Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Extremist Myth

There's a myth pushed by all extremists which proposes that, in order to "win over" your enemies, or get them to stop attacking you, that you must appease the most extreme of them. And because it's impossible to do that, that we shouldn't even try; and instead should fight them harder. This is what makes them extremist, because they don't believe in a middle-ground, and believe that only extreme measures will suffice.

For instance, warhawks will insist that there's no point in trying to woe over the Muslim world, or to show them that we're not out to kill them, because there were always extremists trying to kill us. Bush didn't create terrorism, they tell us. And that our best bet is to bomb the hell out of them because that's what they're trying to do to us.

And the Deaniacs were using a form of this myth before Dean lost the nomination. Insisting that because the Republicans will always attack every Democrat as anti-American, that it doesn't hurt anything to pick Dean, because the others would get the same treatment. That it doesn't matter if Bush ran campaign ads of Dean skiing on the bum knee that kept him out of Vietnam, because they'd run the same kinds of ads against Kerry, Edwards, or Clark. And Bushies use this same defense as a reason why they shouldn't appease Democrats. If they give in and compromise with us, we'll just walk all over them and demand more.

But this is entirely a myth. Because we don't need to win Bin Laden to our side. We just need to deny him new recruits. And we don't need to win the ultra-conservatives to our side. We just need a majority of Americans to reject them. And in both of these cases, the last thing we should do is fuel their arguments by giving them legitimacy. The terrorists and Republicans have arguments about us being extremist freaks, and the last thing we should do is to make those arguments sound more plausible by behaving like extremist freaks. Sure, they did portray Kerry as a Vietnam coward, but that shouldn't suggest that the anti-Dean ads wouldn't have been more effective.

And this makes all the difference, because it gives us the completely opposite prescription for how to deal with our enemies. If the extremist myth was correct, then bombing Muslims and starting wars is the best answer. But if the myth is wrong, then that response could be the worst answer. Bin Laden woes supporters by insisting that America is trying to bomb them and invade their land; and so bombing them and invading their land will provide evidence that he's right. Republicans woe voters by insisting that Democrats are trying to damage America and are too extremist to lead; and nominating the far-left candidate would have sealed that perception (I believe Dean was actually quite moderate, but I'm referring to perceptions, which is a different matter).

And it is wrong. Most Muslims do not hate and most Americans do not believe that Democrats are too extremist. But the extremist's goal is to make the other side more extremist, and more intolerant. After 9/11, many Americans wanted retribution against innocent Muslim-Americans, as payback against Bin Laden's attacks. Believing that it would hurt Bin Laden if we hurt innocent Muslims. But that is exactly what Bin Laden wanted, so that Muslim-Americans would hate and fear Americans, and be more willing to join him. And Bin Laden would want Londoners to attack innocent Muslims now. And he wants Iranians and Egyptians and Saudis to fear that we'll attack them. That plays right into his hands and makes his extremist views more appropriate. It turned perceived threats into real threats. Attacking Iraq and imprisoning thousands of Muslims in Gitmo is exactly the kind of thing that Bin Laden warned about. So we went ahead and turned his empty warnings into reality.

What Extremists Want

Extremists want an extremist world. They want people to take sides. This is exactly the Rove strategy. Because extremists always view the world as extremes, and the further extreme they are, the more they see it. And they see non-extremists as part of the problem. They believe that moderates encourage the enemy, and so they want as few moderates as possible. And partly, extremists always believe that once the sides are drawn, that their side will have more supporters than the other side. So their true enemy is not the other extremists, but moderation itself.

Overall, extremists see the same answer to each problem, and that answer is sure to be extreme. But each problem is different. Sometimes it's best to take a hard stance, and sometimes it's best to go easy. Sometimes it's best to bomb your enemy, and sometimes it's best to offer a helping hand. And it's not always obvious which is the best approach. But the obvious worst approach is to give each threat the same answer. It all just depends on what your enemy wants, how strong they are, and how strong your actions will make them become. Hitler could not be appeased, and could only be dealt with by war. But Jesus became a martyr, which helped found one of the greatest religions of all time. And there is a strong argument that it wasn't hardline anti-communism or war that defeated the Soviets, but rather the policy of containment, the Blue Jean Revolution, and Reagan's latter-day conversion away from neo-conservatism and towards seeing the Russian people as being separate from the Soviet leadership holding them back.

Every situation is different, yet the extremists always insist upon the same solutions. Bin Laden will not be pacified. But that is no reason to enrage other Muslims into following him. George Bush cannot be appeased. But that is no reason to play his game of divide-and-conquer, as Howard Dean and Joe Trippi wanted.

As I've stated before, Democrats and democracy work best when we stand united and act to include as many sides as possible. We are the party and government of diversity and win-win solutions. We must ignore the extremist call to divide us and make us all the enemy of compromise, understanding, and goodwill. A majority of people are not extremists, and it's much safer to appeal to that majority than to roll the dice and hope that our extremism will attract more supporters than theirs. I'm not at all suggesting appeasement. I'm suggesting a strong moderation which denies the extremists the ability to portray us as enemies. If we present a strong, but moderate force, Republicans will be denied the ability to reasonably portray us as anti-American or extremist.

