When Republican Sen. Tammy Nichols of Middleton reads the words, “far-right extremists,” in a political commentary, she knows that the side she generally represents won the debate.
“They have already lost the argument, so it’s not worth my time to try to bring any kind of logical conversation into the discussion,” she told me. “(The writers) are going from trying to have a conversation to getting personal about it.”
She has a point. Influence peddlers who employ labels essentially are speaking to the choir – those who agree that those far-right extremists are a menace to society. But name-calling mostly does nothing to sway people on the right.
“I call it label lynching. It’s when they disagree with you, but don’t have a solid argument, so they label you. It was a tactic used during the times of Karl Marx, or Nazi Germany when they attacked the Jews. When I hear that (far-right extremist), and it’s directed at me, it reinforces to me that I’m on the right track,” Nichols said. “What we’ve learned is that the name-calling and bullying we heard on the school playground has not ended. People grow up, but they bring some of the names with them.”
I remember those rough days on the playgrounds in Osburn. Here was one of the stoppers: “Oh, yeah. Well, your mother wears Army boots.” Fast forward some 60 years and it’s “right-wing extremists,” or “fake news” media.
There’s nothing new about name-calling in politics. From the conservative side of the fence, any Republican that doesn’t score high on the Idaho Freedom Foundation index is labeled a “RINO.” Former President Donald Trump, the pride of the GOP, has turned name-calling into an art form.
During my early days of political reporting in Idaho, writers often used the term “ultra-conservative” to arbitrarily describe those who were perceived to be to the right (or far right) of center. Of course, that term applied only to Republicans; Democrats were never branded as “ultra-liberals” or “liberals” in general.
“When somebody calls me a far-right extremist, I throw back the question. ‘What does that mean?’ And they can’t define it,” Nichols says. “Is a far-right extremist someone who upholds the constitution, believes in limited government, or stands up for people’s rights? Those are the things I stand for. So, I don’t accept the label.”
In the Idaho Statesman recently, an editorial suggested that far-right extremists ran off a Post Falls educator, Karen Lauritzen, who was selected as Idaho’s teacher of the year. The teacher apparently had friendly views toward the LGBTQ community, Black Lives Matter, transgender rights and the United Nations agenda.
Not surprisingly, Nichols had a different view than the Statesman’s editorial board.
“They used the term far-right extremists, but they didn’t label the teacher as anything for pushing a radical agenda. She wasn’t labeled as a far-left extremist. But they tell you about these right-wing extremists without telling you who they are or why they are extremists. If the teacher doesn’t fit in with Idaho, then I say good riddance. But those concerns are not just in Idaho. There are plenty of parents everywhere who are riled up with the LGBTQ and transgender agenda pushes that are happening in education.”
The Statesman apparently has its own idea about what’s “radical” in the political world. But it’s probably closer to “mainstream” within the Idaho Republican Party, which largely has been taken over by conservatives. That transformation has been by design. In Nichols’ view, conservatives worked hard on the grassroots levels of the GOP, while the so-called establishment was “asleep at the wheel.” The efforts resulted in former Rep. Dorothy Moon taking over as the party chair and former congressional candidate Bryan Smith of Idaho Falls moving in as national committeeman.
“The establishment wants to maintain the status quo, but that’s what has been causing the demise in some states,” Nichols says. “Colorado is an example of what can happen in a few short years. People were not engaged and not on the ground educating voters, getting people to run for office, taking stances and being vocal. Those that are doing this are being labeled as right-wing extremists.”
Those “extremists” might be an election or two from being the undisputed “mainstream” in Idaho. Editorial and column writers might think about visiting some school playgrounds for fresh name calling material.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at email@example.com
This Op-Ed was submitted by Chuck Malloy. Op-Eds do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of those at the Idaho Dispatch.
Tags: Bryan Smith, Donald Trump, Dorothy Moon, far-right extremist, grassroots, Idaho Statesman, label lynching, name-calling, Senator Tammy Nichols, ultra-conservative