Only some civil disobedience is tolerable to the media

Much hay is being made in the media about an offhand comment made by Senator Tom Coburn yesterday, when he speculated that national anger over executive amnesty could result in acts of protest.

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn warns there could be not only a political firestorm but acts of civil disobedience and even violence in reaction to President Obama’s executive order on immigration Thursday.

“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation,” Coburn said on Capital Download. “You’re going to see — hopefully not — but you could see instances of anarchy. … You could see violence.” …

“Instead of having the rule of law handling in our country today, now we’re starting to have the rule of rulers, and that’s the total antithesis of what this country was founded on,” Coburn says. “Here’s how people think: Well, if the law doesn’t apply to the president … then why should it apply to me?”

This immediately had various liberal activists, such as Josh Marshall, scoffing. The reactions range from amused mockery to implications that Coburn is trying to foment violence against the President. But isn’t this a curious reaction on the part of the gatekeepers of social propriety?

Take, for example, the case of the impending grand jury announcement in Ferguson. How many people have we seen issuing dire warnings about the impending violence there? Yet nobody blinks an eye at that. The two primary reasons are fairly obvious. First, there is a track record to draw on. The protesters have already exhibited frightening levels of violence and there is no reason to expect that to suddenly become unthinkable. But second, and closer to the bone for the purposes of this question, is that a violent response in Ferguson is acceptable on some level in the media. You see, that’s the sort of violence which rises up in righteous protest against the evil, predominantly white power structure of law enforcement. (Just refer to Claire McCaskill’s response the other day when she said that a “rush to judgement” in the African American community was “understandable.”)

We’ve seen protests from largely conservative groups in the past, and the media should have far less to fear on that count. As to case number one above, the history of violence is largely not there. Tea Party protests are, by and large, very different from liberal uprisings and clashes. They tend to start and end on schedule and the protesters generally are careful to clean up after themselves afterwards. (Compare that to the average Occupy event.) On the second count, the media does not consider such protests, even sans violence, acceptable. They are “angry” and unreasonable. So any warnings of a conservative protest will not be treated by the media with the tolerance we see on display in Ferguson opinion pieces. Believe me, nobody will be turning a blind eye if a Tea Party member or amnesty protester hucks a rock at the head of Chris Hayes.

Will there be protests if the President launches executive amnesty? I wouldn’t be surprised at all. But you can bet that Coburn’s concerns are off the mark in one regard. They won’t involve violent gangs flipping over police cars, shooting at cops, looting stores and burning down strip malls. They will involve incensed citizens going out and registering voters to make sure this doesn’t happen again.