« Laborem Exercens | Main | Brooks On Disagreement »

How To Do Things With Extremists

I can't really say what game John Cornyn thinks he's playing by speculating out loud on the floor of the U.S. Senate that maybe judges wouldn't get killed so often by demented rapists if they were more willing to bow to conservative theories of constitutional exegesis. It's clear, though, that whatever his subjective understanding of his actions is, this is one of those situations where the existence of violent extremists can be a very useful thing to more moderate people. The best example, I think, is the case of the anti-abortion terrorists. There aren't really all that many people out there who've shot doctors or bombed clinics. But there are a few. And there's a much larger group of people who like to protest outside clinics, as is their right as Americans. But the exercise of this right wouldn't do much to actually advance the anti-choice agenda were it not for the existence of your terrorist handful. It's clear if you've ever been to a perpetually-protested clinic that the people who work there and the women who avail themselves of the services under offer operate under a non-trivial climate of fear. Fear because the people outside protesting obviously feel very strongly about their views. Fear because we know that some of the protestors cohorts feel so strongly about the issue that they're willing to kill for it. You never know who standing in that little knot of protesters might be the one with a screw loose.

This stuff makes a difference. I don't say that most pro-lifers approve of anti-abortion terrorism. Clearly, they don't. Nevertheless, their cause benefits from it. In the wake of a killing there may be a backlash of some sort, but such things fade among the general public. They don't fade among the set of medical professionals who, at the margin, decide they'd rather not spend their lives dealing with might-be-terrorist activists harrassing them constantly. It makes a difference.

Does Senator Cornyn want more people to go about murdering judges? One doubts it. But it seems that he's happy to try and use such incidents to advance his own agenda. Happy to use them, one notes, even though the recent high-profile cases don't seem to actually have a political agenda. His hope -- along, it seems, though less clearly -- with Tom DeLay's is that judges will begin to operate under a cloud of intimidation. They may not like the idea of buckling under to whatever it is Cornyn wants them to do, but Cornyn is making it clear that he's the judges' friends. He doesn't want to see them killed, or maimed, or assaulted. He's trying to save them. Trying to warn them. Warning them that unless they change their ways someone -- someone who has nothing to do with John Cornyn or the Texas cabal running the country, mind you -- just might decide to do something crazy. But here's Cornyn offering a safe harbor. Confirm all of Bush's nominees, no matter how incompetent, corrupt, or inept they are, no matter how unsound their view of the constitution. And for the others, try to conform your views to those of Bush's new appointees. Do it and you'll be safe. If you don't do it, well, then, certainly John Cornyn wouldn't advocate killing you, he's just pointing out that it will happen.

It's the same, though more grotesque, as the prediction/threat the White House is trying to pull with Social Security. It'd be a shame if something were to happen to that Trust Fund, wouldn't it? A fate you can easily enough avoid by agreeing to private the system, no?

What it reminds me most of in recent times in Samuel Huntington's "warning" in Who We Are which "warns" that unless we curb immigration (or the immigration of Latin Americans, or the immigration of Mexicans, Huntington never quite seems sure which he means) we risk a white nativist backlash. Not from Huntington, of course. He's no racist. But others are. And they might lash back if we don't close the borders. He's just offering a warning. Just pointing out an empirical relationship. Not threatening anybody. Of course not, that would be wrong.

Back to Cornyn -- who's kidding whom here? I've already seen some folks on the right try to explain this away. He was just offering an analytic point, noting the existence of anger about some judicial decisions, some anti-judge violence, and offering some speculations. Sure he was. Nevermind that he and his ilk are the ones whipping up the anger. It wouldn't cross his mind to tone down and suggest that his colleagues do likewise. Suggest that in the wake of some murders and some controversial court cases that we all agree that we are a country under law and that despite disagreements we should respect judicial offices and their holders. No. Far better to note that there may be a connection between non-Cornyn-approved court rulings and the murder of judges. He's just trying to be helpful.

April 4, 2005 | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8345160fd69e200d8345832b669e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference How To Do Things With Extremists:

» Speaker's Meaning and Actual Meaning from The Cardinal Collective
Matthew Yglesias has an interesting post about some recent comments by Senator Jon Cornyn that may or may not be read as a threat to the lives of "activist judges". Whatever the merits of MY's position in that post, it... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 2:54:00 AM

» La Cosa Nostra, Texas Style from The Betamax Guillotine
Digby, Matt and some of the fine folks on Daily Kos have highlighted the latest lowball rhetoric to come from one of my home state's unesteemed Congressional members. This time it's Senator Man-On-Box Turtle hisself, John Cornyn: SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 4:17:35 AM

» Nice Judiciary. It'd Be A Shame If Anything Happened To It. from Politics and War
Apparently, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) decided to let us know how he really feels about America's judicial branch:"I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certain... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 6:38:38 AM

» Go to your Cornyn from Catch
A lot of bloggers are linking to this post by Matthew Yglesias because, well, it deserves to be read: Does Senator Cornyn want more people to go about murdering judges? One [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 8:25:08 AM

» Haven't We Heard That There Are NO EXCUSES For Terrorism Or Terrorist Threats? from The Moderate Voice

I thought we did.

