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May 22nd, 2009
07:28 AM ET

Commentary: Wingnuts of the week

Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Randall Terry (L) and Code Pink protestors at a Congressional hearing in March 2009 (R)."]

When President Obama gave the commencement address at Notre Dame earlier this week he called for a constructive pursuit of common ground, even on difficult social issues. It was a welcome attempt at forging a respectful ceasefire in the culture wars that have divided and bedeviled American politics since the late 1960s.

But wingnuts aren’t interested in finding common ground. Armed with ideological certainty, they come to protest and polarize. They are addicted to their drug of choice – a righteous indignation that makes them unable to see any perspective other than their own. Alternately strident and silly, callous and clueless, they become caricatures. They are unwittingly their own side’s worst enemy.

With this week’s wingnuts we’re shining a light on protestors from the right and left who were in the news this week – Notre Dame protestor Randall Terry and Code Pink.

Longtime anti-abortion protestor Randall Terry embodied the outer reaches of American politics this week with a series of stunts and accusations surrounding President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame. While many anti-abortion protesters were respectful and thoughtful, Randall Terry did not honor their common cause.

Camped out in South Bend, Indiana, Terry began with a particularly colorful protest that got him arrested on campus, pushing a baby stroller across the college with dolls covered in fake blood and bumper stickers that read: “Obama '09, one dead baby at a time.”

He escalated in an interview with CNN days before the President’s speech. The money-shot comparison in hyper-partisan politics is Hitler, with a close second being Pontius Pilate. Terry managed to do both in reference to our president. Take a look

In a few short minutes, Terry not only described President Obama as “the premier promoter of child-killing in the Western Hemisphere and perhaps the world" but described the invitation from Notre Dame as being “like inviting Pilate to speak after he ordered Jesus to be crucified.” Then came the inevitable Hitler reference: “If you and I agreed with [Obama] on every issue but he just wanted to kill Jews, would you say, 'Listen, he builds great roads, he has great economic policies; let's forget that Jewish thing for now'?"

Terry somehow managed to hit a new low soon after. With fake blood on his hands and an Obama mask on his face, he lurched forward to scare a group of children who'd been assembled in what was an ostensibly pro-child photo op. Captured by one vigilant video-blogger and posted on YouTube, you can watch a grinning Randall Terry redefine crazy-town callousness in American politics.

Stunts with fake blood are all the rage for unhinged activists these days. The looney left protest group Code Pink attempted to assault former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with bloodstained hands earlier in the year. Earlier this month, they attempted an ambush of former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner.

This is all par for the course in Code Pink-land, where a strident cluelessness accompanies street theater protests. They’ve disrupted countless congressional hearings, blocked the opening of military recruiting stations at Berkley and called our soldiers war criminals. They’ve been apologists for left-wing dictators like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and met privately with Iran’s Holocaust-denying President Ahmadinejad and called it “a major step forward.” Lately, they’ve been collecting donations for Gaza. The US government is for them the prime enemy of peace in the world today. And apparently their feelings were not specific to the Bush administration.

On the same day that President Obama’s approach to the war on terror was being attacked from the right by former Vice President Dick Cheney, Code Pink declared their own protest of the president’s policies from the far left. They declared Thursday their netroot “Day of Action on Afghanistan,” offering supporters talking points to overwhelm congressional switchboards and inboxes with the following demand: “withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Code Pink is trying to speak for the folks on the far-left who feel burned by the recent $96 billion dollar funding for troop escalation in Afghanistan, despite the fact that Obama campaigned on such an increase. President Obama’s centrist course of action in Afghanistan and Iraq succeeded in depolarizing the most divisive issue of this decade within weeks of his entering office. But there is a growing rumbling on the far-left that is representative of activists’ allergy to the responsibilities of governing. For Code Pink, turning over Afghanistan to the Taliban would be the best way to achieve peace and justice. For a group supposedly dedicated to women’s rights, that is naïve in the extreme.

It’s time for a reality check: nobody is pro-abortion, just as nobody is purely pro-war. Individuals can be personally opposed to abortion while still believing in a woman’s right to make this most difficult personal decision with minimal government interference; just as people can believe in just and necessary wars. We can find common ground in America, but it requires thinking responsibly about solving problems, not rabid protests. Democracy depends on a faith in persuasion, not violent polarization.

