Violence and Revolutionary Rhetoric

by Kevin D. Williamson

The problem with contemporary conservative rhetoric, Alex Pareene protests, is that it indulges revolutionary tropes. Disagreement is fine and all, he argues, but some ideas are impermissible or dangerous, especially the idea “that the opponent is not simply wrong, but has illegitimately seized power, and is illegally exercising that power.” To be clear: “The attempted assassination of a member of Congress,” he writes, “seems depressingly like the inevitable conclusion of two years of hysterical revolutionary language suffusing every single domestic political debate.”

I am aware of no serious conservative who believes that Barack Obama or Democratic congressmen have “illegitimately seized power.” But it is true that Barack Obama is the first president to be commonly denounced by his opponents as illegitimate since . . . the last one. The belief that the Bush administration was installed through a judicial coup d’état was — and is — an article of faith for much of the Left. As recently as December 2010, you could read this sentence at the Huffington Post: “The 2000 election was a coup d’état.”

Mr. Pareene would not have to look very far to find examples of the Left arguing that a conservative politician “is not simply wrong, but has illegitimately seized power, and is illegally exercising that power.” He might look in his own publication, for instance.

Salon.com co-founder Gary Kamiya wrote that the Bush-Gore contest was “rigged” and “fixed.” Illegitimate governing institutions, you say? Mr. Kamiya wrote: “The American people’s allegiance to democracy should be greater than our fealty to a court that has just spat in its face.” Reviewing Alan Dershowitz’s book on the 2000 election, he wrote that the Court behaved “improperly, and probably corruptly,” and acknowledged that critics of Bush v. Gore believe the Supreme Court had pulled off a “coup d’état.”

Democratic Underground referred to Bush v. Gore as a “coup d’état.” Yes, fine, DU is full of marginal freaks: The New Yorker, for Pete’s sake, called it a “coup d’état” Michael Moore called the Wall Street bailouts evidence of a “coup d’état.” Salon wrote that Dick Cheney had led a “bureaucratic coup d’état” inside the government.  Can there be a more clear statement “that the opponent is not simply wrong, but has illegitimately seized power, and is illegally exercising that power,” than to characterize his election as a “coup d’état”?

The Right has its birthers, whose shenanigans have been roundly denounced from conservative quarters, by National Review and by others. Who among the Left denounced the Bush “coup d’état” rhetoric?

It must be admitted that there are some who have argued for some time that the Obama administration is “radical,” and that it operates without due regard for the Constitution. For instance, at least one writer at Salon.

I trust Mr. Pareene and his colleagues can work this out among themselves, and I eagerly await Mr. Pareene’s clear and unqualified statement of his belief that the election of George W. Bush was neither illegitimate nor illegal.