Y'all Qaeda: Idiots or Mainstream Republicans?

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Steven Biel: So Lance, I saw your post in the As Maine Goes Public Square attacking the militiamen who took over that federal building in Oregon as “idiots."

But what exactly is the difference between what they're saying and the nonsense you and other mainstream Republicans have been spreading for years about President Obama's supposedly "unprecedented executive overreach?"

Lance Dutson: What's happening in Oregon IS pure idiocy. There are maniacs taping farewell videos to their families like suicide bombers. It's madness.

These people are absolutely eviscerating the credibility of those of us who think the federal government is overreaching. The rest of the country looks at the Oregon militia and thinks this is what limited government advocates are about.

Left Brain: Steven Biel

Steven Biel is a political consultant and former campaign director at the progressive group MoveOn.org. He lives in Portland with his wife and two kids.
www.StevenBielStrategies.com

Right Brain: Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson is a political communications consultant, veteran of Maine Republican campaigns, and owner of As Maine Goes. He lives in Falmouth.
www.RedHillStrategies.com

Steven: So in other words, you agree with what these militiamen are saying, but just disagree with their style? That's hardly a stinging rebuke.

Lance: I don't agree with any of what they have to say, but they are appropriating the language conservatives use to push back against things like Obamacare and other mega-government intrusions.

"Limited government" shouldn't be a call to arms. It's a political theory.

Steven: So if you disagree with everything the Bundy boys are saying, are you willing to admit that the constant hyperbole about Obama's "executive overreach" has been hogwash from the start?

Lance: Not at all. That's like saying arguments against the U.S. invasion of Iraq are invalid because Al Qaeda agrees with them.

This administration has stepped over the line again and again, from spying on reporters and members of Congress to trying to force through false recess appointments.

Steven: Please. Every president issues recess appointments. In fact, President Obama has issued relatively few executive orders compared to other presidents.

Lance: Not these kinds of sweeping, unprecedented executive orders.

But since Democrats are loath to stand for anything except utter fealty to Obama, Republicans must make an aggressive case to the public.

Then Congress and the courts can make sure he doesn't expand executive power beyond its constitutional limits.

Steven: And in almost every case where the GOP has accused Obama of being "dictator," the courts have upheld his actions.

I can understand why you'd want to distance yourself from these guys in an election year, but accusing President Obama of "governing by fiat like a dictator" is mainstream Republican rhetoric. And if you really believe that, then taking up arms is a rational, patriotic thing to do.

These are your followers acting on what they're hearing from your party leaders.

Lance: This sounds familiar--kind of like labeling all Muslims as terrorists. Not all conservatives are militant absolutists. Sometimes extremists steal language to justify their violence. That's all that's happened here.

These are not conservatives, they're crazies with martyrdom complexes. Conservatives need to make sure the general public understands that.

Steven: The mainstream GOP has had chances to disavow these people. Cliven Bundy was backed 100 percent by top GOP candidates like Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, not to mention Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren.

We're going to hear another avalanche of this over the top "Obama as dictator" rhetoric this week after he takes the modest and appropriate step of clarifying the definition of a "gun seller" in federal regulations to close loopholes that were allowing criminals and domestic abusers to avoid background checks.

Lance: See that's exactly the problem. This Oregon fiasco is going to color the whole debate over Obama's overreach on guns.

Republicans are correct that Obama doesn't have the constitutional authority to make these rule changes. But the general public generally supports background checks.

Add to that the caricature of gun-toting lunatics in Oregon that make reasonable people question basic constitutional concepts and you've got the perfect storm.

Steven: That's absurd. All Obama is doing is clarifying the line between who counts as a gun dealer--and therefore must conduct background checks--and who's just a person with a hobby.

Not only is that constitutional, it's legally required. Our gun laws are written in a way that's intentionally vague, so it's literally the president's job to flesh out the details through regulations.

Lance:
Here's the bottom line--leaders make change by convincing people they're right. Obama's 'change' has come through either straight party-line votes or executive fiat. Though he may get away with it, he's creating a volatile political environment that is ultimately bad for the country.

Presidents need to respect the will of the people, and whatever your politics are, Congress and the people who comprise it directly represent that elected will. Don't be surprised to see the people get fired up when they're ignored.

Steven: One thing the Oregon occupation has shown is how blatantly racist our criminal justice system really is. A black 12-year-old with a toy gun can be executed in broad daylight and it's totally fine.

But a bunch of white dudes with automatic weapons openly threaten the government and seize a federal building and no one lifts a finger.

Where's the tear gas? Where's the National Guard? Are they only allowed to use that stuff with unarmed black protestors?

Lance: I don't think it serves anyone to counter violence with violence, but you've got a point about double standard. We can leave that to another day to debate.