Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Extremists Among Us

Somewhere along the line, national and state Democrats discovered that most Americans do not cotton to extremists. For this reason, progressives in the state of Connecticut – nearly all politically active Democrats -- have taken to calling “extremists” those who oppose some of their more radical political positions.

V. I. Lenin, an extremist of the first water, knew that if you effectively labeled an opponent or an idea, you did not have to argue with either. If you have successfully identified in the public mind as an extremist anyone who disagrees with you on a political or social point, you need not address his nuanced arguments. You need not bother to confront his arguments at all; the mud you throw – knowing full well that some of it will stick – will be sufficient to convince a majority of people that your position is superior to his, because you are superior to him: He is an extremist, and you are not. In cases such as these, arguments are won not through debate or the presentation of compelling evidence, but rather through the brute force of demagoguery.

We have been told through ads created outside Connecticut that Republican Gubernatorial candidate for governor Tom Foley is an extremist. Mr. Foley is an extremist principally because he is in sharp disagreement on some points with his political opponents who doubtless will gain an advantage from the ads.

Now, an extremist is someone who departs from social and political norms; the more extreme the departure, the more extreme the extremist. The libertinism of the Marquis De Sade certainly was more extreme than the “free love” practiced by sixties social radicals whose chief ambition was to bring a blush to the cheeks of their parents.  If a Connecticut politician were to begin beating the drums in favor of polygamy, it would not be a stretch to consider him an extremist. While polygamy is the norm in some societies, Saudi Arabia for instance, here in the United States it has been frowned upon for many years – until now. Polygamy was abandoned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1890 after lengthy and expensive suits were initiated, but recently U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that Utah's criminalization of cohabitation violated the due process and First Amendment religious freedom rights of a polygamous family that included a husband and his four wives. Polyamory, the practice of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved (AKA adultery) is not frowned upon among libertines. The practice of cannibalism very likely would raise an eyebrow or two among  ninety five percent of the members of Connecticut’s General Assembly and forty three percent of Connecticut’s left of center media; these numbers, the reader should be warned, are unverified estimates. A majority of the citizens of the United States before the 1960s burst upon us would have considered all of the above social arrangements extreme.

Generally, we like to reserve the word “extremist” for those people who go out of their way to violate social norms.  It may come as a severe shock to out of state political ad makers who wish to boost the political prospects of Democrats by featuring Mr. Foley in their ads as an extremist to learn that Mr. Foley is a rather bland Everyman.

That, in any case, is the gravamen of the charge brought against him by some Republicans who have urged Mr. Foley to be a bit more passionate and lively in his presentations. Barry Goldwater, one of Lowell Weicker’s favorite politicians – so Mr. Weicker has often claimed -- was the guy who said about those charging him with extremism, “Let me remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue,” a sentiment heartily accepted by Sol Alinsky politicians on the left such as Hillary Clinton, said to be a shoe-in for President on the Democratic Party ticket in 2016, and President Barack Obama, organizer extraordinaire, both of whom are much more far gone in extremism than Mr. Foley or, for that matter, Peter Wolfgang, the Executive Director of the Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC).

Both Mr. Foley and Mr. Wolfgang have come under fire in a new campaign ad endorsed by Mr. Malloy. The ad claims that Mr. Wolfgang, an orthodox Catholic who simply refuses to go quiet into Connecticut’s good secularist night, is said to be an extremist because he has been captured by what G. K. Chesterton once called “the romance of orthodoxy.” Mr. Foley is said to be an extremist because he had been endorsed by Mr. Wolfgang who, in the view of Democratic Party progressive extremists, is an extremist.

It so happens that Mr. Foley and Mr. Wolfgang part ways on some issues dear to progressives. For instance, Mr. Foley supports what progressive Democrats would call “a woman’s right to choose.” But both Mr. Foley and Mr. Wolfgang agree that a bill now before Connecticut’s General Assembly permitting assisted suicide should be aborted, and it was this agreement on a bill some might consider extreme that induced FIC to endorse Mr. Foley in the gubernatorial race. Put another way, Mr. Wolfgang’s endorsement of a man whose views he disagrees with on issues important to him is an indication that Mr. Wolfgang may not be the right wing bomb thrower indistinctly pictured in the ad that seeks to paint him as an enemy of womankind, a difficult point to sustain: Mr. Wolfgang is the father of six children, ages 14-3, one boy and five girls, all potential women, and he has been happily married to his wife Leslie, a woman, for 17 years. He and his family are orthodox Catholics.

Among some libertines in Connecticut, Mr. Wolfgang’s marital arrangement is considered quaint; his defense of traditional marriage is considered passé; his objections to euthanasia are thought to be extreme; and his endorsement of Mr. Foley is thought to be obscene. But it is important to understand that much of the criticism leveled at Mr. Wolfgang has been launched by groups that operate on the periphery of the great experiment in Western thought that has brought us a form of civilization highly accommodating to reasoned argument and equally impatient with those who wish to gain a political edge by caking their opponents with mud.
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