Rationalizing extremism, violence a slippery slope

May 21, 2016

Rationalizing extremism, violence a slippery slope
By David A. Lehrer

There are pivotal moments in virtually every campaign, the time when a candidate displays what is at his/her core. It happens without focus groups or consultants or spin-doctors; it's a moment in a debate (e.g. Gov. Michael Dukakis failing to evidence strength in response to a question about rape) or in an interview (Sen. Ted Kennedy not articulating why he wanted to be president) or on the stump (Sen. Ed Muskie sobbing in New Hampshire).

We may have had a pivotal moment in the Democratic primary race last weekend with Sen. Bernie Sanders' virtual non-response to theIn his, and his supporters, willingness to explain away Having monitored extremist groups and the response to them for over 40 years, I can assert with little fear of contradiction, that extremists and their violence demand condemnation in unambiguous and unqualified terms.

George Wallace may have spoken to the concerns of unemployed whites in poor parts of the country, but his bigotry trumped whatever socio-economic message he might have had. Condemnations and ostracism of him were necessarily unqualified, no “but” clauses after the denunciations.

Louis Farrakhan claims to speak for poor blacks and their challenges, but his anti-Semitic bigotry demands that he be renounced as a racist and bigot. Qualifying the condemnations with a “but you have to understand” is unacceptable.

Extremists who support Sanders engaged in a coarse display of political passion run amok at last weekend's convention. His supporters, according to theSen. Harry Reid described the events as “violent,” Sen. Dick Durbin called the threats and demonstrations “unacceptable.” Sen. Barbara Boxer said that she “feared for my safety. I don't want to use the word threatened.” The chair of the Nevada Democratic Party received threats of “execution” and harm to her grandkids on her phone and in text messages. Reporters and videos confirmed the ugly atmosphere.

In the normal conduct of American politics, a candidate would unequivocally condemn his errant followers; there would be little to be gained by excusing violence and bad behavior.
Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the rule that obtains this year. Not unlike Donald Trump's justifying violent supporters at his rallies, Sanders couldn't bring himself to condemn what his folks had done.

He buried 14 words abjuring “any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals” amid In a neutral examination of what transpired to determine if there was any veracity to the Sanders' camps claim of unfairness and a “fixed” convention, PolitiFact (the gold standard for unbiased evaluation of political assertions) labeled the claim “Violent behavior – whether terror or hurling chairs or threatening people exercising their First Amendment rights – cannot be rationalized or justified by anger, dissatisfaction or prior lousy treatment. To do so is to open the door to a world of chaos and self-justification. Some of which we already have: commencement speakers get hooted down or dis-invited because college students self-righteously feel aggrieved; communities are torched because segments of the population want to send a message of unfair treatment; and innocents are murdered because of grievances thousands of miles away.

In this instance there wasn't even a decent grievance to complain about, it was simply folks who didn't get the result they wanted so they reflexively went into their hackneyed narrative about being victims of the “establishment” that doesn't “respect” them or “treat them fairly.”

In fact, they simply lost under neutral rules that have been largely unchanged since 2008.

Bernie Sanders' campaign is in many respects predicated on asserting victimhood and mistreatment “by establishment politics.” His folks feel justified in ignoring the principles of civility and decency; after all they are the underdog and, like Trump, they are just “counter-punching.” Being the victim allows them to be aggrieved and exempt from the usual rules—-they are “confronting” a “corrupt system” and furthering a “revolution.”

It has not been commonplace for a campaign official to urge her minions (Should the delegates have missed the message of how disruptive to be, the Sanders' official instructed them “You should not leave … unless you are told to do so by someone from the campaign.” It was no accident that things got out of hand.

That Sanders – knowing what transpired in Nevada and knowing what his associates precipitated with their urging of confrontation – would not be contrite and have the decency to condemn, in more than a perfunctory way, the mayhem that occurred, may tell us all we need to know about his principles and commitment to civility, principle and freedom of speech.

It was a pivotal moment that reveals more than many would like to perceive about the senator from Vermont.

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