Just when we were ready to aim a couple of rhetorical thunderbolts at state Rep. Brenda Barton for her absurd and inflammatory effort to equate President Obama to Hitler, we had a disorienting and uncomfortable thought.
What if we’re the problem?
The Payson Republican’s Facebook post calling the President “de Fuhrer” and National Park Service rangers “thugs” set off reactions nationwide — from calls by state legislative Democrats for her resignation to gleeful ridicule by commentators already convinced Arizona politicians are slavering crazies.
Barton’s initial attempts to elaborate only made matters worse — with crazy talk about how Hitler expanded Germany’s national health insurance coverage. She also suggested we’re heading into the same kind of tyrannical, murderous frenzy during which Cambodian dictator Pol Pot exterminated maybe 3 million of his own people.
At last turning to damage control, yesterday, she issued a long statement attempting to re-spin her remarks. You’ll find her statement on this page in its entirety. The statement sounds much more reasoned than her Facebook post or her off-the-cuff remarks, but it’s still a head scratcher.
So our first instinct was to lament the paranoid rants and gross overstatements that have come to dominate the political debate. That extreme rhetoric has backed us into this self-destructive corner. The government remains shut down and the politicians on both sides are putting huge effort into placing blame and none at all into problem solving.
The malignant effect of Barton’s rant is that if you cast your political opponent as Hitler or Pol Pot, then you cannot compromise. The great tragedy of the 20th Century lay in the efforts to negotiate with Hitler before he started World War II. Barton suggests that restarting the government would be like selling out Czechoslovakia.
So by invoking Hitler, politicians like Barton imply they cannot compromise with absolute evil — thereby justifying destructive intransigence.
But then we re-read her remarks.
Repeatedly, she pointed out that if she hadn’t compared the President of the Untied States to “de fuhrer” no one would have paid the slightest attention to her Facebook post.
Alas: She’s right.
We took that bait along with everyone else — with a long story and reproduction of her odd explanation of her absurd remarks. She succeeded in commanding media attention — which gave her a platform to expound on her paranoid and hateful political spin on the shutdown crisis.
Mind you, we understand and respect the core of her argument about the worrisome growth of federal power. She sincerely believes the federal government has usurped the constitutional authority of the states. She sincerely believes that distant and indifferent federal bureaucrats more interested in following the regulations than solving problems pose a threat to her district. She earnestly believes that federal ownership of most of the land in the western states has stifled growth and blighted the tax revenues of schools, counties and states.
In fact, we agree with her on many of those points.
Just look at the torture the U.S. Government has inflicted on the Rim Country Educational Alliance as a result of the effort to buy federal land to build a public university that will offer enormous benefits to the taxpayers — the owners of the federal land in the first place. Just look at the absurd delays and muddle that have stalled — and may doom — the 4-Forests Restoration Initiative (4-FRI). Just look at the plight of rural schools with a narrow property tax base in Forest Service owned counties like Gila County.
But if she’d made a complex and learned argument focusing on the lamentable results of this inexorable concentration of power in the federal government, her remarks would not have gone viral. She wouldn’t have made the “NBC Nightly News.” She wouldn’t have popped up as a hero on the conservative blogosphere and a villain for the liberals. We wouldn’t have written a long lead story.
So instead, she made some absurd, inflammatory, hateful statements — now everyone’s paying attention.
So maybe we should have ignored the controversy, walked away as though from a child throwing a tantrum.
But we just couldn’t. We felt an obligation to you — our beloved readers. When your representative in the state legislature makes the national news — it seems like we ought to tell you what we know about the situation.
Because in the end — this is your problem: You elected these people.
This brings up three possibilities. One: You agree and will vote to re-elect. Two: You disagree, but you’re too busy to get involved in politics. Three: You’re not paying attention and you just don’t care.
Either way, the immortal words of Pogo come to mind: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”