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July 10th, 2009
06:55 AM ET

Avlon: 'Wingnut' demonizes the opposition

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="Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman (L) chairman of the Young Republicans, Audra Shay (R)."]

Here’s one mistake wingnuts always make: they view political opponents as their enemies, not well-intentioned fellow Americans. They demonize disagreement.

It’s part of the hyper-partisan political cycle – backlashes begin when one party gets arrogant and over-reaches.  We saw it with Tom Delay’s Republican Congress post-2004, and we might be seeing the beginning with House Democrats today.

The stimulus spending spree is beginning to attract some Main Street skepticism, just as liberal leaders try to move climate change cap and trade and a trillion dollar health care reform through Congress this summer.  There is a sense that momentum must be kept at all costs and that opposition is outright un-American.  At least according to influential California Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, who adopted the kind of rhetoric usually associated with wingnuts on the right while in an interview with NPR’s Diane Rehm, as reported by Politico.

"It appears that the Republican Party leadership in the Congress has made a decision that they want to deny President Obama success — which means, in my mind, they are rooting against the country as well," Waxman said.

“Rooting against the country” – that’s quite a charge.  But it’s one he’s repeated in recent days (at one point saying the GOP is “rooting against the world”), while he promotes a new book and his cap and trade bill, which Waxman admits to not have read in detail despite sponsorship: “I certainly don’t claim to know everything that’s in this bill,” he’s said.

But if he doesn’t know what’s in the 1,200 page Waxman-Markey bill, who does?  Republicans like John McCain have supported cap and trade in the past – and 8 courageous Republicans in the House voted for the bill while 44 Democrats voted against it.  There is a need to build bipartisan support for ambitious bills.  Demonizing the opposition – or questioning their commitment to their country – is not the way to achieve it.

Waxman’s comments underscore a problem for Democrats that began creeping into polling numbers this week: The election of 2008 was not a blank check liberal ideological mandate.  President Obama is broadly popular, but the Democrat-controlled Congress is not.  One of the reasons for this gap is the president’s post-partisan approach to problem-solving.  In contrast, hyper-partisans end up being their own side’s worst enemy because they alienate the moderate majority of Americans.

But speaking of calling your opponents anti-American, few can outdo the leading candidate to be the next chairman of the Young Republicans, Audra Shay.  “I think that you are ignorant if you believe this man is anything but anti-American,” she wrote about President Obama on her Facebook page.

The 38-year-old Louisiana mom, event planner and Army veteran raised eyebrows this week when this and other threads from her Facebook page became public.

On July 1st, a Shay supporter named Eric S. Piker wrote “It’s the government making us commies… can’t even smoke in my damn car… whats next they going to issue toilet paper once a month…” Two minutes later, Piker posted again saying “Obama Bin Lauden [sic] is the new terrorist… Muslim is on there side [sic]… need to take this country back from all of these mad coons… and illegals.”

Eight minutes after that, at 2:02, Shay weighed in on Piker’s comments:  “You tell em Eric!  lol.”

When other folks on the page complained about Piker’s comments and the evident lack of outrage from the candidate, Shay “de-friended” them – but kept Piker on.  When the site picked up on the exchange, Shay issued a belated apology, explaining that she was responding to the first comment and not the second – an explanation that seems strained to some because of the 8 minute interval.  On the heels of the two other GOP racist email snafus that have occurred in the past month and covered in a previous week’s Wingnuts, it seems like a disturbing trend is underway.  It must be confronted by conservatives.  We’ll have to see how the Young Republicans vote this weekend.

The bottom line is that it is un-American to call people who disagree with you "un-American."  Our political opponents are not our enemies, and if folks are not persuaded by legislation (especially involving unprecedented taxpayer spending) it does not mean they are rooting against America.  That kind of demonization of disagreement has got to stop.  But it’s proliferating in hyper-partisan echo-chambers, where no attack is too extreme against political opponents and the only unforgivable sin is to stand up to someone on your own side.  By giving into this Washington "team-ism", wingnuts confuse partisan conformity with personal courage.

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

Filed under: Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Joel Weymouth

    BTW – isn't calling someone a "wingnut" : demonizing the opposition? Isn't showing a picture of them with a "wingnut" on their head beyond debate, but simple ad hominem arguments and really dehumanizing. Marxist use this tactic of dehumanizing because it is easier to kill the opposition once you have made them less than human. Avlon is using leftist methods from Alinsky – ridicule and dehumanize the opposition. Being independent has nothing to do with what he believes. He is obviously a leftist and very liberal and dishonestly passing off as an independent enhance the deception. Goebbels used the same tactic successfully. CNN and Avlon are in the proper company to befit the type of people they are. Of course Goebbels failed in the end and CNN is at the bottom of ratings.

    September 4, 2009 at 2:58 pm |
  2. Joel Weymouth

    Avlon is a cheap opportunist. A man without the fortitude of convictions he just judges someone on their "tone" like a dog would do. That is the problem with independents, they seek the approval of the MSM instead of developing a belief system. We in the real world call that a Coward or a Con. CNN of course uses him. Another reason why CNN is losing in the ratings even with more Cable outlets. You are both out of touch.

    September 4, 2009 at 2:51 pm |
  3. Melissa

    Its about time that someone told the nutbags in this country that calling someone unamerican for disagreeing is unamerican itself.

