If there’s one thing conservatives love more than posing like they’re tough guys with guns, it’s squealing and hiding behind the couch, trembling in fear at the “thugs” and “socialists” that crowd their imaginary worlds. The disconnect between this extreme cowardice—who’s afraid of imaginary people?—and the manly pose that’s otherwise adopted is just another example of how being a wingnut first requires remarkable abilities to handle cognitive dissonance. And nowhere is the right wing cowardice more evident than in the reaction to the Wisconsin protesters. To hear right wingers carry on about it, a bunch of schoolteachers calmly refusing to leave a public area that their tax dollars pay for in protest of proposed government policies to screw them over is basically the equivalent of rioting in the streets by people who are demanding jobs as professional rapists that get paid a million a year (and without tossing any balls around during a competitive sport at all!).
Historically, reacting by lying and painting your opponents as menacing thugs is the reaction of authoritarians everywhere to people making reasonable demands for their rights. During the civil rights era, Freedom Riders got the worst kind of rumors spread about them, including rumors that dogs attacked them because they smelled like sex. You know, instead of because the police commanded the dogs to attack them. (Plus, I always have to wonder what right wingers are thinking when they accuse someone they hate of—gasp!—having sex. Do they really think that’s just a really uncommon behavior, and that people who do it are outlaws and perverts? The way some people carry on, you’d think ordinary sexual congress was like smoking PCP, a rare behavior engaged in only by a deviant few.) And, as Rick Perlstein has written, the rumors that flew around about the victims of the Kent State shootings were incredibly vicious—the usual accusing the victims of having sex, of course, but also claiming they were hippies that were so dirty they couldn’t be taken away in the ambulance without the stench knocking out the EMTs. And you look at these uprisings in the Middle East, and you see a similar pattern—the dictators that are being threatened accusing the protesters of violence, deviance, drug use, and working for foreign powers. Unsurprisingly, that’s also the accusation in Wisconsin. Protesters are being portrayed as outsiders, deviants, and violent, though I haven’t (yet) heard crying about drug use or smelling like sex.
That’s why non-violence is an effective strategy, by the way. Authoritarians are incredibly predictable in their reactions, so what you do is compose your protest in a way that minimizes the evidence for the standard accusations, which in turn makes the leaders look more and more nutty.
Not to get conspiratorial here, but am I the only one who thinks Scott Walker is being played for a sucker here? It’s clear that he made this union-busting move because his head has been filled with images of a presidential run in 2012. But even if he wins this battle, he’s toast on a national level. Part of me likes to think that the RNC understood that union-busting on this level is the political equivalent of a suicide bombing—you can only pull it off by immolating your future political prospects. And so they looked around at their roster of governors and said, “Who in our ranks harbors delusions of a presidential run that could be exploited, though any fool looking at him could tell he comes across as just too much a weenie to really be a viable national candidate?” And Scott Walker immediately leapt to mind. That the head of the RNC has worked so closely with Walker in the past makes me feel even more strongly that this is the case. Because I can’t squelch the feeling that Walker is still being told that he’s coming across as “Reagan-esque”, when in fact he’s coming across as a man who is so petty and fearful he’s actually trying to flush the protesters out by starving them.
I’d genuinely be surprised if the RNC hadn’t put together a formal politician-handling strategy for creating situations like this. The strategy is, “He thinks he’s Reagan, but he’s more like Tom Delay”. But that’s just the point, isn’t it? Delay’s career was ended because of a showdown like this one, but the Republican party did get what it wanted, and they had no problem throwing him under the bus when they’d finished exploiting him.