The Importance of Being Joshua Black

OK, a few quick things to say about this

First, we must follow what I’ll call Orwell’s Law: so here’s the obligatory overarching message on this dude:

photo of Looney Tunes logo with Josh Black

*Ahem*

OK, now that we’ve certified this guy’s Absolute Nutter™ bona fides, what else is there to say about the fact that someone like this is running for national office in the GOP in 2014? It’s not as if there’s been any shortage of crankswackos and worse running for office throughout America’s recent history, right?

Sure…but this time, there are some key differences. In most of the rest of the country’s recent history, the wackos, cranks and worse are, as a matter of course, allowed to run for office just like everyone else who’s qualified is, because hey: free country. Usually, they either attach themselves to a major political party without the party’s official consent (or even acknowledgement), as in the case of LaRouche who’s run as a “Democrat” more often than he’s run third-party) or they declare the entire system is corrupt, etc, and strike out on their own by forming a new party (as with Rockwell’s “National Socialist White People’s Party,” which was so memorably lampooned as the “American Socialist White People’s Party (A.S.W.P.P., or “Asswipe”) in the The Blues Brothers).

More importantly, within living memory, conservative thinkers and GOP establishment types have banded together to disavow the troublemaking extremist whether that person was a declared candidate or even merely an influential supporter. This was done in order to keep the public from coming to believe that the party proper condoned or even tolerated the beliefs of such candidates who had attached themselves to it like opportunistic, insane pilot fish.

Buckley and his group knew that Barry Goldwater couldn’t get elected if he embraced or was even associated in the public’s mind with the likes of Robert Welch and the Birchers, who had gone so far as to call five-star general and former President Dwight Eisenhower a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” among other extremist, nutty ideas. They knew if the public associated Goldwater with the Birchers, it would be over before it even began.

And Welch didn’t even call for Ike’s hanging.

Which brings us back to today’s GOP loon-du-jour, who actually has called for the execution of a sitting President. Threats of assassination of a President are sadly nothing new either, but they are new coming from candidates for nationwide political office. In the past, such threats have come from disturbed individuals who wind up receiving a visit from the Secret Service (which, in fact, happened to Black), and either a trip to jail, to an “inpatient facility” or at least a permanent place on the FBI’s watch list (and likely a spot on the no-fly list as well). In short, no matter how much one dislikes a President personally or loathes his policies, it’s never a wise idea to move from political disagreement to suggestions of execution. That goes double for those who are attempting to launch political campaigns.

Predictably, it seems Mr. Black has indeed rendered his actual chances of being elected effectively nil. Everyone from Black’s local GOP chairman Michael Guju to Florida Governor Rick Scott have distanced themselves from Black’s statements. It is unlikely to say the least that Black will ever hold any office anywhere.

So why the post on his words? Don’t the actions of Scott, Guju and other Republicans who have lined up to denounce Black show that there’s continuity between the basic sensibilities of Buckley and his crew with regard to the Birchers and today’s GOP — who are presumably still able to reject outright insanity when they see it?

No. They don’t. Here’s why: Buckley and the conservatives who banded together with him to shun Welch and the John Birchers in 1964 were making a political calculation that they could not win if the Birch name was associated with Goldwater, but they were also simply repulsed by the obvious extremism and disavowal of reality evinced by Welch’s comments about Eisenhower. Buckley, et. al’s actions were a genuine shunning of a force they believed was extreme to the point that it no longer represented even the furthest-out of acceptable dialogue within their party at the time. They were closing the Overton Window on Welch, so to speak, and in a definitive manner.

Are Rick Scott and today’s GOP similarly shunning Black? Perhaps…though in today’s conservative climate, it’s no sure bet. There’s no way to know what’s in the mind of Scott or other GOP leaders who’ve publicly denounced Black, but the part of me that wants to give the benefit of the doubt says: sure, of the Republicans who denounced Black, there are probably many who are genuinely as repulsed by Black’s comments as Buckley and crew were by Welch’s. That’s not really the issue, here. One would hope Scott and Guju and others were sincerely repulsed and that their disavowal of Black was not mere political calculation.

The real problem here isn’t any potential Buckley/Scott comparison. It’s that Welch and Black are not the proper comparison. Out of all the modern GOPers mentioned so far, the direct comparison to Welch’s 60’s-era extremism is not Black, but Christine O’Donnell. Have a look at any of her appearances on Bill Maher’s old show, Politically Incorrect. Or in fact many of her appearances on the campaign trail in 2009-10. From witchcraft to death panels to socialism to paranoia about being followed around at night by government agents or her opponents, O’Donnell’s shtick sounds remarkably like Welch’s. Even up to and including suggesting the President is an agent of “collectivism.”

At no time, however, did O’Donnell call for President Obama’s execution by hanging. Or anything even remotely similar.

That’s the GOP’s problem today, in a nutshell. Since the era of Buckley, when there were arguably still some “wise old heads” in the GOP, their descendants have moved steadily rightward, so that they now routinely embrace, promote, celebrate and try to normalize the kind of lunacy which made Buckley & Co. blanch. Today, in order to earn a rebuke by fellow Republicans, one must publicly call for the execution by hanging of the President, not just refer to him as a communist.

And they – or a great many of them, at any rate – apparently believe this to be a winning strategy.