In the run-up to World War II, when FDR was locked in a political struggle with his conservative Republican opponents, Roosevelt’s “brain trust” came up with a scheme to win the war of ideas and get rid of the President’s bothersome critics.  Today, we call it the “Brown Scare.”

It was a campaign of vilification and smearmongering unprecedented in American history, one that mobilized the mass media and law enforcement to target, malign, and neutralize conservatives as “extremists,” Nazis, and seditionists who didn’t want merely to roll back the New Deal and keep us out of war, but to overthrow the government.

There were a few genuine extremists in the ranks of the anti-Roosevelt opposition, but they were without much influence.  The Rooseveltian technique was to magnify their importance and focus on their alleged links to the more mainstream critics of the New Deal—to tie in Nazi sympathizers and other oddballs with conservative organizations, such as the America First Committee, and denounce them as all part of the same “plot against America,” as the title of one smear book put it.

We are witnessing the same technique being used by the left to neutralize the grassroots populist movement known as the Tea Party.  When a madman gunned down U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), the bodies were still warm on the ground when a veritable tsunami of media commentary pointed an accusing finger at the Tea Partiers and conservatives in general.  The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, MSNBC’s Matthews-Maddow-Olbermann trinity, and editorial writers from coast to coast were quick to pounce on Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and, most of all, Sarah Palin, who were accused of creating an “atmosphere of hate,” a “tone of incivility” that had encouraged the shooter.

When it turned out that the shooter wasn’t a Tea Partier but just an ordinary 26-year-old paranoid schizophrenic with no political affiliations, the disappointment of our Grand Inquisitors was palpable.  Yet there were no apologies forthcoming: The smear brigade didn’t backtrack one iota.  Instead, they pressed their case that “incivility” had somehow motivated Jared Loughner to turn his gun on a crowd of innocents.  The left wasn’t going to let a few inconvenient facts get in the way of a good smear campaign.

The liberals’ Brown Scare was a failure: Polls showed that the great majority of Americans rejected their linkage of the Tea Party to the violence of an isolated maniac.  The smear brigade looked like they were taking advantage of an horrific tragedy in order to score cheap political points.  The backlash was well under way when another incident gave them fresh and much more effective ammunition.  (Pardon my “incivility”!)

In Spokane, Washington, on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, city workers found a bomb in a backpack that had been left along the parade route.  It was defused, and the parade route was diverted.  Although initial reports described the explosive as an ordinary pipe bomb, there are indications that the device was far more sophisticated.  In any case, the bomb, had it gone off, would have inflicted considerable damage.

Officials are already saying that “the connection to race is inescapable,” according to Time—and this is before any real investigation has been launched.  The smear brigade is not going to be “Loughnered” this time around.

One could hear the smear brigade licking their chops at this fresh opportunity to prove their thesis: Conservatives are inherently subversive and will turn to violence to enforce their political agenda.  We’ll be treated to the testimony of all the usual “experts”—the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, and every tinpot “analyst” with an ax to grind—who will be hauled out to testify that the Extreme Right represents a Clear and Present Danger.

There is a concerted effort to characterize anyone who holds “extremist” views as a potential “terrorist.”  The legal foundations of this campaign of repression have already been laid by the PATRIOT Act and other “antiterrorist” legislation.  The feds have the means, and the “legal” framework, to infiltrate, spy on, and disrupt any organization deemed “threatening.”  FBI “fusion centers” regularly compile lists of “subversive” groups and individuals.  A DHS report leaked last year targeted supporters of Ron Paul, and the candidates of the Constitution Party, as probable “militia members” prone to violence.  And having a bumper sticker on one’s car supporting these candidates was deemed “suspicious” and grounds for harassment.

Facing another likely election loss in 2012, the left is desperate to crush the rising insurgency on the right by any means necessary.  After all, to paraphrase Madeleine Albright, what’s the point of having the mighty machine of repression that is the state, if they can’t use it?