Tim Pawlenty's speech this weekend to the Tea Party Patriots is filled with depressingly simplistic expressions of the current state of right-wing thought. Here is Pawlenty offering up what has become a common strand of right-wing argument, but one that is far more inflammatory than many people realize:
“This is our guide, this is our constitution, ” he said, waving a pocket-size edition. “We the people of the United States will rise up again. We will take back our government. This is our country. Our founding fathers created it. Americans embraced it. Ronald Reagan personified it. And Lincoln stood courageously to protect it."
Why do I say this is inflammatory? Because conservatives are writing President Obama completely out of the American political tradition. Conservatives claim not only to have a superior vision for securing American prosperity, which is an understandable thing for a political movement to believe, but to represent the sole legitimate custodians of the Constitution. It follows from all this that Obama represents a unique threat to American freedom, and moreover -- a point that is often made explicit -- that the threat he poses requires a response that goes beyond normal politics. The whole metaphor of the Tea Party is to re-imagine conservatism as a proto-revolutionary guerrilla response to tyranny, rather than a movement that operates through normal political channels.
Obviously, political rhetoric gets heated. It's always possible to follow a politician's excited claim through enough steps to some wild conclusion. But the shocking thing about contemporary Republican rhetoric is how short the space is between mainstream political speech and incitement to violence.