Essay: Cuba, North Korea, Cop Killers: As Conservative Tactics Fail

Originally published at

Conservatives have been spoiled. For at least as long as I’ve been alive – I’m 51 – right-wingers have scarcely had to break a sweat in political debates. Until recently, all it has taken to reduce a liberal to a blubbering, conceding mess was a cheesy ad hominem attack.

You hate the troops!

You hate the cops!

Why do you hate America so much?

Though undeniably tentative and fragile, there are indications that the Right’s reign of terror in public discourse may come to an end someday.

A case in point is President Obama, whose first six years in office were characterized by relentless timidity even when he enjoyed amazing poll numbers and control of both houses of Congress. After the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in November 2014, he was expected to follow the liberal Democratic tradition of accepting that the Republicans should get their way on everything because that was obviously the will of the American people.

Instead, he inaugurated his lame-duck final couplet with aggressive moves on immigration reform and, last week, normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba, both through executive action. Republicans howled – but nothing happened. To the contrary, Obama seems more powerful than ever.

Some sort of turning point in the ideological zeitgeist seems to have been reached with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s appearance on “Meet the Press” two weekends ago. Blisteringly belligerent as usual, Cheney didn’t even try to appeal to logic or reason while defending “enhanced interrogation techniques” under the Bush Administration in the wake of the Senate torture report.

“Torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11,” Cheney said.

For many years after September 11 attacks, this was the kind of off-the-cuff mindfart that progressives and Democrats didn’t know how to counter. (No, that’s not torture. That’s tragedy.) Anything that harkened back to 9/11, no matter how irrelevant or stupid, was rhetorical kryptonite to liberals who didn’t want to appear weak in the War on Terror.

Not this time. The Internet ate Cheney for lunch. And he was roundly ridiculed, not only on the cable TV satire shows, but by fellow Republicans.

Cheney caught the worst of it, but standard Republican talking points and rhetorical style took a beating over the last week on a number of issues.

Arizona Senator, Vietnam POW and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain reacted to the alleged hack of Sony Entertainment by the North Korean government in his standard bellicose way, declaring it “an act of war.” An act of war, naturally, calls for a military response.  The declaration by President Bush that 9/11 was an act of war, for example, prompted Congress to authorize the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by a nearly unanimous vote. (Which worked out splendidly!)

Interestingly, McCain’s ferocity fell largely upon deaf ears. More in touch with ordinary Americans was President Obama, who countered that the hackers had actually carried out “an act of cyber-vandalism that was very costly, very expensive.”

In a sneak preview of the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, likely contender and Florida Senator Marco Rubio catered to part of his Greater Miami constituency of Cuban exiles by calling for the continuation of the half-century-old trade blockade of the Caribbean island. “I don’t care if the polls say that 99% of people believe we should normalize relations in Cuba,” he said. It’s not quite that extreme yet, but most Americans do support Obama’s decision to recognize the end of the Cold War 23 years after the fact.

Rubio’s rhetoric was met with a yawn (and lucky for him). Obama’s actions are largely seen by the political class as a fait accompli, all over but the shouting at passport control in Havana.

This is a remarkable transformation. Twenty or even ten years ago, any Democrat who had endorsed, much less carried out, such a move would be deemed to have committed political suicide. Republican talk radio would have screamed that it was un-American, procommunist, and treasonous. Sure, they’re saying the same thing now, but no one cares because, well, it’s stupid.

Of course, it would have been stupid back then. The difference is, people can see that now.

Then, in New York City, there was Saturday’s shooting of two police officers as they sat in their patrol car in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, apparently by a deranged man with a long criminal record. New York’s new mayor Bill de Blasio, a progressive Democrat whose political allies don’t include top NYPD figures, took a blast of heat from police union leaders, one of whom spat that de Blasio has blood on his hands. (Apparently he drew a straight line between the shooter’s post-Ferguson/post-Staten Island anti-cop rants on Instagram and the mayor’s revelation that he tells his biracial son to be careful when he encounters police officers.)

To be sure, de Blasio is having trouble with the NYPD — but this kerfuffle is nothing close to the existential crisis a liberal Democratic mayor in the same pickle would have had to endure just a few short years ago. Most New Yorkers recognize that this is police overreach. A few weeks after New Yorkers of all races reacted with disgust to a grand jury decision not to indict the Staten Island police officer who murdered Eric Garner on video, not even the cold-blooded assassination of two cops on the streets of Brooklyn erases that memory or allows a return to the Giuliani years, when cops could do no wrong in the eyes of officialdom. If the mayor tells his kid to watch out for the cops, who can blame him?

So what has changed?

It might be a bona fide political shift from right to left, but that’s not my take. What we are seeing, I suspect, is popular exhaustion with right-wing talking points and bullying rhetoric. There’s a certain point at which repetition stops working and becomes annoying – and it feels like that’s where we’re at.

