What The Hell Is An “Extremist”, Anyway?

Earlier this week, I wrote about Dave Mindeman’s take (on his MnpACT blog) on the gubernatorial election. His basic assumption; without Norm Coleman in the race, the DFL will take the governor’s office.

I noted that that conclusion would indeed reflect the “conventional wisdom” in Minnesota, normally; that Minnesota likes center-left DFLers and “moderate” Republicans.

Of course, there are all sorts of larger reasons the “conventional wisdom” could come up lacking this year; Obama’s plunging popularity will sap votes in the DFL’s traditional powerhouses, the Twin Cities and their first-ring suburbs; the “tea party” movement and its populist offshoots are going to bring an energy back to the GOP’s powerhouses – the third tier of ‘burbs on out, the south east and southwest parts of the state, the Red River Valley – that they lacked during the dismal dismal years of Bush’s second term, when you could palpably feel the exhaustion on the part of an awful lot of the volunteers that are the backbone of the MNGOP.

But there’s one other thing that I think the DFL/media (as always, pardon the redundancy) miss in their assessments. 

Not to indulge in name-calling – that’s not my intent, here – but there’s an intellectual laziness behind the overuse of the term “extreme”.  It seems everybody to the right of Arne Carlson gets labeled “Extreme” by the left and their allies on the editorial boards.

It is, of course, a crude but effective way to frame the debate for the left; labelling everyone and every thought of the opposition as “extreme” at every possible mention.  If you’re a conservative, you’re not just pro-life, you’re a “pro-life extremist”; you’re not just for limited government, you’re an “extreme Tenther”; you don’t just favor constraining spending and cutting taxes, you’re an “extremist”; any Second Amendment activists…well, we’re used to being called that and much worse. 

Marty Seifert

Marty Seifert

A big part of me would like to think that this bit of framing is showing signs of backfiring – as with the term “teabagging”, which the left turned from a junior-high snark into a fairly universal slur to, through relentless overuse, a two-edged sword that says more about them than the actual protesters. 

“Extreme” is different.  While there’s a certain amount of self-caricature in the left’s overuse and devaluing of the term, I think the left has fallen into an even more pernicious trap; after calling everyone to the right of Arlen Lindner an “extremist” for a generation now, they’ve come to believe it.

The left has been working overtime to label Tom Emmer (and, comically, Marty Seifert) as “extreme” conservatives, smug in the belief that as long as they apply the label (and the media dutifully uses it at every opportunity), then it’ll stick with the people, while the “reasonable”‘, non-“extreme” left will mop up the votes, because (so say the left and media) that’s where Minnesota really is.

But they haven’t heard Tom Emmer speak to a mixed crowd.


Tom Emmer

Tom Emmer

Here’s the thing people like Mindeman miss about Seifert and – especially – Emmer; they state the conservative case to the middle and the undecided better than any recent conservative figures in Minnesota politics.  While some previous conservative leaders in Minnsota have been seen (rightly or, more usually, because of media connivance) as exclusionary dogmatists, the two GOP frontronners can actually get out in front of an undecided crowd and make an appealing, articulate, solid case for why those in the middle should be over with us on the right. 

And while it’s entirely possible that someone among the left’s pack of hamsters – Rukavina or Kelley spring to mind – can do the same, I’ve seen little to no evidence that they can preach to anyone that’s not fundamentally disposed to be in the choir.  And given how fast Obama, Pelosi, Reid and (let’s be honest) Kelliher have been piddling on independents this past year, I think it’s fair to say that Emmer and Seifert will have a more sympathetic audience than they might have a year or two ago.

So I’m a lot less convinced that having the left/media merely chanting “extreme!  extreme!” over and over again – as well as it’s served them in previous elections – is going to do the job for them this time.

5 thoughts on “What The Hell Is An “Extremist”, Anyway?

  1. Extreme is used a lot, but I prefer “Ultra.” “Far” is useful as well although it brings up warm and fuzzy feelings as in “far, a long, long way to go…” Why not hit ’em with all of them as in Emmer, that ultra-far extremist?

  2. I think the allegations against the opposition by the right, of socialism, and ‘they’re taking away our freedoms’ ,are gong to fall a little flat this time around as well……. time will tell. November 2010 is still some distance into the future.

    A lot can happen between now and then.

  3. allegations of socialism, eh dog.

    How’s that deficit spending going for ya?

    How’s that HOPE and CHANGE working out for ya?

    Obama admitted he supports wealth re-distribution. What part of socialism don’t you understand? Or would you prefer we called it Liberal Fascism?

  4. Does Obama continuing Bush’s policy make him extreme?
    No. His employing avowed communists, homosexual pedophiles and people who think the population should be “reduced” through mandatory sterilization, on the other hand…

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