Definitions from Webster’s Dictionary:
- The quality or state of being extreme
- advocacy of extreme measures or views
a: existing in a very high degree
b: going to great or exaggerated lengths
c. exceeding the ordinary, usual or expected
Barry Goldwater said the following in his speech accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for President in 1964:
“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”
Goldwater’s arrival on the political scene at that point in American history was arguably vital, but perhaps his choice of words were not. I am not alone in my assessment that it was a political mistake for Goldwater to embrace that label used by opponents.
I humbly suggest it might be more accurate to state that his positions and views at the time were perceived as extreme but they were in fact, not extreme at all. Advocating for limited, Constitutional government, liberty of the individual, respect for private property, peace through strength, and personal responsibility in opposition to LBJ’s platform was unfortunately perceived as extreme in that day’s political climate. In reality, Goldwater was generally advocating for a restoration of core American foundational principles from which we had too long been drifting away. (To be sure, the preceding paragraph applies today.)
Might I humbly suggest that Goldwater’s point may have been better stated and better received had it been worded something like what I’ve included below?
“The defense of liberty, of Constitutional principles, is not extremism.”
Of course, this in some measure is a question of semantics, but necessary at this point in history. As we speak, words are being distorted, labels falsely applied, metaphors equated to actions, and tragedies blamed on speech. There are efforts afoot to thoroughly sanitize all language under the auspices of preventing violence and promoting “respectful”, “civil debate”. Yesterday’s political correctness has become today’s silencing of dissent.
This is a sadly dangerous time. Before we so rashly discard an Amendment out of the bill of rights in the name of “keeping people safe”, perhaps we’d better take a look at what is being said, who is saying it, and whether or not the labels applied are truly applicable. If we are going to lay blame on people for their words, we better get their meaning straight.
True, actual extremism is a vice.
In order to apply the label “extreme” to someone’s words, they must not merely be perceived as extreme, they must truly go beyond what could be reasonable or right in a given situation. And of course, an idea cannot merely be one with which someone disagrees. If viewed similarly to the “innocent before proven guilty” standard, benefit of the doubt would be applied first.
It could be said that extremism is a more serious vice when it manifests itself in elected officials. After all, they hold within their hands the ability to enact laws impacting our daily lives, right down to freedom of movement and the amount of money in our pockets.
Over-reaction and a politicization of tragedy which translates into the garnering of media attention, the silencing of dissent, consolidation of power, and obstruction of citizens from open access to the processes of government is assuredly extreme.
While it is difficult to know just how events unfolded at the Nebraska State Capitol on Tuesday, it is clear that someone called the media, someone called the Capitol Police, and there were a lot of extremes; extreme over-reactions, extreme politicization of a tragedy, extremely distorted media coverage, extreme measures proposed to ensure safety, and extreme rhetoric from some Nebraska politicians.
Why it is difficult to know just what happened when, is directly due to the media coverage. I first heard about the whole mess through a phone call by a GiN member; he had heard the following on KLIN radio:
Nebraska State Senator and Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Ashford contacted the Capitol Police about an email received by himself and other members of the Unicameral committee urging the movement of the immigration bill, LB48, introduced by Senator Charlie Janssen out of the Committee (more on that e-mail, shortly). In addition to contacting the police, it appears that Senator Ashford also contacted media, or at the very least, he was more than happy to oblige their requests for interviews, prior to any conclusions from the Capitol Police’s investigation.
“Ashford says the weekend’s shooting of 20 people, including Arizona Gabby Giffords has changed how officials must respond to even perceived threats.”
Ashford noted he was contemplating the necessity for heightened security at the LB48 hearing (not yet scheduled), including the use of metal detectors or a move to “a more secure location”.
Other media reports indicate over-reaction to the Tucson, Arizona weekend shootings was already underway in our Capitol before the email had been received. Senator John Wightman, a member of the Legislature’s Executive Board told the Omaha World Herald:
“I’m sure there are people out there who are wild enough to do something like (what happened in Arizona).”