In the future, if conservatives want to be taken seriously, they’re going to have to go back to the old William F. Buckley days and attempt to construct calm, logically reasoned arguments in favor of their ideas. Name-calling and appeals to rank emotionalism aren’t cutting it anymore.


  • “Torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11,” Cheney said. I’m still amazed by this quote.

  • alex_the_tired
    December 30, 2014 1:19 PM

    Too bad no one warned Cheney or Bush. Perhaps there ought to have been some sort of daily briefing to the president. Then they coulda stopped it from happening in the ….

    Oh. Never mind.

    • Do you have an hour-and-a-half to watch an illuminating video (“Anatomy of a Great Deception”)?

      See it here:

      • alex_the_tired
        December 30, 2014 8:05 PM


        I am perfectly willing to accept that the government lies. And that the government lies big. But the video you’ve referenced is pretty much the same old same old. Carl Sagan said it best. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

        I haven’t see extraordinary evidence. It’s the same old cherrypicking I’ve see in a variety of other issues.

        Frankly, at this point, I wish 9/11 HAD been an inside job because literally nothing else could get President Cheney and Li’l Dubya in a bulletproof cage in the Hague.

        But it wasn’t. It was 19 lunatics on a budget. They won the second the first plane hit the WTC because that started us down the path we’re on now: NSA monitoring every single thing we write or say, security checks that do NOTHING to keep us safe, and all the rest.

        We now have a generation of young people who don’t like the cops and how the cops treat people, but those young people can’t even organize to resist. Their children will be even more manageable. By then, the people who were adults before 9/11 will either be in their old age or their senility.

        And everyone will be equal, but some will be more equal than others.

      • @ alex_the_tired –

        Physics puts the lie to the official government report. A new investigation is required. If you watched that film, you saw the available evidence that it couldn’t have happened the way NIST says it did. What brought Building 7 down. I wasn’t hit by an airplane, and office fires couldn’t have done it. Physics.

      • The more I look, the more I see:

  • Ted, your article sums up how I feel, and have felt, for several years now. I am not only so over responding to their bs as if it was a serious argument, to be countered, but I now laugh at their ridiculousness

  • The neo-con’s cognitive dissonance is that he believes government is always wrong and incompetent except for the troops, spies, torturers, cops, etc.

    It would appear that the Left has taken over as the experts of shutting down debate with emotionally charged attacks:

    racist! (Mr. Rall has some experience with this one at least)

    It only makes sense. I’ve come to the conclusion that Leftism is largely about valuing feelings over facts (Rall and a few others excepted). And no, I don’t like Limbaugh, I’m not a Christian, I’m against torture and the War on Terror, I don’t like bailouts and mass surveillance, etc. etc. It is possible you know, to criticize all these things FROM THE RIGHT as a paleoconservative/right-libertarian. Honestly, you guys don’t have a problem with government overreach, so long as it’s the kind you like…

  • I don’t know Ted. I visited family over the holidays (Hudson Valley, NY) and my liberal parents and liberal older sister were fed up with the protestors (both in Ferguson and NY) and even in the Eric Garner were saying “Well, he shouldn’t have been selling cigarettes illegally. He should have done exactly what the cops told him to do.” This is anecdotal of course, but since they’re generally middle-of-the-road democrats and Obama supporters I use them to take the temperature on what the normals are thinking. They’ll make fun of Fox News but also say Al Sharpton should be locked up for ‘inciting disorder.’

    For once, you are more optimistic than me.

    • @ porchpile –
      “Well, he shouldn’t have been selling cigarettes illegally.
      I will admit my ignorance in this regard. I don’t understand how selling individual cigarettes is a crime. He didn’t charge the required taxes? But weren’t the taxes paid when the carton of cigarettes (or whatever quantity) were originally purchased? Where’s the crime? And why does it justify homicide?
      Can someone explain this to me?

      • Selling single cigarettes is illegal everywhere. I guess because no license/no taxes/no regulation. They haven’t been sold for resale. It also makes them easier for minors to access. It is a stupid law.

        Some people seem to believe that if one commits ANY sort of crime, he has whatever the police to do him coming.

  • There is no difference between a liberal and a conservative. They both want what they think is best for themselves, and neither wants to be held accountable for what happens to everyone else. So I say we try to live by the law of the seconds; the second commandment and the second amendment. Love your neighbor as yourself, and if all else fails make sure you are able to protect yourself.

    • You couldn’t be more wrong with your assessment. *THIS* liberal (I prefer the term “Progressive”) wants what is best for the People — all of them.
      I remember how my mother taught me to value the worth of others.
      I remember attending a garage sale many decades ago, when I was told that the family had to sell off personal possessions to pay the hospital bills that were accumulated because of cancer in the family.
      That’s a far cry from the selfishness that you believe exists.

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