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A Note About the Controversy Over the Town Hall Fracas Articles, or “Does Right-Wing Populism Exist?”

By Dennis Loo

As people who visit World Can’t Wait’s website know, I’ve written a spate of articles here recently about the Town Halls: “Town Hall Fracases and the Fascist Movement,” “Health Care Fracas: What Do Vampires and the GOP Have in Common?, “Mission Impossible: Seeking Common Ground with Fascists,” and “The Swift Boating of Barack Obama.” 


In response to one or more of these articles, a bit of a dust up has been going on. One of these disputes has been coming from blogs such as Ruth’s Report and Third Estate that are part of a group of 13-14 blogs that have posted quite a few links to WCW articles in the past (including as recently as August 14), including some of mine, recommending readers to them.

That’s why I’m a little mystified by the following:
 
In response to the first three of my Town Hall articles, this was posted on August 21, 2009 at Ruth’s Report:
 
Dennis Loo went off on a tear last week and has continued it twice this week.

We are not interested.

We are not interested in attacking people we disagree with who are fellow citizens. We are not interested in all the insults for American citizens that Dennis Loo can dream up.

We are just not interested.

We like the work World Can't Wait does. But we were all together last week as well as this week so when the issue was raised we could debate it. The consensus was that while Mr. Loo is screaming and attacking American citizens, we are not interested.

He can go after politicians or the media.

But, after awhile, the person repeatedly screaming "STUPID!" at everyone is generally the one whom most people think is stupid.

I don't dislike Mr. Loo but I am not interested in his non-stop attacks.

In response to this I sent an email to the person who wrote it. Below is what my email said in its entirety. My email’s subject line read: “Town Halls:”
 
“Hi, I just caught the fact of your (and the others you mention in your blog) disagreements with my commentaries on the Town Halls. Debate is a good thing and disagreements are inevitable and can provide the opportunity to inform one another of things we didn’t consider ourselves. So I welcome a developed criticism, or even the very brief one you have posted.
 
“I did, however, want to clarify that my essays aren’t mainly directed at the gullibility of those who are shouting down those whose opinions they don’t like and who are adopting positions based on fallacious information propagated by the right wing. The target of my essays is first and foremost the increasingly fascistic mode of operation of the right wing  and secondly, the horrible precedent that these Town Halls are setting. Having said that, I do, secondary to that, not hold back my criticisms of members of the public who are participating in these fracases. Whether someone’s a member of the PEOPLE or not doesn’t immunize them from behaving in a way that assists reactionaries. And that is what many of these people are doing by and large in these Town Halls.
 
“The general trajectory of events here is in a very, very bad direction. As I stated in my first essay on this, the Town Halls are part of a more general trend that is exceedingly dangerous and ugly.”
 
I had hoped to initiate a principled and private email exchange or perhaps they’d post my email with their rebuttal. Instead my message triggered the following reaction (along with a few others of the same kind describing my email as “nasty.”) Their comments are quite long so I’m excerpting parts of it:
 
Shame on Dennis Loo <http://thirdestatesundayreview.blogspot.com/2009/08/shame-on-dennis-loo.html>
… 
 
It's real cute to watch Dennis Loo call everyone "racist" if they oppose Barack's big money give-away to Big Pharma and the Insurance Corporations (Crooks), it's real cute to watch because when he does that and he's fond of trotting out homophobia.
 

But there's Loo screaming racist at anyone who disagrees with him, calling everyone opposed to ObamaInsuranceCare stupid, just insulting left and right. Even more so in his e-mail where he uses the word "reactionary" to describe his political opponents but never grasps what a reactionary he himself is.
 
Most of all, he doesn't grasp how offensive he's become.
 
… 

Using a gay sexual practice (tea bagging) as a term to vilify your opponents is no less homophobic because Rachel Maddow used the term…

 
We're not highlighting anyone else who uses "tea bagger." At any community site. We're sick of it. It's homophobia. And shame on Dennis Loo for encouraging people to laugh at gay men -- from the left, of course. Shame on him.
 
***


When I read this my first response was astonishment. I couldn’t figure out why I was being accused of being homophobic. Then a friend said that they’re saying I used the term “tea bagger” and that this term is a slam on gay men.
 
There are three problems here.
 
First, I never used the term “tea bagger” or any variation of that term to refer to protestors in my essays or in my email.
 
Second, I didn’t even know that the term “tea bagger” was a derogatory reference to gay men. I did use a phrase in reference to Obama that his health care plan was “weak-as-a-third-time-tea-bag,” but there I’m obviously referring to actual tea bags being dipped in water too many times. If the people at Third Estate et al think that this is where I’m referring to the protestors then they are very sloppy readers (or else they’ve never used an actual tea-bag).

Third, if I was going to complain about the Town Hall atmosphere, I wouldn’t be doing it by making criticisms from the right! What kind of nitwit would I have to be to attack the Town Hall fracas participants by calling them gay?

 

I have been writing about these Town Halls because I see them as dramatic evidence of a profoundly alarming precedent: a right-wing populist cryto-fascist mobilization to shut down disagreement that is only a short step away from mob violence against those people those on the right don’t like or see as a threat. The political terrain that we are on just got much more perilous and the stakes greatly ratcheted up.
 
Is there such a thing as right-wing populism? Is it ever possible for people to be duped into doing bad or reactionary things? If people do bad or reactionary things, should this be criticized, or are any criticisms off limits if the people doing these things are “fellow citizens?” Does saying that they’ve been duped mean that you are endlessly insulting them and yelling that they are “STUPID!?” Doesn’t it matter to (at least some of) the Third Estate et al folks that the reason why these Town Hall Hollerers oppose Obama’s health care plan is based on falsehoods told to them by right-wing media and the GOP?

 
The dispute over how to handle the Town Hall Hollerers is analogous to the “support the troops” slogan: can you support the troops and oppose the war? If you are opposed to the war, then how does telling the soldiers that you support them not also involve supporting what they are doing?

 

You cannot have it both ways.

 

Either you are against the war and support the troops who resist that war and you support the truth, or you are going to have to vitiate your opposition to the war and uphold what those troops are doing.
 
Those soldiers who resisted the Vietnam War and the Iraq War have said that the people who really helped them stand up to imperialist war were the friends, family, and/or citizens who exposed the crimes of those wars and the crimes being committed by soldiers. The people who said how much they supported them as troops did them no good.
 
This question is also analogous to the question of torture. If you are silent in the face of knowing that your government has been and is still torturing people, then you are complicit in crimes against humanity. Your sin in being silent isn’t at the same level of the sins of those who promulgated the torture policies or those who actually carried out torture, but it is a sin of omission and constitutes complicity nonetheless. Are we wrong if we criticize people for silence in the face of their government’s torture? Or are we right to do so? 

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