Will somebody kindly tell Senator John Cornyn?

[Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 10:24:03 AM

» On Senator Cornyn from bennellibrothers.com
M. Yglesias has a great writeup on Senator Cornyn's comments on the Senate Floor. Sen Cornyn stated, 4 Apr on the Senate Floor: “I don’t know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 10:32:53 AM

» The Cornyn Speech from QandO
The Left side of the 'sphere is terribly upset about this comment by Senator John Cornyn: [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 11:12:33 AM

» The Second Coming from Rox Populi
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 11:20:13 AM

» Nice Judiciary. It'd Be A Shame If Anything Happened To It. from Politics and War
Apparently, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) decided to let us know how he really feels about America's judicial branch:"I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certain... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 12:11:29 PM

» Quote of the Day from Fresh Politics
[Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 12:26:53 PM

» Nice Judiciary. Shame If Something Happened To It. from Politics and War
Apparently, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) decided to let us know how he really feels about America's judicial branch:"I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certain... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 12:31:11 PM

» Senator Links Violence to 'Political' Decisions from Don Singleton
This is foolishness. As I indicated in an earlier post, "What happened to the judge in Atlanta and the other judge's family were bad, but they were totally unrelated to what conservatives have been saying for many years about Activist Judges". One gu... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 1:43:42 PM

» Senator Cornyn says violence against judges is understandable from Grubbykid.com :: Words
United States Senator John Cornyn (R) of Texas, said the following on the senate floor yesterday: SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: "I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 1:55:47 PM

» Senator Cornyn says violence against judges is understandable from Grubbykid.com :: Words
United States Senator John Cornyn (R) of Texas, said the following on the senate floor yesterday: SENATOR JOHN CORNYN: "I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 1:56:20 PM

» Can you get punched for pissing people off? from UNCoRRELATED
Sen. John Corwyn's remarks, asking whether judicial activism breeds violence against judges, has been greeted with outrage by the LB. I frankly didn't see it. Corwyn asked a rhetorical question and I think its probably reasonable to ask it. Most... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 2:19:44 PM

» In Answer To Your Question... Pow! from Grouchy's Liberaltopia
The Blogosphere is buzzing with Children of the Cornyn Pt. III, but Matt Yglesias' post on the issue, How To Do Things With Extremists, led me to this post via trackbacks: Can you get punched for pissing people off? Sen.... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 3:24:18 PM

» Can you get punched for pissing people off? from UNCoRRELATED
Sen. John Corwyn's remarks, asking whether judicial activism breeds violence against judges, has been greeted with outrage by the LB. I frankly didn't see it. Corwyn asked a rhetorical question and I think its probably reasonable to ask it. Most... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 3:43:14 PM

» Can you get punched for pissing people off? from UNCoRRELATED
Sen. John Corwyn's remarks, asking whether judicial activism breeds violence against judges, has been greeted with outrage by the LB. I frankly didn't see it. Corwyn asked a rhetorical question and I think its probably reasonable to ask it. Most... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 4:31:27 PM

» Cornyn does not speak for me re: Violence against judges from Somervell County Salon
Sen Cornyn appears to believe that the majority of the United States do not approve of the actions of judges, sees their judgements as political, and thus are inspired to commit violence. [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 5:46:37 PM

» Cornyn Jumps the Shark from Slapnose
Senator John Conyn (R - TX) on the floor of the Senate today.. I don’t know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 6, 2005 3:30:26 AM

» Doomed Strategy from Spin Dry
The more the wingnuts bitch and whine about "activist judges," the more the judges are going to circle the wagons. Despite their noted political differences, I'll bet that the Supremes are actually quite friendly with each other, and any attack on on... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 7, 2005 3:37:32 PM

Comments

Does Senator Cornyn want more people to go about murdering judges? One doubts it.

One does?!

Posted by: bobo brooks | Apr 5, 2005 12:01:00 AM

As a Matt scholar, let me suggest that Liz Anderson's excellent post Issue a threat, pretend it's a warning may have influenced the development of his thought here.

Threats and warnings being the speech-acts they are, let me also suggest that the title of this post may be an allusion to J.L. Austin's How to do things with words.

Posted by: Ethical Werewolf | Apr 5, 2005 12:12:31 AM

Another historical parallel is Thomas Jefferson's view of slave emancipation. He insisted that while he hated slavery, emancipation would be a disaster because the larger white population would never put up with a free black population. It was quite obvious that he was one of those white people who would never put up with free blacks, as he revealed in Notes on the State of Virginia.

