The limits of an extreme ideology

THE LIMITS OF AN EXTREME IDEOLOGY…. The Washington Post ran a profile of Mike Vanderboegh, a 57-year-old former militiaman from Alabama, who disapproves of the new Affordable Care Act. Vanderboegh, who describes himself as a “Christian libertarian” and has been part of various clandestine militia groups, has been encouraging those who agree with him to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices nationwide.

It’s about what you’d expect from someone like this, and Vanderboegh is unapologetic about his extremism. In his interview with the Post, he makes multiple references to people who “are armed and are capable of making such resistance possible and perhaps even initiating a civil war.”

Given the threat of domestic terrorism, all of this is disconcerting, to be sure. But Josh Marshall flags the punch-line from the profile:

Vanderboegh said he once worked as a warehouse manager but now lives on government disability checks. He said he receives $1,300 a month because of his congestive heart failure, diabetes and hypertension.

I see. So, Vanderboegh has a physical ailment, so instead of working, he’s turned to the government to supply him with a modest income. Whether Vanderboegh appreciates the irony of a radical libertarian, who demands that a small government leave people alone, getting taxpayer-financed checks from the government not to work, is unclear.

But reading this, I’m reminded of the recent scene in Ohio, in which Tea Party activists berated a man with Parkinson’s. A conservative told the ailing man, “You’re looking for a hand-out, you’re in the wrong end of town. Nothing for free over here, you have to work for everything you get.” Another conservative, after mocking the man with wadded bills, shouted, “No more hand-outs!”

To be clear, I don’t doubt that Vanderboegh is entitled to government benefits. To my mind, there’s nothing at all wrong with federal programs that provide assistance to those who can’t work for medical reasons. I support such efforts enthusiastically.

But Vanderboegh and his compatriots seem to think my approach represents radical “big government,” which necessarily needs to be curtailed to promote and defend “liberty.” Indeed, for those right-wing activists in Ohio, government disability checks are, by definition, “hand-outs.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.