The RWNM: Lost in the High Weeds of War Metaphors

The wingnutosphere is at it again. Malkin has discovered the seeds of the next Islamofascist attack on Christian/American culture: Thanksgiving. Well, O’Reilly has The War on Christmas patented, so she, as one of the Right’s leading Culture Warriors, needed to find her own. No doubt Sean Hannity will “discover” a War on Easter in April.

I’m not going to bother pointing out that Malkin’s argument is foolish, absurdly exaggerated, and fundamentally mere hysterical whining because somebody dared do something of which she doesn’t approve. I mean, that’s what Malkin does. We all know that by now without even bothering to look. Anyway, Jill at Feministe has already done that, and you can go read her take-down there if you’ve got it so in your mind to.


What interests me is the increasing tendency of the fascist Right to describe every criticism of or disagreement with any position they’ve decided to take as a “war on” them – or America or Xtian values or Freedom or etc etc etc. Apparently they have discovered – or believe they’ve discovered – that calling anything a “war” gets them traction in the mainstream media as well as motivating their rabid followers to further extremism by convincing them that Great Issues Are At Stake. As Michael showed us a couple of days ago, Tom Tancredo is running a campaign ad that equates immigration with the War on Terror, and I expect that in another month or so he’ll declare his own War on Immigration.

This started a while back, probably with Nixon’s War on Drugs BS, but since Cheney/Bush sold us on their oil war, the Right has taken the metaphor and run off the end of the goddamn earth with it. We have now reached the point where merely acknowledging that someone may not feel the same way as right-wing whackos do about something – anything, really – is the equivalent of declaring war on them. It’s cheap theatrics, of course, but in a country that’s made Adam Sandler and the Farrelly Bros stars, cheap theatrics play.

As an ex-theater actor/director, though, I can tell you that there’s a serious problem here. The higher you raise the stakes in a production, the harder it is to back off. This war-metaphor business is going to make it impossible for conservatives to do anything except keep raising the stakes whenever they lose – or simply don’t win. Right now, their decision not to compromise on anything with anybody not of their belief system is a choice. There is still room to climb down without surrendering their oh-so-important pride, at least not entirely.

But they’re blindly eliminating that maneuvering space with the war metaphors. If this continues, we will be in a actual war – a shooting war – with the Right Wing that will make the abortion-doctor murders and pregnancy clinic bombings look like a mild spasm. The more the Right defines itself as a righteous minority surrounded by and at war with evil, inhuman enemies who intend to wipe them out, the more they will box themselves into a corner from which violence against their Satanic opposition will be the only acceptable response.

And that’s the narrative that’s being thundered at us from practically all right-wing sources. From fundamentalist End-Timers to Rovian One-Party-ers to anti-science IDers to Malkian culture commissars to One World conspiracy freaks to Dittohead hysterics convinced we’re days away from the US becoming an Islamic state, the right-wing spectrum has been devolving into a kind of extremist eliminationism in which moderation is akin to betrayal and dissent deserves nothing less than execution. We’re way past the point when these people were the fringe elements who dared speak aloud the darkest diseased fantasies of a minority that saw itself as oppressed. They don’t represent the far side of conservative thought any more. They are conservative thought.

Just as their unthinking, unquestioning support of military action against Iraq eventually led to war, so must their unthinking, unquestioning assumption that they are under actual attack in a metaphor war lead to a non-metaphorical culture war when real people get killed. And the thing about wars is that when somebody starts trying to kill you, you have no choice but to defend yourself. That defense will be defined as an offense by warmongers, they will retaliate, and then the whole thing will escalate out of control.

We are almost literally staring down the barrel of a gun. When the Democrats win the next election – as they almost certainly will, no matter who the nominee is – right-wing hysteria, barely contained now, is liable to spiral into real, institutional violence protected and even abetted by a Bushian judicial system where anything goes if you just say it’s to fight Communism terrorism. The same people who saw Commies under every bed now see terrorists in every bush, and this time they’re not going to be stymied by moderates or stopped by, you know, law. They’re finally going to have their Great White War against the dark masses of Devil-Spawn, their long-awaited Armageddon, and anybody who gets in their way will be mowed down.

The step after the one that insists we’re warring against them is the one that declares a “defensive war” against us. What happens then?

5 Responses to “The RWNM: Lost in the High Weeds of War Metaphors”

  1. In fairness, LBJ started this nonsense with his “War on Poverty.” Declaring “war” on anything is a brilliant marketing strategy that allows you to engage in completely irrational behavior with the defense being that the ends justify the means, because hey “we’re at war.” Of course, it’s also a great way to infuriate and unite your opponents into thinking that you’re at war with them (and therefore you need to fight back vehemently), which is why Malkin coins the “War on Thanksgiving” phrase.

  2. mick says:

    That’s right. I forgot about LBJ. No excuse for that.

    I realize it’s a great marketing tool. What bothers me is how easily it can get out of control when it’s overused. The users become committed to it. Before you know where you are, they’ve talked themselves into believing it. We’re perilously close to that point now. There are already cadres of right-wingers who use it literally and believe it’s literally true. I think the pundits – Malkin, O’Reilly, Limbo, etc – may use it for marketing purposes but their followers are dead serious. On the religious right, tens of thousands of fundamentalists believe the war is literal and that they’ve been called to be God’s Warriors in the Fight Against Evil. Islamic extremism began with this kind of rhetoric. White supremacists justified the lynchings of blacks with exactly this rhetoric. Hitler used this rhetoric to start a world war.

    It’s very dangerous. It always precedes genocide, ethnic cleansing, and the creation of fascist states. I don’t like where this is going.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with the problems of its overuse. Its brilliance as a marketing strategy as you point out is precisely what makes it a recipe for disaster.

    The phrase so scares me that the use of it by one Ron Paul supporter awhile back led directly to my eliminating just about any formal association I had with the campaign, and is why my support for him is nowhere near as strong as it once was.

  4. restau_ranter says:

    With all the talk of Tancredo’s new immigration/terrorist ad, I wondered if you’d seen the hysterical (fake?) Giuliani ad attacking Hillary’s ties to Elliot Spitzer.
    I mean, c’mon, Tancredo? pay attention to Rudy.

  5. I.M. Small says:


    There is no war on poverty,
    There is no war on drugs,
    There is no war on terror–see?–
    But are a lot of thugs.

    It´s “homeland” thugs appall me most,
    As they ought to know better–
    But: using words wrong has a cost,
    As makes a nation debtor.

    The “war on this” and “war on that”
    Indistinguishable “under God,”
    Are an exact equivalent
    For such a word jihad.


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