Thursday, March 17, 2011

Words Matter

March 16, 2011

My Dear Fellow Patriots;

Barry Goldwater had wrestled the presidential nomination from the Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party, at a time when the Republicans had a liberal wing and the Democrats had a conservative one. Goldwater had, in fact, wrestled the nomination from Nelson himself, and thus was the modern conservative movement born. Reagan's famous speech, "A Time For Choosing," so copiously quoted in tea party circles, was a campaign speech he made in support of the Arizona senator.

It was 1964, and those of us old enough to remember that election cycle remember the "daisy commercial"; the one that pictured a little girl standing in a field of tall grass, haltingly counting from one to ten as she plucked petals from a flower - until her reverie is shattered by a nuclear explosion. It was a very effective tool for incumbent Lyndon Johnson, playing on the fears that Goldwater, who had advocated a policy of "rollback" of the Soviet Union rather than containment, would recklessly lead us into a nuclear war.

It was at the Republican National Convention, in San Francisco's Cow Palace, that Goldwater spoke the words for which he is most famous. Knowing that he would come under attack for his muscular foreign policy in an era that would spawn the failed "Great Society," he said:

I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

Defending against charges of extremism is difficult. Defining it, however, is even more difficult by a full order of magnitude. One man's extremism is another man's common sense.

And so when Congressman Michael Grimm decries the "extremist" elements of the two major parties and the tea party, he exhibits a flawed understanding of where extremism ends and common sense begins.

To his credit, he made a very adept and logical explanation for his vote to pass the Continuing Resolution - you may buy it, or you may not. Either way, there is certainly room for debate and differences of opinion. However, in labeling the opposing argument "extreme," he is incorrectly placing more than half of the modern conservative movement - not to mention 54 fellow Republicans - out on the fringes of political thought and that is just plain wrong.

Our country is on the brink, and the time for bold and decisive measures is upon us. To demonize those who are ready to take such action, including a shutdown of the federal government, is a mistake and a misreading of the mood not only of a good portion of his district - but a good portion of the American electorate.

Those who would vote against the CR are fully aware of the implications of doing so, but are of the belief that drawing a line in the sand is long overdue. Grimm's approach, which is essentially that not only is charging $6 billion for a three week hiatus a good deal, but that by going the extra mile (or 21 days, in this case) he gives the Democrats the rope by which to hang themselves when the budget clock ticks down to zero, has merit, too.

But the issue is not so black-and-white that opponents should be labeled "extreme."

Words matter. How many times have we heard that in the past few years? Representative Grimm is a freshman - as was our former Congressman Mike McMahon. But McMahon had been a politically savvy politician for years before he went to DC, Michael Grimm had not. Indeed, that unjaded freshness was one of the things that made his candidacy so attractive.

But in this case his use of the word "extreme" was insulting - especially so to tea partiers who have been eating, sleeping and breathing drastic - even draconian - spending cuts since Bush's first TARP.

"Extreme" implies "fringe." What the Congressman needs to know is that there is a rising tide of conservatives out there who believe that allowing the federal government to shut down 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished - a belief held by not just a few radical kooks living on the edge, but by serious, intelligent people numbering in the millions all across the country.