in the State House and Brewer couldn’t even remember.

  18. 18
    someguy says:

    It’s probably hard to remember back this far, but I am pretty certain that November 2nd was our Fundamentalist Church Hall Putsch.

  19. 19
    geg6 says:

    I cannot say how much I appreciate the utter sanity and intelligence in everything you post, Tom, especially this one in particular. They have spent the last 40 years slowly and inexorably demonizing everyone with whom they disagree, ratcheting up the rhetoric and using increasingly vicious tactics to make Democrats something less than human. We have seen where such things have led in the past, whether in Weimar Germany or in the South of the pre-Civil War or Jim Crow eras. We are wise to take note of what history has to teach us and it is in no way out of line for us to point this out to others. I, for one, intend to speak out when I encounter hateful, violent political speech. I am tired of being threatened and bullied and targeted by these people. They need calling out every single time. Every. Single. Time.

  20. 20
    DaveInOz says:

    So perhaps unsurprisingly, when offered the opportunity to put some money down on the proposition that one of these firearms is soon going to be discharged at someone, they all decline…

    This is getting tedious: the fallacies here include the ad hominem argument — because people don’t bet, what they say is wrong — and yet another straw man. Who are these mythical non-gamblers. I’ll take the damn bet. Here’s a 100 bucks that says that some asshole fires a weapon at a political rally before the end of Obama’s first term. I’d bet more but I just bought a house and haven’t got a dime to spare…and Mrs. Levenson raised her boy right, with the view that bet when you feel like it…but never your son’s lunch money.

    Very sad, indeed.

  21. 21
    lllphd says:

    tom, this was fascinating. a huge einstein fan, and am beginning work on a screenplay about julius streicher.

    tho history does not repeat, there are too often enough parallels to make your hair stand on end. we should at least consider them as warnings.

    thx for this.

  22. 22
    VidaLoca says:

    Tom, I’m often impressed by the thoughtfulness and care you bring to your writing here but I’d like to echo the comment made by geg6 above: this was an outstanding piece of work.

  23. 23
    rikyrah says:

    this is a thoughtful post. on point.

  24. 24
    Jim Bales says:

    Tom,

    Murder as a political tool was also in the arsenal of the hypernationalists of Japan in the late 20’s and early 30’s. On May 15, 1932, Japan’s Prime Minister, Inukai Tsuyoshi, was assassinated in his residence by a group of 11 young naval officers.

    The Wikipedia page closes with a section entitled “Consequences”, which reads:
    The eleven murderers of Prime Minister Inukai were court-martialed; however, before the end of their trial a petition arrived at court containing over 350,000 signatures in blood, which had been signed by sympathizers around the country to plead for a lenient sentence. During the proceedings, the accused used the trial as a platform to proclaim their loyalty to the Emperor and to arouse popular sympathy by appealing for reforms of the government and economy. In addition to the petition, the court also received a request from eleven youths in Niigata, asking that they be executed in place of the Navy officers, and sending eleven severed fingers to the court as a gesture of their sincerity.

    Punishment handed by the court was extremely light, and there was little doubt in the Japanese press that the murderers of Prime Minister Inukai would be released in a couple of years, if not sooner. Failure to severely punish the plotters in the May 15th Incident further eroded the rule of law and the power of the democratic government in Japan to confront the military. Indirectly, it led to the February 26 Incident and the increasing rise of Japanese militarism.
    [Emphasis added]

    Best,
    Jim Bales

  25. 25
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Jim Bales: Yup — those were bad years.

    To all above who’ve complimented this post…my thanks.

    I’m still almost paralyzed by rage, though. I’d hoped writing this would drain the infection.

  26. 26
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    I think that Dengre and your joining this blog was something that we needed in this joint. Thank you both for your excellent contributions to the discourse here.

  27. 27
    Jess says:

    I’ve been rereading Ron Rosenbaum’s fascinating book, Explaining Hitler, and his chapter on the “Poison Kitchen”–recounting the valiant attempts by the Munich Post to alert the German people to the dangers of Hitler as the Nazi party was coming to power–gave me the chills. He notes, “Hitler came almost as close to failing in his drive to seize power as he did to succeeding; what’s missing from the grander explanations is what one sees on the ground, so to speak, the texture of daily terror apparent in the pages of the Munich Post, the systematic, step-by-step slaughter of Hitler’s most capable political opponents, murdered by his party of political criminals.”

    If history does not repeat itself, it’s only because we recognize the signs and patterns, and do something to stop the power-hungry thugs of our era from bullying us into submission.

    /godwin

  28. 28
    El Cid says:

    There were huge commemorations, perhaps attended by millions of Germans throughout various cities, in response to the Rathenau assassination.