Wightman reported that he had “fielded several concerns” from Senators. I, for one am not certain what has materially changed for our Nebraska Legislators in light of the tragedy in Tucson, outside of the understandable human reaction that would be expected, especially when the news first leaked out and little was known about the facts. All elected officials at some level of government are assuredly concerned about safety at one time or another and for many, there must be a low-level of concern and certain precautions on an ongoing basis. Surely, elected officials are contacted by all kinds of people.
Had there been a series of widespread attacks on elected officials across the country this weekend, particularly one with a political motivation, enhanced security at Nebraska’s Capitol would have been unfortunately understandable, particularly if the assailants were at large.
That is not what happened in Tucson. A single insane individual, obsessed with one Congresswoman, hideously and tragically gunned people down. An act of inexplicable, senseless violence; lives lost, families shattered, people changed forever.
Despite the many attempts by media across the country to paint the tragedy as political including efforts to tie the assailant to the tea party movement, to blame standard campaign rhetoric, such as Sarah Palin’s bullseye map as fomenting violence, the fact is, once again, there is simply no relevance.
Legitimate questions might be raised about many things in Jared Loughner’s history, the actions by people in his daily life, and whatever opportunities to avert disaster may have presented themselves prior to Saturday’s tragedy.
As a Nebraska citizen and taxpayer, I am appalled at the coverage by our media and by the rhetoric coming from our lawmakers.
Senator Brad Ashford’s comments border on reckless and irresponsible. He potentially propelled what could have been handled quickly, quietly, and reasonably, if indeed it required attention at all, into a major incident.
The assist provided by the media and the tenor of remarks by one decision maker (Senator Wightman) don’t bode well for the future. The outcome may well include reduced access by Nebraskans to their lawmakers and increase costs to taxpayers at at time when we are facing an estimated $1 billion budget shortfall.
At the very least, Ashford succeeded in sending “a chill wind” kind of message to Nebraskans who would contact their legislators.
That brings me back to the email Ashford received. Amazingly, the full text of the email was not released to the public, even after the Capitol Police announced they had concluded their investigation and reported:
“After reviewing the e-mail correspondence and interviewing Mr. Schnatz, investigators with the Nebraska State Patrol have determined there was no threat.”
While some of the earliest news reports about the email labeled it as “threatening”, some of the stories made clear Senator Ashford was motivated to call Capitol Police based on what some media labeled as the “post script” to the message. In a follow up report, Lincoln Journal Star‘s Joanne Young noted, “Schnatz said it’s been his ‘signature’ for years.”
Why the quotation around the word signature? Is it just me, or does anyone else find the feigned ignorance of reporters in 2011 about something known as an e-mail signature nauseating? Really, in light of what’s at stake here, which is free speech, citizen access to government and their elected officials, the expenditure of taxpayer funds, and more, it’s extremely derelict.
Before sharing Schnatz’s actual email signature, it seems appropriate to share a few quotations from some of well-known Americans:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its nature’s manure. ~ Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Stephens Smith, November 13, 1787
Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not our by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it, have never known it again. ~ Ronald Reagan
“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.” ~ Patrick Henry
“We shed blood to build this country, and we will shed blood again to take it back.”
The signature obviously looks a lot like some famous quotations. Would Senator Ashford have called the Capitol police if he had used one of these, with or without attribution?
Assuredly, Schnatz’s choice to continue including his apparently personally crafted tagline in a message to an elected official following the Tucson incident was ill-advised. I don’t know the fellow from Adam. Likely, he didn’t even think about it, since it’s a standard in all of his messages, as a couple of the stories clearly prove. I would say Schnatz was haplessly ignorant of the political climate in general, that the over-reaction by politicians to do something, anything to react to what happened on Saturday on a local basis, was a guarantee. “Never let a crisis go to waste” is not employed soley by Washington politicians. Is Schnatz’s e-mail signature extreme? Of course not. His sending of the e-mail with the tagline extremely ill-advised? No.
Additional news stories about increasing Capitol security and Schnatz’s email not referenced above:
North Platte Telegraph: State talks about safety
Omaha World Herald: Metal Detectors at Capitol?