Sure, they will try, just as Bin Laden will continue to portray us as extremist anti-Muslims trying to conquer Islam; and Bill O'Reilly will continue to pimp extremists like Ward Churchill as being representative of all liberals. But we're not trying to win them over, or deny them arguments. We just need to deny giving their arguments legitimacy. We must not allow their extremist fantasies to become reality. They want a world of extremists, of loyalists who will die for them and enemies who will demonize them. That is how they gain power, and that is how they will destroy us. We must deny them that, or we will all lose.

4 comments:

Joe Trippi said...

You don't have a clue what I wanted.

Doctor Biobrain said...

I guess not, Joe. I suppose I was blinded to the whole Dean thing back in the spring of 2003 when the Deaniacs called me "Bush-lite" because I thought Kerry would have been a better nominee, and that they shouldn't have been bad-mouthing him or the other Dems so much. The arguments with the lefter-than-thou crowd left a bad taste in my mouth. I even told them that their hardliner attitude was a big turnoff for me, but I was told that this proved that I was already too anti-Dean to bother with, and that they didn't need me anyway.

If these were hired Bush goons, they couldn't have done a better job. But they weren't. They just didn't have room for softies. Extremists never do. I guess this was the energized base that was supposed to attract the swing middle voters. Somehow along the line, the moderate liberals like me got passed over. I think that showed in the primaries.

Joe Trippi said...

First of all read what you just wrote. You are throwing all Dean supporters including me in the same vat of poison. Exactly what you accuse the entire Dean community of doing. BTW I am not arguing with how you feel or even that how you feel is wrong. But not all Dean supporters are hardliner lefties -- and you believe that I wanted to play a game of divide and conquer then you do not know what you are talking about and you could not possibly have read anything I have ever wrote on the subject starting with the memo I wrote to Governor Dean that is on my website. www.joetrippi.com

Doctor Biobrain said...

Joe, perhaps you might want to re-read my response if you believe that I labeled all Dean supporters as hardliner lefties, or had some vat of poison. Hell, I always saw Dean as being slightly more conservative than I am. It was always his appeal to the base which caused concern. The only correction I might want to make is that I said "the Deaniacs" rather than "many Deaniacs" as those labeling me "Bush-lite". I stand by everything else.

And perhaps it wasn't part of the Trippi Strategy to energize the base by referring to the other Democrats as Bush-lite, but that was clearly the Dean Strategy. He thought the way to win was to "crank the heck out of your base, get them really excited and crank up the base turn-out." And he did that by repeatedly referring to all the other candidates as Republicans. He apparently believed he had discovered the same strategy that Rove had discovered, and that was to appeal to the base in order to win over the middle. That was never Rove's strategy, but that was what Dean said. And the effect was that it alienated everyone else.

Call me crazy, but that sounds like the divide-and-conquer strategy I was talking about. When I talked to these Deaniacs, I put forth the idea that they shouldn't denounce the other candidates, and that the Dems should stick together rather than rip themselves apart. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that pseudo-Republicans like Kerry and Edwards were just as bad or worse than Bush. That is what Dean told them, and they firmly believed it. And this fits with my idea of extremists who hate moderates more than their opposite extremists. More than anything, extremists want people to pick firm sides and to stay loyal to those sides. And Dean's efforts to rouse the base clearly had that effect.

I suspect, however, that your real problem is my use of the term "extremist" in regards to the Deaniacs. But I have no problem with that, as that's the category I believe they belong in. When they refer to strong liberals such as myself as being Republicans and Bush-lite, I have a hard time not categorizng them as being on the fringe. And that was clearly the Dean strategy. He obtained a slash-and-burn loyality that holds firm to this day. Even now, a mention that Dean wasn't so great will be greeted with insults and hostility. Much the same way that Bushies react. I think such emotional loyalities are always dangerous and should be discouraged. Overall, the Deaniacs were far more loyal to Dean than they were to the party or to liberalism; and I see that as a huge problem.

And as a note of advice, phrases like "you don't have a clue" are considered by many to be slightly hostile and completely unhelpful. Perhaps my brief remarks about Dean were hostile to you, and you felt that it was already too late to bother correcting me politely. But that is exactly what I was referring to as my problem with many Deaniacs. Some people cannot be converted, and you shouldn't even bother. But other people are willing to listen and change their mind, if you give them something to listen to. The secret is in determining which are which.

And I can only imagine that your correction of my statement is that you'd put the Trippi Strategy as being more towards the inclusive ideas I've put forth, rather than the exclusive extremism I suggested it was. But if that is correct, it would have been far more helpful to say that we're on the same team, rather than to suggest that I'm clueless.

And FYI, I don't scour websites to find evidence that I'm wrong. I have no problem with people telling me exactly where to look, but I really am too busy to be doing that research myself. And I've always seen it as poor internet etiquette to refer to an entire website as the source material I'm supposed to read. I guess some people differ on that, but don't be surprised if I don't go over there to search for this stuff. I don't expect you to read over my entire blog to discover my point of view (though I'd be happy if you did so); and you shouldn't expect the same from me.