The "recent unpleasantness" at the Washington Post was, to conservatives at least, entirely predictable. What decent left-leaning journalist could live among the remote, primitive tribes known as conservatives and not be driven just a little bit mad? (If the Post's editors were embarrassed, they could at least take comfort that their man hadn't "gone native.")
Predictable, but no less unfortunate. The Washington Post dearly needs someone to explain conservatism to its editors and staff. Why?
A look through the June 30 edition of the Washington Post gives a pretty good indication. No, not the puff piece on Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. (Apparently a photo of the grown man in charge of a vast federal agency wearing a bike helmet is supposed convey competence. The caption reads - really - "Ray LaHood has worked to expand transportation safety, including emphasizing the rights of cyclists in federal transportation policy.)
No, a few columns should suffice. Courtland Milloy began a piece on Justice Clarence Thomas' recent opinion defending the Second Amendment on a promising note. Thomas, Milloy wrote approvingly, "roared to life" in the opinion, citing the legal disarming of blacks in the post-reconstruction south, which left them vulnerable to the KKK and other white supremacists. So far, so good.
In fact, too good to be true, because Milloy suggested that "Thomas's references to historical threats posed by white militias might have been dismissed," except that those groups are at it again, inflamed by "Barack Obama's election as the nation's first black president."
Although he didn't elaborate, Millow seems to have been referring to a recent report stating that the number of militia groups in the country has nearly tripled to about 500 since Obama was sworn in. Of course, that number comes from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a left-wing 60s hold-over whose very existence depends on seeing more men in sheets than a prison production of "Julius Caesar."
Milloy worried that these groups' actions could become as "violent as their racist rhetoric often threatens." Again, Milloy didn't elaborate, but since the SPLC could find violent, racist rhetoric on a cereal box, readers can be forgiven for not sharing his sense of dread.
Over on the editorial page, Ruth Marcus had the goods on those dangerous right-wingers, pointing to a ridiculous campaign ad from an Alabama Tea Party candidate for the GOP nomination to congress. In the ad, Rick Barber talks to the shades of the Founding Fathers, shows images from the Holocaust and suggests that "We are all becoming slaves to our government."
"To hijack the horrors of the Holocaust and slavery in the service of a political campaign demeans the candidate and, worse, dishonors the victims," Marcus wrote. "Decency demands that some comparisons be off-limits."
Indeed it does. Just ask George W. BusHitler, as many of Marcus' ideological pals liked to call the last president.
Marcus' larger point is that many on the right have become "unhinged," exhibiting "white hot vehemence." "The concern and disagreement - over health-care legislation, over bank bailouts, over debt - are understandable," she graciously allowed. "The slippery slope fears of decent into socialism/totalitarianism are incomprehensible."
Here's where it might be helpful to the Post to have an honest broker on the conservative beat. That reporter could explain to Marcus, Milloy and the rest of the gang that these simple conservatives lack the grasp of nuance and the exquisite post-modern sense of irony that's pumped into the Post's newsroom by the HVAC system.
Conservatives, he might tell them, actually took Obama at his word. They really believed he'd try to "fundamentally change" this nation, just like he promised to. They were listening when his wife admitted she'd never been proud of her country. They made the assumption, silly as it might seem, that when you associate for years with domestic terrorists and outspoken America-haters, you may be of like mind.
Then, government suddenly was taking over banks and carmakers, health insurance and tuition lending. Government spent vast amounts of taxpayer money to get ... more government. Only unions seemed immune to the pain the rest of the nation suffered. All that sure does look like change we can believe in - and don't want.
But Marcus, like Milloy, is concerned about just how much we don't want it. "It does not take much to imagine the leap from bellicose talk to action," for the "delusional but passionate" mouth-breathers. Conservative politicians and radio hosts don't help. Marcus pointed to Sarah Palin's "‘don't retreat - reload' approach" and John Boehner - John Boehner! - talking up a "political rebellion."
So those on the right who fear the massive expansion of government and the corresponding proscribing of personal liberties are delusional, but those on the left who fear phantom acts of right-wing violence are not? War metaphors and "white-hot" rhetoric about rebellion and are irresponsible and scary. (Except when the left uses them. On that same editorial page, an op-ed from Stephanie J. Jones asserted that late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall "saved this nation from a second civil war.")
If the Post wants credibility with the majority of the electorate that consider themselves conservative, it really does need someone to play anthropologist and report back to the Post's staffers from darkest Dixie. It's dangerous work. Whoever they hire should wear a bike helmet.