As to Cornyn, look at the extended quote in the WaPo article and it's obvious that he sympathizes with those who would murder the judges, even with his false disclaimer at the end.

Posted by: Elrod | Apr 5, 2005 12:21:48 AM

Is this post some sort of extended satire on the "they would stop blowing us up if we stopped occupying their countries" school of thought?

Because that's all I could think of when I read this. I swear Instapundit has written a post which is almost exactly the same, except with leftists replacing conservatives and Islamic terrorists replacing... well, anti-abortion terrorists.

Posted by: Bob McGrew | Apr 5, 2005 12:27:40 AM

"and it's obvious that he sympathizes with those who would murder the judges, even with his false disclaimer at the end."

Ok. Who are we trying to reach here? What is our purpose?

If we are trying to get moderates & moderate Republicans to abandon the leadership we should be very careful in our language, so as to offer them an acceptable alternative.

If we are trying to alert the left that the Republican leadership has become outlaw and violent and pose a clear & present danger of brutish tyranny, than I would suggest the strongest degree of polemical excess.

Just saying.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 5, 2005 12:35:03 AM

The statement by John Cornyn doesn't seem to make sense on its face. Most of the people who killed judges, weren't they people who had a personal beef with the judge, not some overarching political disagreement?

If Randall Terry had shot Henry Blackmun, one could make the argument that it was a political statement. I didn't see any political statement in any of the recent violence.

Or is there some anti-judge violencce I haven't heard of?

Posted by: Glaivester | Apr 5, 2005 12:47:21 AM

Actually, Matt, "the existence of violent extremists can be a very useful thing" to people such as yourself, who just love to associate your political opposition with the extremists.

Posted by: ronb | Apr 5, 2005 12:49:42 AM

Oh, and could we consider the recent Krugman column, in which he "warns" that unless the "religious right" are suppressed, liberals and moderates will start to be assassinated?

Until people such as Matt start showing some consistency in their outrage, others will suspect their motives and decry their tactics.

Posted by: ronb | Apr 5, 2005 12:52:09 AM

Yes, RonB, Matt is the one associating Republicans with extremists. No actual member of the Republican party has ever allied themselves with extremists, especially not over the past couple of weeks. You know who has never made common cause with extremists? Tom DeLay. He also didn't do that last week. You made such a good point RonB, why didn't I see it earlier?

In an "imaginary" world where it was really true that some members of the Republican party were associated with extremists and Matt pointed that out, it might also be true that it's useful to Matt to point it out. So what?

Posted by: washerdreyer | Apr 5, 2005 12:57:03 AM

A far better parallel (with far more frequent violence than pro-life protests) would be union violence. Unions benefit greatly from the fact that many unions are seen as willing to destroy scabs lives (figuratively and sometimes literally) and that they are willing to smash business owners' property during strikes.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Apr 5, 2005 12:58:20 AM

A far better parallel (with far more frequent violence than pro-life protests) would be union violence.

Recent examples, please. And make them on a par with killing a doctor or blowing up an abortion clinic.

Posted by: David | Apr 5, 2005 1:01:08 AM

Dear f*ckwit, the difference between "these crazy people are eventually going to kill somebody" and "my friends out there might decide to kill somebody if we don't get our way" is pretty immense to anyone with a honest, logical understanding of the English language. Which apparently doesn't include you.

Posted by: querido bobo | Apr 5, 2005 1:04:27 AM

The funny thing is that Cornyn was a judge, and a fairly moderate one. (Moderate by Texas Republican standards, that is.). I worked at the Texas Supreme Court after he did, and his reputation was not as a fire-breather.

One of the odd things about watching these Texas politicians move on to the national stage is that they become ever more conservative, and shrill, the longer they stay in D.C. One has the sense that among D.C. Republicans there is simply a sense that they should not be opposed; that, having defeated Kerry, they are now entitled to do whatever they want, Constitutional order be damned. And I get the feeling that newcomers arrive in D.C. and need to show their movement bona fides, and quickly end up in a race to the bottom. That's the only way I can explain Cornyn's recent behavior, unless he's gone off his meds.

I wish I were confident that they would suffer some comeuppance, but I'm not. I simply don't know who or what would hold them accountable. I'm not saying they won't be, and I pray that they will. But I don't know how, as of yet.

Posted by: yourcenar | Apr 5, 2005 1:08:01 AM

Holsclaw. HAR!

Jesus fuck.

Posted by: Sven | Apr 5, 2005 1:59:10 AM

What's interesting, perhaps, is the place of power that Cornyn holds. Most successful social movements have expressed themselves (consciously or not) in two strains -- an extreme and a more moderate -- with the moderate benefiting (consciously or not) from the threat that the extreme creates.