    August 3, 2009 at 2:37 pm |
  4. independentjane

    Glad I found you, was beginning to think I'm the only person whose brain isn't leased back to them by the left or the right. Many people seem to line up for or against an issue before they even know what it is, based on whether their party supports or condemns it. You could be giving away free trips to Disneyland and one side would complain about the corporate culture of Disneyland, while the other would ask what else is included?

    July 27, 2009 at 8:41 am |
  5. Rob

    Hoping your political foes fail is perfectly natural and nothing but common sense. After all, if you wanted them to succeed you'd probably be in the same party! I don't want to see Obama, or anyone else for that matter, turn this country into a socialistic nanny state. So obviously I hope they fail in their current endeavors to do just that. That doesn't mean I'm rooting against the country. Quite the contrary, I want the country to succeed, but not on those terms. So I'm rooting against those misguided politicians who are attempting to recreate France in North America.

    July 24, 2009 at 5:28 pm |
  6. Brian Dodge

    If I were to go on Representative Waxman's Facebook page and call someone an ignorant redneck honkey, and he were to respond “You tell em", Rush Limbaugh's, Ann Coulter's, and the steaming pile of reporter's at Fox news heads would explode. Which would be fun, but wouldn't do much toward moving political discourse toward the compromises necessary if we want to solve the problems facing the world. I'd like to see some constructive ideas from the right on global warming, peak oil, alternate energy, health care reform(we're first in spending, and 37th in rank, behind Costa Rica, and just ahead of Slovenia), or population growth. Instead all we hear is "we hope Obama fails" "he's anti-american", or just "NO".

    July 16, 2009 at 1:06 am |
  7. Tom

    Sorry Ken, I think your attempt to understand the point of this article has failed. Where does the author claim to equate these 2 individuals, other than describing them as each demonizing opposing views? You show your own bias by justifying Waxman's hyperbole and silly claim. By your logic since some other 'wingnuts' have used similar language in whatever context, then Waxman turning the claim around in another context somehow makes it legitimate. That may well be your opinion, but it is not a logical argument.

    July 15, 2009 at 1:59 pm |
  8. William P

    May I say something? "Centrist" is codeword for useful idiot.

    July 15, 2009 at 1:53 pm |
  9. Ryan in VA

    @ doug:
    July 10th, 2009 7:24 am ET

    "If the website is moderated it can easily take twenty to thirty min. for a post to appear."

    If the website is moderated (Facebook comments are self-moderated, by the way), then Shay is even WORSE for having ALLOWED the "coon" comment, instead of denying it in the first place! She has no legs to stand on here. Either way, she's a bigot. Then again, maybe she's just trying to elevate herself to Coulter-level notoriety. They should BOTH be ostracized by their peers, in my opinion, for their bigotry!

    July 14, 2009 at 12:29 pm |
  10. Patrick Henry

    It's concerning to me that people who are elected officials, who should know better, decided to continue to support Audra, even after she made these racist statements. People that not only supported her but continued to run on Audra Shay's Ticket such as:
    Audra Shay's Treasurer Candidate – Kelly Arnold, County Clerk – Sedgwick County, Kansas
    Audra Shay's Auditor Candidate – Dennis Cook, President, Consolidated District 230 Board of Education – Illinois (who is thinking of running for Statewide Office in Illinois)

    I think it is unacceptable to have these elected officials continue to get elected after their support of such behavior from Mrs. Shay. They should resign along with Mrs. Shay.

    July 14, 2009 at 11:41 am |
  11. Christine from Ocean City, MD

    Thank you Mr Avlon! I love this concept and always look forward to the next installment. Down With All Wingnuts Everywhere!! 🙂

    July 14, 2009 at 8:12 am |
  12. Ken

    Sorry John. Your attempt here at "fair and balanced" has failed.

    Anyone who is cognizant of recent news is all-too-familiar with Rush's and some [R] congresspeople's wish that Obama fail. It is but a minute step to see that if Obama fails the country will also fail, in that the country will be in a bunch of economic pain for much longer than anyone should patriotically hope for. Your article disingenuously pre-supposes that Waxman's comments were made in a vacuum, instead of having been made in the VERY atmosphere of hyper-partisan [R] attacks that your article supposes to address.

    On the other hand, Mr. Avlon, please inform us which particular [D]-led hyperpartisan attacks Ms Shay is responding to? There are none. Her's was a bigoted, racist, narrow-minded screech that is becoming all too familiar from the right's echo chamber.

    Of course you are welcome to your opinion, Mr. Avlon, but as your fellow American, I am also welcome to my opinion that your attempt to equate Mr. Waxman with Ms Shay is extremely shallow on logic and truth, and because of that is more likely to help to perpetrate the very hyper-partisan echo-chambers you purport to address.

    July 13, 2009 at 12:00 pm |
  13. Bernice

    Go ahead Democrats, keep blowing it so another RESPONSIBLE party can take over! What a total failuer this party has been, and continues to be!

    July 13, 2009 at 8:01 am |
  14. doug

    If the website is moderated it can easily take twenty to thirty min. for a post to appear.

    July 10, 2009 at 7:24 am |
  15. Gayle Fleming

    Such a balanced and timely article. I am starting to fear my fellow Democrats are over reaching. In my own personal politcal beliefs I am a total Lefty. HOWEVER, I believe in centrist government because I believe that this is a centrist country. The left nor the right is in the majority. I believe our president, though extremely liberal in his personal beliefs, is trying hard to govern from the center in a decidely pragmatic way. Please Democrats DON'T BLOW IT.

    July 10, 2009 at 7:04 am |