    The marchers demanded that one of the politicians who had given a Reichstag speech against Rathenau the day before his assassination (journalist and then Minister of State Karl Helfferich) be thrown out of office as a murderer. A bit more than ‘we need to tone down the rhetoric.’ (Helfferich dissented strongly from this interpretation of his speech, which in any case didn’t cause the assassination as it had been planned for a while.)

    Rathenau himself had pretty much begun assuming that his life was coming to an end anyway, and got tired of his assigned extra police guard and stopped carrying his pistol around. (See? If only there had been more guns, etc.)

    He and Erzberger and any other official who argued for Germany to carry out its responsibilities under the Versailles Treaty were seen as the enemy, and had been under constant threat. (You know, “cut and run.”)

    It didn’t get any better when Rathenau signed a treaty (Rapallo) with the Soviet Union for peaceful relations, recognitions of territories, etc. (I.e., surrendering to the terrorists.) I mean, sure, huge numbers of Germans supported these policies, but huge majorities don’t mean much when violent forces can succeed in terrorizing and killing their enemies.

    There had been constant threats and letters and posters and screams to kill such figures, and as pointed out, yeah, hundreds were killed.

    So these young men, crazies or no, acted when organizations such as the Organization Consul (or at least many of its members and sub-organizations) and the various other awful progeny of the ultra-rightist paramilitary forces of bitter ex-WW1 veterans and commie-shooters the Freikorps had been calling them traitors and destroyers and surrenderers and lovers of internationalism over the nation, etc. Guns were incredibly plentiful because, you know, WW1 and all.

    (And then you even had stuff like French invasion and re-occupation and control of coal and the subsequent hyper-inflation caused by that, reaction, armed resistance, and the like.)

    At least they could claim to be fighting actual leftist forces who had quite a lot of influence and use of violence, etc., whereas these days to be “leftist” means you think that maybe there ought to be some sort of national regulation of health insurance.

    History doesn’t have to repeat itself when people can remember much of the tune anyway.

  29. 29
    Mark says:

    Great post Tom.

  30. 30
    asiangrrlMN says:

    Thank you, Tom, for this post. It has made me tear up again, but it is needed. And, I am surprised to see you write that you are nearly paralyzed with rage because this post is so thoughtful and stripped of any of the heated fire that I associate with rage. Me, I’m still in deep sorrow. I hope I can find my anger soon because the grief is tearing at my heart.

    I am very glad you joined the Balloon Juice team.

    P.S. The paintings are just the lagniappe to the meat of your posts.

  31. 31
    goatchowder says:

    This is way of a stretch, but I think that term limits are anti-democratic for the same reason.

    Term limits are a tool of political assasination, to eliminate good, smart, competent people from being able to continue to run for office and remain effective, so that useless, lame-brained tools can win instead. It’s a decaptitation attack against a successful, representative, well-liked political system.

    This is what happens when the good people get assassinated too, although it’s infinitely more horrifying to have people shot on the street than to be termed out of office, but the end goal is the same: to destroy the leadership of a government and render it incapable of governing.

  32. 32
    Ian Preston says:

    What do we know about assassination as a political tool? It works. Not always, but enough. It can be effective even if the assassin is truly a lone gunman, truly crazy, utterly denuded of membership cards or explicit links to more formal political groups. … It works—when it does—because even though in the immediate aftermath of a political murder all parties may decry violence, the combination of the loss of leadership and the chilling effect of murderous force itself take their toll on the targeted side.

    I couldn’t read this without it resonating with the despair that feels like the only possible response to another concurrent example of “this kind of tactic taken to an extreme” – the assassination of the last moderate standing in Pakistan.

  33. 33
    mm says:

    Assassination is a political tool. Even when the assassin kills without an agenda but just out of pointless rage.

    Look at the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. I doubt if Sirhan Sirhan had any interest in what RFK was actually fighting for.

    But the assassination to my mind is the point where our universe split off from the more sane one. Our politics changed that day and hasn’t recovered.

    LBJ had already (in March) taken himself out of the race for the 1968 nomination. RFK had just won the California primary and it looked like he was on his way to the nomination in Chicago.

    If he’d lived we wouldn’t have had the Chicago riots. He had already come out against the Vietnam war and he had a relationship with the black community unlike any other white politician. Look at the tape of his speech in Indianapolis after Martin Luther King’s assassination. Indianapolis did not have riots.

    The Kennedy mystique was still powerful all over the country. The 1968 election between Humphrey and Nixon was extremely close. Many “silent majority” whites voted for Nixon after they were disgusted by the rioters in Chicago. No riots = less votes for Nixon.