But President Obama should take heart: when the far left and far right are both protesting your policies, you’re probably doing something right.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

Filed under: John Avlon • Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Becky

    I love this feature!
    I missed this weeks' wingnut of the week!

    May 29, 2009 at 11:31 am |
  2. dave

    Mr. Terry should sit down and read the Gospels

    May 28, 2009 at 12:30 pm |
  3. Mason Green

    My vote for the next wingnut:

    Tom Tancredo, who labeled President Obama's Supreme Court pick, Sonia Sotomayor, a racist. A supreme irony coming from him!

    "In yet another offensive statement, for which he will no doubt refuse to repudiate, former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo charged today that U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor is a racist.

    Read the Colorado Independent archives for the low-lights of Tancredo’s antics, as a member of Congress, GOP presidential candidate and now private citizen, over the last three years — including statements about bombing Mecca, calling Miami a Third World city, singing the praises of torturing terrorists, carousing with eugenics proponents or singing Dixie in front of a Confederate flag."

    Thanks for reading my posts!

    -Mason Green

    May 27, 2009 at 10:05 am |
  4. Middle works

    Some posters feel if you're in the middle you don't stand for anything, or for inaction. This is far from the truth. I don't agree with socialized policies that absolve people of their responsibility to contribute to society, but I also don't believe the rich should be viewed as deserving of special consideration, or as the driving factors of our economy and society. Under the current system, the parties are either for the rich and corporate America, or the lower class. Those stuck in the middle which makes up the majority are forgotten because, "They're doing fine and don't need anything". If they want the economy to grow, they need to get more money in the hands of the middle class that accounts for 70% of the spending. The GOP wants to give breaks to the rich who are only looking for ways of increasing their profits by decreasing pay and benefits for the very people who are doing the spending as if to say the economy would benefit if every worked and earned minimum wage. At the same time the Dems feel we need to do more to help the lower classes further abuse the system to avoid having to take responsibilty for their own decision. I feel there are many, many, many people who are tired of being the rope in the tug-o-war of politics. That's why people vote for the president who will do the least damage, and not necessarily who they feel will be productive.

    May 26, 2009 at 10:28 am |
  5. hypocrites_are_everywhere

    sorry for the typos (in vitro –> in-vitro; "we" condemn –> "we" condemned; etc.) 🙂

    May 25, 2009 at 9:04 pm |
  6. hypocrites_are_everywhere


    Your argument is absolutely right!


    Congrats that you made it through lots of adversaries! Still, your mom made the "best" decision that she could at the time. No one (not you, me, or our government) can second guess her. To imply that your mom needs to apologize is just that!

    As for your speaking "on behalf of the other less fortunate babies," it'd be more sincere that you speak out against in vitro fertilization! When you pick "stem cells," your right wingnut-ness (under the veil of religious hypocrisy) is exposed! It's just too obvious! 🙂

    And whether stem cells are really worth it? You can bet they are! Just remember that not too long ago that "we" condemn Copernicus of asserting that the earth moves - a concept that was false and altogether opposed to Holy Scripture! Do you own a car that offers GPS navigation, yet? 🙂 You & I might not live to see the awesome power of stem-cell research. Be definition, God may or may not exist, but "all" religions are based on fear and certain man-made ideology!

    May 25, 2009 at 9:01 pm |
  7. Melanie

    Wing nuts? Dare I say you are being contradictory or even moreso, hypocritical? Left WING NUTS bitch, moan and complain, throw temper tantrums and scream until they are placated and handed a "sucker" to calm them down. Left wing nuts are notorious for threatening and pointing fingers if they dont get their way. Spoiled brats!!!

    But getting to the "meat" of this commentary, I think the BIG question should be... Have YOU had an abortion? or your wife, daughter, cousin, aunt or mother? If so, how did it go? Well? Has Michelle Obama EVER had an abortion? Inquiring minds want to know! How do MEN have the audacity to be so insensitive, not having a CLUE what is emotionally, physically AND spiritually involved in an abortion take such a hard stand?

    I pose this rhetorical question because I WAS an abortion that failed. Yes, my mother tried to abort me, and never once apologized for it.
    So if I may for a moment, having had a hanger stuck in my embryo sac, speak on behalf of the other less fortunate babies, were the stem cells REALLY worth it?

