Don Pesci: The 'extremists' among us

  VERNON, Conn.

Somewhere along the line, national and state Democrats discovered that most Americans do not cotton to extremists. For this reason, progressives in Connecticut – nearly all politically active Democrats -- have taken to calling “extremists” those who oppose some of their more radical political positions.
V. I. Lenin, an extremist of the first water, knew that if you effectively labeled an opponent or an idea, you would not have to argue with either. If you have successfully identified in the public mind as an extremist anyone who disagrees with you on a political or social point, you need not address his nuanced arguments. You need not bother to confront his arguments at all; the mud you throw – knowing full well that some of it will stick – will be sufficient to convince a majority of people that your position is superior to his, because you are superior to him: He is an extremist, and you are not. In cases such as these, arguments are won not through debate or the presentation of compelling evidence, but rather through the brute force of demagoguery.

We have been told through ads created outside Connecticut that the Republican candidate for governor, Tom Foley, is an extremist. Mr. Foley is an extremist principally because he is in sharp disagreement on some points with his political opponents who doubtless will gain an advantage from the ads.
Generally, we like to reserve the word “extremist” for those people who go out of their way to violate social norms.  It may come as a severe shock to out of state political ad makers who wish to boost the political prospects of Democrats by featuring Mr. Foley in their ads as an extremist to learn that Mr. Foley is a rather bland Everyman.
That, in any case, is the gravamen of the charge brought against him by some Republicans who have urged Mr. Foley to be a bit more passionate and lively in his presentations. Barry Goldwater, one of Lowell Weicker’s favorite politicians – so Mr. Weicker has often claimed -- was the guy who said about those charging him with extremism, “Let me remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue,” a sentiment heartily accepted by Sol Alinsky politicians on the left such as Hillary Clinton, said to be a shoe-in for president on the Democratic Party ticket in 2016, and President  Obama, organizer extraordinaire, both of whom are much more far gone in extremism than Mr. Foley or, for that matter, Peter Wolfgang, the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC).
Both Mr. Foley and Mr. Wolfgang have come under fire in a new campaign ad endorsed by Gov. Dan Malloy. The ad claims that Mr. Wolfgang, an orthodox Catholic who simply refuses to go quiet into Connecticut’s good secularist night, is said to be an extremist because he has been captured by what G. K. Chesterton once called “the romance of orthodoxy.” Mr. Foley is said to be an extremist because he had been endorsed by Mr. Wolfgang who, in the view of Democratic Party progressive extremists, is an extremist.
It so happens that Mr. Foley and Mr. Wolfgang part ways on some issues dear to progressives. For instance, Mr. Foley supports what progressive Democrats would call “a woman’s right to choose.” But both Mr. Foley and Mr. Wolfgang agree that a bill now before Connecticut’s General Assembly permitting assisted suicide should be aborted, and it was this agreement on a bill some might consider extreme that induced FIC to endorse Mr. Foley in the gubernatorial race.
Put another way, Mr. Wolfgang’s endorsement of a man whose views he disagrees with on issues important to him is an indication that Mr. Wolfgang may not be the right wing bomb thrower indistinctly pictured in the ad that seeks to paint him as an enemy of womankind, a difficult point to sustain: Mr. Wolfgang is the father of six children, ages 14-3, one boy and five girls, all potential women, and he has been happily married to his wife, Leslie, a woman, for 17 years. He and his family are orthodox Catholics.
Among some libertines in Connecticut, Mr. Wolfgang’s marital arrangement is considered quaint; his defense of traditional marriage is considered passé; his objections to euthanasia are thought to be extreme; and his endorsement of Mr. Foley is thought to be obscene. But it is important to understand that much of the criticism leveled at Mr. Wolfgang has been launched by groups that operate on the periphery of the great experiment in Western thought that has brought us a form of civilization highly accommodating to reasoned argument and equally impatient with those who wish to gain a political edge by caking their opponents with mud.
Don Pesci ( is a political writer who lives in Vernon.