    If Kennedy had won, there would have been no Nixon. No Nixon means no Watergate. Remember Jimmy Carter? His campaign’s theme was “I will never lie to you.” This was a direct consequence of Watergate. He beat Jerry Ford in 1976. The Republicans have been running against Jimmy Carter (the only politician in my memory who actually put his Christian beliefs to his policies rather than just talking).

    Without Carter in the White House, Reagan wouldn’t have had the traction that he had and he could have retired as California Governor and gone back on the rubber chicken circuit to make a lot of money.

    Without George Bush as Reagan’s vice president there is no way that George W. Bush would have been elected president.

    We might still have President Obama. With RFK in the white house I bet that race baiting wouldn’t have come to be policy of the Republicans. Obama is a very capable man. I bet he would have risen to the top.

    With RFK in the White House the entire string of Republican presidents just wouldn’t have happened.

  34. 34
    aimai says:

    @mai naem:

    Great idea, mai naem. I’ll do the same.

    I wanted to say that I think this is a passionately great post, Tom, and its a point I was trying to make rather messily way downthread in one of the earlier threads. In looking at the effects of the acts of the “lone gunmen” and “crazy guys” out there you have to simply ask “qui bono?” The republican party has been running on fear, anger, and hate for quite a while. We know that people tend to vote Republican when they are afraid. So anything that sets up a climate of fear and anxiety-and that allows people to project their fears onto others–benefits the Republican party.

    I think its fascinating to watch the contortions the various tea party spokespeople and Republican hierarchy are going through to make this problem “go away” in a social sense, while simultaneously hanging on to the parts that benefit them. The inevitable calls for “open carry” are going to be one side benefit. The assertion that it was really a leftist who did it is another.

    Got to run. Tom, lets not forget to get together.

    aimai

  35. 35

    @Teri:

    Bless your heart, dear.

    I realize that this is something like 12 hours after you commented but just in case you happen to look in on the thread:

    What you did was the right thing. What they did to you was wrong.

    Have you considered going to the press and getting your story out? Do you think the repercussions would be worse that what you’ve already lived through?

    I suggest this because I hate to see the bullies win. However, you are the one that will have to decide what to do.

    Good luck.

  36. 36
    Chris says:

    One of my huge issues with how we approach the Nazis is that we tend to treat them like monsters—and by that, I mean we teach as though Hitler emerged full-formed from some depraved cave of Hell. Moreover, that he brought his associates from that same foul place, and mesmerized an entire country into the foul acts they consented in.

    This. One reason why I enjoyed “The Downfall” so much is that it portrayed Hitler as no more or less than a regular human being – and the same for his followers.

    What they did is indeed monstrous, but I hate the way we’ve turned it into some kind of exceptional, once-in-a-millennium evil. It feeds the “it can’t happen here” complacency and the indifference to the many smaller cases of Nazi-like behavior all around the world, it hinders any real understanding of what made “it” happened, and thus makes it far more likely that “it” will happen again.

  37. 37
    valdemar says:

    A brilliant post – detailed, insightful and relevant. As a kid (in England) I did a school project on Germany between the wars and remember being stunned by the level of post-1918 violence, especially the antics of the Frei Korps. Most TV pop history nowadays seems to skate over this and go straight from Versailles to Hitler. With luck your post will make more people aware of what really happened.

  38. 38
    debbie says:

    History does not repeat itself.

    While I’m not expecting the far right to murder 11,000,000 anytime soon, there are clearly parallels in the rise of the Nazis and of the Tea Party that should cause concern. Instead of passively waiting for things to pass, as so many Germans did, I think people must act proactively.

    And you’re right about Kyl. Not only is he part of the problem, his statement shows his cravenness by using this situation to score political points. Totally shameful.

  39. 39
    ...now I try to be amused says:

    @Jim Bales:

    Murder as a political tool was also in the arsenal of the hypernationalists of Japan in the late 20’s and early 30’s. On May 15, 1932, Japan’s Prime Minister, Inukai Tsuyoshi, was assassinated in his residence by a group of 11 young naval officers.

    Admiral Yamamoto Isoruku was given command of the Combined Fleet in 1939 partly because he would be safer from assassins on a ship than in the Navy Ministry. They were after him for his opposition to an alliance with Germany and Italy.

  40. 40
    Janet Strange says:

    @Chris:

    I hate the way we’ve turned it into some kind of exceptional, once-in-a-millennium evil. It feeds the “it can’t happen here” complacency and the indifference to the many smaller cases of Nazi-like behavior all around the world, it hinders any real understanding of what made “it” happened, and thus makes it far more likely that “it” will happen again.