    May 25, 2009 at 5:12 pm |
  8. Neilz

    "The tolerance which was the great achievement of the liberal era is still professed and (with strong qualifications) practiced, while the economic and political process is subjected to an ubiquitous and effective administration in accordance with the predominant interests. The result is an objective contradiction between the economic and political structure on the one side, and the theory and practice of toleration on the other.. The altered social structure tends to weaken the effectiveness of tolerance toward dissenting and oppositional movements and to strengthen conservative and reactionary forces. Equality of tolerance becomes abstract, spurious. With the actual decline of dissenting forces in the society, the opposition is insulated in small and frequently antagonistic groups who, even where tolerated within the narrow limits set by the hierarchical structure of society, are powerless while they keep within these limits. But the tolerance shown to them is deceptive and promotes co-ordination. And on the firm foundations of a co-ordinated society all but closed against qualitative change, tolerance itself serves to contain such change rather than to promote it."
    Marcuse, "Repressive Tolerance" 1965

    May 25, 2009 at 4:37 pm |
  9. still reasonable in WV

    I've written this elsewhere, but I'll say it again: for most of us, centrism does not proceed from lack of convict or from moral cowardice. It proceeds instead from respect for others and the kind of intellectual integrity that recognizes that the most contentious issues are very complicated. The over-simplification that many of the most inflexible and doctrinaire among us bring to the debates about difficult issues makes things worse not, better.

    May 25, 2009 at 1:53 pm |
  10. Dothan, AL

    Great Article! We are getting to a point where effective communication will rule the day. Extremes on both sides will realize that people are just sick and tired of the SOS, hate, us vs them style of doing business.
    This generation (80's on) will coexist in peace once the boomers check their heavenly baggage. Boomers have spent all the money, use and abuse all the drugs, screwed up the environment, hated the world , hated the country, themselves and anything or anybody unlike us and they think we want to follow in those steps. Not Noway Not No how!
    We are the future that will lead the world and bring Peace once we
    clean up your decades old mess. We are the true America where
    there will be Liberty and Justice for ALL..and our time is here!

    May 24, 2009 at 9:25 pm |
  11. R. Morrow

    Wingnut of the week? You missed 30 of them and they are not all Right wingers and don't forget the Biggest Liar on the planet earth Pelosi...

    May 24, 2009 at 3:02 pm |
  12. Tango Tango

    Far too many here seem to confuse cooperation as a do nothing approach, when the truth is quite the opposite. Working together for the greater good is far more advantages than a me only approach. Unless of course you are a fan of shows like Amazing Race, Survivor, and Big Brother, which glorifies cut throat politics or it’s my way or the highway mentality.

    May 23, 2009 at 8:22 pm |
  13. Isabelle

    BRAVO, Mr. Avlon! Unfortunately, MANY missed the entire point of your piece. They will continue spewing forth much of the same, accomplishing absolutely nothing more than circus side-show antics .

    May 23, 2009 at 3:59 am |
  14. Dan VA

    Another broad brush painter of distortion with the popular liberal use of the word "wingnuts". Maybe you and Nat can get together and chew the rag about wingnut white people.

    May 22, 2009 at 9:10 pm |
  15. European Fence Sitter

    Mr. Avlon's your brand of euro centrist extremism marks a new low in extremism , you represent the hard line fence sitters a group that obviously needs more representation and talk show hosts.

    This stuff brings me back to my youth and memories of the gong show, these Left|Right lunatics are an asset to the extremist entertainment industry.

    May 22, 2009 at 6:13 pm |
  16. Steve

    What is really sad about most of the bloggers on these blogs, is that ya’ll are doing exactly what these hypocrites in the congress and senate want us to do. Everyone keeps attacking each other and not looking at the real problem, and that is that our representatives are a bunch of self righteous,money hungry, worthless individuals. They continue to sling accusations at each other and we continue to attack the left or right. I for one do not believe there is a difference between any of these car salesmen, and believe they would sell their first born to stay in office. It is all about power, so I plan to vote out every incumbent in office in 2010.

