Revenge of the Little People

"Ambition is not a vice of little people," or so posited the French essayist, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. When it comes to the sins of radicals, haters, and assassins, however, Montaigne would have been out of his league, since he traveled in the orbit of statesmen and nobility. Frank Rich raised some hackles this week when he spoke of a different sort of ambition: the type that drives lonely fringe dwellers to seek out and kill those who represent their deepest foes and fears.

In his column "The Obama Haters' Silent Enablers," Rich angered many conservatives by extending the discussion of "right-wing extremists" in the wake of recent scenes of carnage and Fox's Shepard Smith's analysis of the little people on the fringe who are "out there in a scary place."  While many readers may not care for the characterization, his musings offer a chance to look into the real nature of ambition and how it's defined.

A far less famous philosopher -- my father -- was always fond of telling me that "you never worry about the dog that's barking."  He's just marking his territory and putting on a show. The dog you really worry about is the one who lays quiet in the grass until your back is turned.

No matter whether they are conservative or liberal, Democratic or Republican, our reference to "bomb throwers" is very much misplaced. The people with microphones and audiences may feed red meat into the maw of the invective machine, but you don't see them taking to the malls with an Uzi. They have ambition, but it's for fame and fortune. The ones we have to watch for seem to be the ones who are listening.

Five days per week I have the opportunity to moderate an online chat in conjunction with Ed Morrissey's talk show. We are fortunate in having a host who is not only open to lively discussion across the full range of the political spectrum, but will tolerate no nonsense in terms of criminal activity, hate speech, or rumblings from the lunatic fringe. We have a standing agreement that the chat will not be dominated by truthers, birthers, or other conspiracy theorists. People are immediately ejected for blatant hate speech. Perhaps the most stringently understood and enforced rule is that there is to be absolutely zero tolerance of threats or doing any form of harm to the U.S. president (or anyone else, for that matter), even in a "joking" fashion.

I'm not sure if we should be relieved or frightened that, since last November's election, we have only had to eject three or four people for violating this ban. None of them struck us as being serious or any real threat to elected officials. They were just exhibiting extremely poor judgment and taste. But it's the other comments which I encounter on a daily basis that have me reflecting more on Frank Rich's analysis. Ed Morrissey generally does an admirable job of debating the merits of conservatism over liberalism and the virtues of Republicans as being superior to the sins of Democrats. He makes the odd generalization about "the Left" but is often willing to cast aspersions at the Right as well.