The establishment, which would normally not concede to the moderate, find said moderate much more palatable when compared with the radical. Countless examples exist, but what immediately comes to mind is how the militancy of the Panthers and Malcolm X was mediated by the non-violence of Martin Luther King for benefits of the civil rights movement as a whole.

What's different here is that an agent of the state itself is using an internal threat to further it's own agenda, and is thus implicitly legitimizing the violence. Even as a rhetorical device this is completely wrong, because as the body that retains a monopoly of legitimate violence, the state cannot sanction abortion clinic bombings, even implicitly. So it's not the semiotic device that bothers me (everyone uses crazy people to make themselves seem more sane), but who is doing it...

Posted by: FreeMan | Apr 5, 2005 2:04:30 AM

People ask: is there someone fit to be our leader? Our task is not to search for that person. Either God will give him to us or he will not come. Our task is to shape the sword that he will need when he comes. Our task is to provide the leader with a nation which is ready for him when he comes!


My fellow Germans, awaken! The new day is dawning!

Adolph Hitler May 1923

Posted by: TheMoreThingsChange... | Apr 5, 2005 2:14:51 AM

Anyone else consider the fact that Congress is much less popular than the Judiciary? How fucking stupid are these people (like Cornyn)?

Posted by: jonnybutter | Apr 5, 2005 2:16:22 AM

The telling thing here is the back-story. Where, pray tell, are all these incidents of violence against judges with political motivation happening? I have not heard about them. The recent violence against judges has been wholly apolitical and wholly personal in nature.

Further, we just happen to have gone through an episode where judges did their job, an overwhelming majority of American felt judges did their job, but a small, vocal minority wanted judges to abdicate their responsibility and rule in their favor without any legal justification.

Which is why this is damning. This man is not an idiot: he knows his hypothetical is complete fucking bullshit. There has been no uptick in violence against judges because of "judicial tyranny" or "activist judges." He either got caught up in his mythology, and should apologize profusely and unequivocally, or he meant it as a veiled threat and/or a call to whackos to start whacking judges; in which case he needs to resign, NOW.

Shame on you shit stains that equivocate about this.

Posted by: tango | Apr 5, 2005 2:21:23 AM

The official German government reaction to Kristallnacht was that synagogues and Jewish businesses were trashed in a series of spontaneous outbursts by a German people long fed up with the traitorous conduct of the International Jewry and pushed over the edge by the assassination by a Jew of a German envoy in France. In other words, the longtime targets of the Nazis' hate campaign were themselves responsible for any excessive, violent reaction to that hate campaign. What Cornyn -- and those Republicans who decline to denounce him in the strongest of terms -- is doing doesn't strike me as appreciably different. This is the behavior of fascists. And it CAN happen here.

Posted by: Tokyokie | Apr 5, 2005 2:21:52 AM

Are you truly interested in finding out about union violence? Try here or here or here

You aren't seriously contesting my statement that there is more union violence than pro-life violence? Are you? Really?

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Apr 5, 2005 2:22:49 AM

The official German government reaction to Kristallnacht was that synagogues and Jewish businesses were trashed in a series of spontaneous outbursts by a German people long fed up with the traitorous conduct of the International Jewry and pushed over the edge by the assassination by a Jew of a German envoy in France. In other words, the longtime targets of the Nazis' hate campaign were themselves responsible for any excessive, violent reaction to that hate campaign. What Cornyn -- and those Republicans who decline to denounce him in the strongest of terms -- is doing doesn't strike me as appreciably different. This is the behavior of fascists. And it CAN happen here.

Posted by: Tokyokie | Apr 5, 2005 2:32:06 AM

Besides totalitarianism, a key distinguishing feature of fascism is that it uses a mass movement to attack the organizations of the working class: parties of the left and trade unions. Thus Fritzsche and others describe fascism as a militant form of right-wing populism. This mobilization strategy involves Corporatism, Corporativism, or the Corporative State [2], all terms that refer to state action to partner with key business leaders, often in ways chosen to minimize the power of labor unions.

wikipedia entry on Fascism

Posted by: TheMoreThingsChange... | Apr 5, 2005 2:32:56 AM

Ooops. Double post. My bad.

Posted by: Tokyokie | Apr 5, 2005 2:33:45 AM

I freely stipulate that over any given time period (unless it was chosen as the day before the worst anti-abortion violence until the day after), pro-union violence in the United States has been more harmful than anti-abortion violence. This has no bearing on how one should evaluate Conryn's statements, but I guess it could lead to an interesting discussion anyway.

Posted by: washerdreyer | Apr 5, 2005 2:34:49 AM

Labour union violence, what a joke. Do you seriously believe unionists set out to create violence? The violence was set afoot quite handily by the barons' men, then as now.

Posted by: S Ty | Apr 5, 2005 3:07:59 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.