    May 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm |
  17. Derek

    Wow! I am amazed at the catholics are up in arms over a graduation speach. Wrong venue for a protest over abortion. Where were these catholics when the church allowed child abusing priests to hide or moved around? Where was the church during the holocaust? My moral judgement does not come from an institution that has dirty hands nor from people that are preaching to me thier religous views. I am pro-life (who isn't), make a non-religous argument against abortion and then I may listen. Until then, I will always vote pro-choice when it comes to setting public policy. It's the right thing to do.

    May 22, 2009 at 5:04 pm |
  18. Heyward

    I just started reading your column, and I think it's fantastic. Just what this country needs, someone to point out when the wingnuts in both parties are acting ridiculous.

    May 22, 2009 at 5:00 pm |
  19. Jack

    He's right! I am an Independent because of the extremes, both idiotic!

    May 22, 2009 at 4:30 pm |
  20. Gonzo in Houston

    At last! an article for those of us in the Sane Center. The extremists of both sides are wrong, and either will lead the country to destruction. We who vote for leaders, not parties or ideologies, are the ones who select the President, and we left the GOP in droves in 2008. Should Obama lurch too far to the left, we'll leave him as well.

    Oh, and Dan in Ohio, it wasn't just the far left and fiscally conservative far right that hated Bush, it was the far left, the moderate left, the center, and the moderate right that hated him, as well as the fiscal conservatives on the far right. Mr. Avlon's contention about Obama is sound.

    May 22, 2009 at 3:52 pm |
  21. Dan in Ohio

    On a chat board I visit frequently one poster made this comment about your column:

    "By the time Bush left office, the far left hated him and the fiscally conservative far right did as well. I guess by the logic presented in the article he was doing something right."

    I really find your Centrist postion to be a joke. We do need to find some common ground but your "Wingnut" approach really isn't accomplishing anything either.

    May 22, 2009 at 2:27 pm |
  22. Nina Harris

    Alright Fip, How about a change up from Fox News to MSNBC?

    May 22, 2009 at 2:21 pm |
  23. Caleb

    hahaha it funny because it true

    May 22, 2009 at 1:48 pm |
  24. Baze

    FANTASTIC COLUMN! It actually made me burst out laughing. I love these nuts. They provide great entertainment. Please, continue your outlandish antics, it's great comedy that gets me through dull workdays.

    May 22, 2009 at 1:03 pm |
  25. buzz

    "when the far left and far right are both protesting your policies, you’re probably doing something right."
    I'm not sure you understand logic with reasoning like that. No one satisfies the insane, but who qualifies is largely up to the one who tweaks the definitions toward their own self-interest.

    May 22, 2009 at 12:18 pm |
  26. Tango Tango

    People when will you come to the realization that extremists left or right in our nation are just as destructive as weeds in your garden, left unchecked they will overrun and destroy anything that competes for substance. Any gardener will tell you that you must eradicate them totally to save your garden. They do not coexist they denominate.

    May 22, 2009 at 11:58 am |
  27. John in Ohio

    Obama is doing a great job of, despite strident complaints from lunatics on the right (everybody on the right) and lunatics on the left (too many of them), showing that he is the president for the middle of the country, the reasonable part. Couple that with the clear evidence that he puts a whole lot of thought into every single thing he does, and is willing to temper his ideology in the face of inconvenient realities (a very welcome change from the "old boss"), and you have a pretty good president. Better then we've had in decades, certainly.

    May 22, 2009 at 11:57 am |
  28. RememberingCindy

    Masquerading as an independent, John Avalon employs the favored technique taught in Lefty 101 - set up a fragile strawman to establish a faux moral equivalency. The worn out jingo that "our bad is no worse than your bad" has no intellectual substance in socio-political commentary.

    Centrism, as John practices it, is safe-playing middle-grounding. It uses the linquistic structure and lexicon of analysis, without admiting the moral convictions to stand for anything; Beating their chests from behind the plexiglass, they shout against the obvious extremes of the wings.

    Standing in the middle of the road is a good place to get hit.

    May 22, 2009 at 11:28 am |
  29. Jane Boucher

    This bothers me that children are being used, it seems to be to create hatred, and more bigotry. Children should not be used in these protests like this. I am a grandmother.

    May 22, 2009 at 11:10 am |
  30. Bo

    Great column Mr. Avlon. You should check out Larry Donlan and the "truth truck" They are candidates for wing-nut of the year.

    May 22, 2009 at 10:58 am |