    This works both ways. By not cultivating our awareness that those who make a difference in the world, for good as well as for evil, are humans like ourselves we lose the sense that imperfect people like ourselves can be a positive force. Two quotations I think about a lot:

    One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk but only remember that he was a splendid constitutional lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner.., and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth. W. E. B. Du Bois
    __
    By idolizing those whom we honor, we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves….We fail to recognize that we could go and do likewise. Charles V. Willies

  41. 41
    Michaela says:

    Why isn’t anybody talking about Rush Limbaugh and other members of the far right who, after President Obama was elected, publicly and loudly stated that they would see this country destroyed rather than see Obama’s policies implemented successfully?

  42. 42
    Teri says:

    @Linda Featheringill: Linda,
    Thanks for the kind words of support. Since our local papers are little more than reprints of USA Today it is unlikely that they or the television stations will be interested but it is something to consider.
    What has made me more cautious about how exactly I speak out is how it is impacting my family in ways I did not expect. Unfortunately it has had some consequences for my children that I did not expect. Since my kids are smart and know what I was doing and why they are being understanding, but it has impacted their social lives.
    I think my best help will be with friends who still listen to me and are still involved in the local party. They are concerned with the “new direction” that the search committee is to take in the upcoming year.
    I will continue to be vocal and outspoken about my opinions, and work to make changes in my locale but I have to protect my family. It sucks but I can be brave with my own destiny but not that of my children. However I have to weigh those risks with what I percieve as the danger to their future and how much impact inaction will have on that future. I think this post as well as a post over on Booman have a lot do with what I will be doing in the future. Thanks again.
    Teri

  43. 43
    brantl says:

    @Teri: The left hasn’t subscribed to this kind of eliminational rhetoric. At least, no significant portion, and certainly not on national television and radio, as has the right. Open your eyes.
    This has been very one-sided. Period.

  44. 44
    Batocchio says:

    Fine post, as usual. And sympathies to Teri.

  45. 45
    asiangrrlMN says:

    Teri, I’m sorry you’ve had to experience that. It simply should not happen.

    I would like to add to brandtl’s comment, however, and point out that this would not be the case if you wrote a similar letter to the Democratic Party chair. We don’t agree on anything, as you can tell, and in general, we don’t kick people out who have differing ideas. I don’t consider myself a moderate, but I do not like the rhetoric that is occurring in politics–most of it stemming from the right.

  46. 46
    Ecks says:

    I see someone has quoted this at length before from your older McAarduous rebuttal, but this sentence needs calling out:

    I’ll take the damn bet. Here’s a 100 bucks that says that some asshole fires a weapon at a political rally before the end of Obama’s first term.

    Looks like someone owes you some money Dr. L.

    And also thanks for popping up amidst all the instant-analysis and snark and other fun things to drop a real actual history lesson on us. And a topical one at that. I tip my hat to you good sir.

  47. 47
    Ecks says:

    @Teri: My heart is going out to you here. When someone is using reprisals on one’s family to make a political point, then they have crossed a line from principled disagreement towards totalitarian behavior. The far scarier lines to cross are when they start using violence and arbitrary police actions (secret arrests, “interviewing” friends and family members about your feelings), but ostracism and collective punishment are very dark steps in that general direction.

    I don’t know how this ends well for you – maybe they all calm down, maybe some of them can be shamed into seeing the light, maybe you can get by with just cutting a few people out of your life, maybe some combination… But I sincerely hope that it does end well. Looking for silver linings, I suppose you have learned potentially useful things about who has the moral fiber to be worthy of trust if (god forbid) any bigger problems come up. But who ever wants to have to learn that. Gah.

  48. 48
    Teri says:

    To one and all who offered kind words and encouragement. Thank you. I grew up in a fiercely political household during the sixties and seventies so activism is a birthright. I agree that the democrats don’t agree on anything, and are very inclusive as well as being some very nice people in general. But I can also say that not all right wing republicans are total assholes. I have had some positive notes and encouragement from other long time republicans in my area. It will be an uphill battle to affect change, but I am determined to do so. One of the positive effects of this is opening friends eyes to what they refused to see prior to the deliberate and targeted shunning that has gone on in the past few weeks. For the past twenty years I have gone to early mass on Sundays because it fit for my family. I have had several people who have come up to me, after church, to express their support. I am hoping that by being vocal, open and standing up for myself I can influence some of these people to take more action, rather than just writing checks. Thanks again for your encouragement.
    Teri

  49. 49

    […] like “Brownshirts” and “fascists,” those warning that the Republic is heading towards Weimar—could provoke the mentally unstable left-wing types, right? Now, I don’t buy this argument […]

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