Democratic Underground  
Yet More Inconsistency on the Right
October 9, 2002
By Patrick Ennis

Three things happened last week that should have convinced you if you were not already convinced that the political Right in America has lost its sense of shame altogether, deciding that single-minded focus is more useful than honesty or consistency of message. Fortunately for them, these events were muted a bit by the growing din of war drums being beaten by more and more members of congress, now on both sides of the aisle, as Democrats rush to find a reporter to whom to declare their solidarity with the president's curiously hasty and intransigent decision to turn Iraq into a U.S. client state.

The first item was the appeal of the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision to allow the New Jersey Democrats to replace Sen. Robert Torricelli, who wishes to withdraw his name from the election in the wake of embarrassing corruption charges, on the November ballot with former three-term Senator Frank Lautenberg. Lautenberg is 78 and has already retired once, apparently because he was old and tired. But no matter. New Jersey knows how old he is, and they remember that they would likely have granted him a fourth consecutive term had he sought one. Such is Frank Lautenberg's popularity in the Garden State. He is even wealthy and can pay some of his own campaign expenses.

Heck, no wonder his GOP opponent, Doug Forrester, a wealthy man who made his fortune managing pharmacy benefits (for the pharmaceutical companies), tried so hard to have the candidate change declared illegal on the grounds that it was past the constitutionally designated deadline, even though the NJ GOP had done a similar post-deadline name change in a House election contest in 2000. In a tribute to the Lee Atwater School of Campaign Rhetoric, he had based his campaign almost entirely on the fact that he wasn't the evil Bob Torricelli. The court challenge was a hail Mary pass, but as they say, a drowning man grasps at a straw.

Not surprisingly, the NJ Supreme Court unanimously ruled the change permissable, despite the fact that three of the justices are Republicans. Desperate, Forrester and the New Jersey Republicans immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the same court that stepped reluctantly into the political arena and inevitably assumed an air of bias when it stopped the Gore campaign's ballot recounts during the 2000 presidential election in Florida. The USSC, perhaps chastened by the experience, declined on Monday to hear the case. But the inconsistency of the tactic is so simple and obvious that legal scholars analyzing such a case usually miss it - whatever happened to the famed conservative commitment to states' rights?

The other thing that happened last week was probably even less noticed, perhaps in part because it had happened before. Twenty-one year old John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban," in accordance with an agreement reached with prosecutors earlier last summer, was formally sentenced to 20 years in a maximum security federal prison for his involvement with the radical Islamist regime in Afghanistan. Walker Lindh hails from progressive Marin County in northern California, a fact not at all lost on the Right. Conservative talk show hosts filled the airwaves and conservative writers filled newspaper columns and articles with accusatory and self-congratulatory boasts that this was a vindication of their claims about the pernicious effects of liberalism. Conservative radio and TV talk show host Sean Hannity wrote in his book Let Freedom Ring:

"Named after John Lennon, John Lindh was born and raised in Marin County, a wealthy, liberal suburb of San Francisco. He grew up in a veritable ideological Disneyland of moral relativism, political correctness, and not-too-subtle anti-American multi-culturalism, the kind that preaches that America is a racist, sexist, bigoted, imperialist, homophobic, and thus fundamentally evil and oppressive nation. He grew up feeding his mind on 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X,' not Moses or Peter or Paul. He grew up in a world where devout Christians are regarded as part of the despised 'radical religious right' and considered a serious threat to American pluralism and tolerance."

And conservative columnist Mona Charen, in a February column, wrote:

"The key to understanding John Walker Lindh is that he came from a family that was so liberal, as the old joke goes, that they declined to impose their values even on themselves... Eager to provide their son with 'choices,' and to be 'supportive,' the Lindhs never so mauch as raised an objection when their 16 year-old dropped out of school, converted to Islam and announced a desire to live in Yemen. Mrs. Lindh wondered about Islamic views of women, but not apparently enough to deny her son's request for the wherewithal to travel to Yemen and thence to Afghanistan."

Clearly, this is what the Right would have us believe is the inevitable result of a liberal upbringing. What they curiously omit, however, is that Walker Lindh, in joining the Taliban, an organization slightly further to the right than the Nazis, ended up repudiating all things liberal. In short, Jihad Johnny is not a poster-boy for liberalism, but for the total rejection of it espoused by conservative pundits and "intellectuals."

And then there was the shameful promotion by conservative writers and pundits of Shannon Spann, the widow of CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann, the first American casualty of the military campaign in Afghanistan, in connection with the Walker Lindh plea agreement. First in July, when the agreement with prosecutors was initially made, and again last week at the formal sentencing, the widow Spann appeared on the Fox Network's "Hannity & Colmes" and "The O'Reilly Factor," asked for and gladly giving her opinion of Walker Lindh's sentence for carrying explosives in cooperation with the Taliban, and saying she thought it far too lenient.

She was even asked for comment by AP at that point. But even the prosecutors never alleged that Walker Lindh had anything to do with Spann's death. He was present at the prison uprising where Spann was killed, but so were many others, including some other Americans. So, as he apparently had nothing to do with Mr. Spann's death, and there is little or no disagreement on this point, what possible relevance does Mrs. Spann's opinion have to the plight of Walker Lindh?

I suspect that this, ironically, is a concession to political correctness on the part of conservatives, who claim to reject the idea of political correctness. But what a powerful image; the strong widow stoically facing up to the loss of her beloved husband, the brave American patriot. The emotional imagery is irresistible, and useful, so consistency be damned. It is the same type of disingenuous tearmongering trial lawyers do, when trying to convince a jury that McDonald's owes some little old lady a million dollars because she spilled some of their hot coffee on herself, and it hurt so bad! Of course, the Right also claims to reject trial lawyers. It just goes to show, once again, that when or if you listen to the right wing punditocracy, which does indeed have entertainment value, take their words with a grain of salt.

Patrick Ennis is articulating the views of the liberal, secular working class because, frankly, somebody has to (and nobody else is).

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