by Barry Edelson


The King's Overreach

A Congressman Hears the Echo of
His Own Befuddled Opinions


Once upon a time, Peter King was an obscure Republican Congressman from Long Island who seemed only too pleased to wear the "maverick" label. He was not reluctant to speak his mind, even when he ran afoul of the leadership of his own party. In the mid-1990s, for example, he was a lonely Republican supporter of a ban on military-style assault weapons, and just about the only conservative member of Congress who was outspoken in his opposition to the militia movement, which was at the time a growing far-right threat to local governments and law enforcement in many parts of the country. In a thoughtful letter to a constituent (yours truly) who wrote to his Congressman in 1995 in support of his position on these issues, King responded:

"The basic truth is that there is no place in a democratic society for any individuals or organizations who attempt to achieve a political agenda through force or the threat of force. For a democracy to survive, there must be a shared commitment that all issues must be resolved at the ballot box rather than with guns."

Nice. Too bad that guy isn't still in Congress. In his place, we now have Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, who this past week held his first of several promised hearings about the radicalization of Muslim youth in America. In so doing, he brought down on himself the ire of people of many faiths, all of whom also remember 9/11 and are no less frightened by al-Qaeda than he is. Rather than acknowledge the simple and obvious truth that radicalization has occurred across the entire spectrum of American society, King congratulated himself on his courage in the face of political correctness (which has been known to kill indiscriminately) and announced himself the savior of the nation. Not bad for a half-day's work.

On the face of it, the previously quoted excerpt from King's letter can easily be reconciled to his position against Muslim radicals. Whether far-right extremists in the Timothy McVeigh mold, or hostile Muslims of the present day, anyone who poses a threat to the body politic and the security of the population needs to be confronted forcefully by the mainstream of both political parties. What is not so easy to forgive is King's apparent amnesia concerning his formerly adamant stance against home-grown terrorists of the non-Muslim variety. ("We refer the gentleman from New York to his statement of August 2, 1995 . . .") Also difficult to fathom is how either of these positions could be advanced by the same man who, for decades, was an ardent supporter of the Irish Republican Army. For repeatedly and consistently going on record as an apologist for IRA violence, King took a well-deserved beating in the blogosophere this past week for his rather extraordinary explanation of the difference between the IRA and al-Qaeda: the IRA, he said, never attacked America.

This statement, need it even be said, is about as morally bankrupt a defense of a position as a politician can hope to mount in the course of a career. If, as Emerson said, "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," then Congressman King must have a very large and supple mind indeed to house the divergent positions which he has taken over the years. We must break with political correctness, as the Congressman himself has inspired us to do, to remind the reader that King himself is of Irish descent. While railing for years against threats to the peace on these shores, he nonetheless applauded them on the streets of the British Isles because he is a sworn enemy of the British occupation of Northern Ireland. As such, he is an unrepentant defender of all means necessary to bring that state of affairs to an end, and an advocate for all manner of despicable people who attempted to carry it out. As long as the victims were not Americans, but merely English pedestrians or Irish Protestant bystanders or anyone else who happened to be in the way of the storms of metal, glass and fire that are a specialty of terrorist organizations the world over, everything is forgiven. In King's one-dimensional moral universe, it is never the viciousness of the method that is at issue, nor even the extremity of the ideology, but only the tribe against which it is directed. Kill the enemy's people, go right ahead; kill my people, watch out.

Like all men and women who are unshakable in their self-righteousness, King revels in the attacks of his enemies. Characteristically, he takes them as further vindication of his opinions. It apparently hasn't occurred to him that a strong defense of a position is laudable only when the position being defended is itself laudable. King ended his otherwise excellent 1995 letter with this telling paragraph:

"As expected, I have received numerous threatening letters and phone calls from militia supporters since I took my public stand. The vehemence of their response has only solidified my opposition to the militias."

Sound familiar? Perhaps it's the same man after all. The only difference is that the maverick image looks just plain foolish when you're the one with the gavel in your hand.

March 12, 2011


Note: The author no longer lives in Mr. King's Congressional district.


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