There was a time in American politics when the “race card” was an effective Establishment strategy against arguments it could not refute logically. Regardless of how unrelated an issue may have been to race, the Establishment would try to make a connection in order to avoid confronting the troublesome argument. Alternatively, they might completely ignore the issue at hand and simply present evidence that the proponent himself was racist. So distasteful is racism to most Americans that the mere suggestion that a politician might be racist was enough to condemn any idea, policy, or position he might take, whatever its merits.
Today, that is no longer true. While hardcore liberals still try to use the race card to discredit anyone who opposes their policy positions, it is apparent that it no longer resonates with average Americans. It was always a strategy with a limited shelf life. Besides, it is only effective for one half of the Establishment. If the race card sounds hollow and timeworn coming out of the mouths of liberals, it sounds downright ridiculous when employed by conservatives.
Besides, the entire ruling Establishment is in trouble. Their welfare-warfare state is coming apart at the seams. While the blue team and the red team will continue to fight with each other, they both realize that average Americans are becoming more open to hearing from people who refuse to put on either jersey. Something must be done to stifle any reasonable consideration of these unapproved ideas. The ruling class needs a new pocket ad hominem, one that can be used by conservatives or liberals.
Extremism has filled the void. “Extremist” is a word that elicits an immediate emotional response. Thanks to the all-out propaganda campaign against extremism, average Americans immediately associate the word with images of bomb-laden Muslim terrorists or McVeigh-like “militia types,” both apocalyptic threats to all of humanity. The moment an argument is made that departs from the status quo, the tag of extremism is applied to its author in the attempt to deflect attention away from the argument itself.
The most discouraging aspect of this new slur tactic is its effectiveness. Not only is it employed by both conservatives and liberals, but it is immediately given credence by both sides as well. Recall any discussion you’ve had on a political issue. If a position is taken that is outside of the Mitt Romney-Hillary Clinton continuum, it is inevitable that someone in the room will allege extremism. Heads will immediately nod in agreement, as if merely uttering the word makes the allegation true. It is also assumed without question that any “extremist” position must be wrong. The result? The discussion goes back to the continuum. So it goes in millions of households and hundreds of millions of minds.
But what does the word “extremism” mean? Merriam-Webster defines it (in the most relevant of several definitions) as “going to extreme lengths.” Often, extremism is characterized as “too much of a good thing.” For example, one might agree that too many carbohydrates in one’s diet is not healthy, but consider eating no carbohydrates at all as “extreme.”
However, what does the word mean when applied to politics? If politics is the pursuit of justice, can any position be accurately characterized as “extremist?” Can there ever be too much justice?
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.