Framing the debate (and maybe criminalizing it)

Earlier this week I was struggling to decide what my first post here at Ex Deserto would be about. I toyed with notions of doing something comical or satirical, but I was pretty stumped for a couple days. Then, a bit of random web-surfing, and recent events here on campus at USC, proved, shall we say, inspirational. Ex Deserto is here to be an outlet for public policy debate, so what better way to introduce myself than with some comments on the framing of that debate.

This topic sprung to mind because for the third time in the last six months, our GOP Law Society board at USC was defaced. This time, our autographed picture of Governor Mark Sanford was torn down. Two other incidents occurred right before and after the election, and included someone tearing down a poster congratulating President Obama for his victory. The fact this occurred not just at an institution of higher learning, but at a law school, where the principle of reverence for the law is supposedly being ingrained, is especially disgusting.

Of course, conservative voices facing opposition on college campuses is all-too-familiar. From Ann Coulter dodging pies, to David Horowitz being shouted down, stories of right-thinking speakers and events confronting intimidation and violence are legion.

A similar scene played out on the campus of UNC Chapel-Hill last week, when a speech by former Congressman Tom Tancredo was cut short by shattered glass and mob tactics that forced police to taser at least one individual. As a cameraman filming the event walked outside, protesters could be heard chanting, “We shut you down! No racists in our town!” Regardless of your feelings about Tancredo’s position on illegal immigration, or anything else, such tactics are chilling.

Strangely, the scene is bereft of attacks by right-wing student groups on leftist speakers. I say “strangely,” because to listen to recent media coverage, the right-wing is a cauldron of hatred and ignorance, just waiting to erupt into violence. Attempts to make Timothy McVeigh the poster-child of conservative thought are getting a bit long in the tooth, so the christening of new boogey-men is in order.

Framing Pittsburg murderer Richard Poplawski as a “right-winger” is only the most insidious and recent example. Stories about his bloody firefight with authorities, which left three police officers dead, consistently refer to Popwalski being animated by a fear of “the Obama gun ban that’s on the way.” The fact Popwalski’s swastika tattoo is clearly visible in many of the pictures accompanying these stories seems lost on commentators. Come to think of it, the fact Popwalski appears to have lived a goodly portion of his life in an anti-Semitic, conspiracy theory-induced haze is also lost on them.

It doesn’t register because it doesn’t fit the template, because the woolliest wilds of the anti-Semitic/conspiracy-theory fever swamp are located on the left. (Yes, that’s a link to the Dailykos FAQ, where Markos, owner of the largest left-wing site on the Internet, admits he had to institute a “purge” and put in place a ban on 9/11 conspiracy theory diaries just to stem the madness.)

The reaction to the Tea Party phenomenon, at once dismissed as so much FOX News “astro-turfing,” and yet also a frightening flexing of “fringe” muscle, is another example.

This naturally leads to two questions, “Why?” and “Where is all of this going?” The incidents at USC and UNC provide an answer to the first question. Once conservative voices are painted into the corner of hatred, ignorance and bigotry, attempts to silence those voices become far more palatable. This leads to increasingly bold actions by those on the left, taking the form of everything from mob tactics to petty vandalism.

Last week we also got an inkling about the answer to the second question, in the form of a thinly veiled smear of almost every facet of the conservative movement from the Department of Homeland Security. Tim already mentioned this disgrace to public service, but it deserves some special attention. Treat yourself to a gander at this bad boy, ten pages chocked full of, shall we say, “potential.” (For an interesting comparison, note the DHS’s report on Left-Wing Threats, which catalogues actual threats of radical left-wing groups like the Earth Liberation Front.)

It’s hard to see trash like this as anything but the dangerous, albeit clumsy, first salvo from the Obama administration in the fight to frame the debate. We’ve seen this tact before, in the debate over “hate crimes” legislation.

The point is not to debate, but rather to make the act of debating the left unacceptable, first socially, then legally.

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