Forty five years ago, Sen. Barry Goldwater launched the conservative movement with his speech accepting the 1964 Republican Nomination for President. The line that survived the test of time, and was a guiding principle for the conservative movement, was "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Now, as the conservative movement has reached its natural conclusion, and is trying to restart itself through extremism, we are seeing just how wrong that line was. Extremism is a vice which causes a vicious race to the bottom, and ultimately gins up hate and violence. As conservative activists and politicians try to out do each other with outrageous statements, they should be thinking about the long-term consequences of their actions.

The unhinged rhetoric began when a conservative former Lt. Gov. of New York penned a ridiculous op-ed in the conservative Wall Street Journal. The op-ed equated allowing Medicare to reimburse patients for private living will consultations with the creation of "death panels" which would propagate genocide on the elderly. From a party which turned the Congress into a so-called death panel in the Terry Schiavo case, this really shouldn’t surprise us.

The column got lots of attention. With a recent example of their ideological approach being a complete failure, conservative commentators have turned into blatant attention seekers. They saw how a column from a lowly former Lt. Gov. of New York got widespread attention. And before you could write a blog post about that, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Newt Gingrich were all leading the charge against the "death panels."

The conservative commentators who missed the first death panel train quickly realized that they needed to say something truly outrageous to obtain the thing most important to conservative commentators: attention. Ann Coulter, a woman who regularly accuses her political of treason, began by saying that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel was on "her "death list."

Glenn Beck, not one to be left out of an attention feast, joked about assasinating the Speaker of the House of Representatives on national television. Sarah Palin tried to re-enforce the discredited death panel smear by adding footnotes to her Facebook page–footnotes which cited unhinged conservative commentators.

Lou Dobbs decided that the way to get attention was to give specific instructions on how to kill people. Dobbs called former Vermont Governor, and health care activist, Howard Dean a "blood sucking leftist" and then tacitly encouraged his audience to "drive a stake through his (Dean’s) heart."

Conservative politicians then joined in on the fun. A Republican members of Congress joked about his colleagues being "lynched" at town meetings. He never apologized, and seemed quite happy with the hundreds of stories that appeared about his comment in the papers.

The race to the bottom has consequences. Regular conservatives who harbor dreams of becoming the next Joe the Plumber quickly realize that they need to do more and more outrageous things to be noticed by the media. As Jon Stewart pointed out, it began with Fox News inviting shouters who didn’t care about the Representative’s response to a question onto the air. It led to CBS News and MSNBC interviewing a man who carried a gun and a sign which referenced Thomas Jefferson’s quote which claimed that the "tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants" to the lawn outside of a Presidential town hall. And it culminated in Hagerstown, Maryland on Wednesday.

There a man stood outside a town hall meeting on health care with Senator Ben Cardin with a sign. This man’s sign threatened the life of the President.

The man was brought in for questioning by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Secret Service, but ultimately released. He was released because this is what passes for civil discourse in the conservative movement. It is the consequence of industry-backed front groups finding common cause with the fringe haters. And it is the consequence of a media which only gives attention to individuals who engage in more and more extreme behavior. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) told the Huffington Post that the surreal scene was familiar:

"I have seen this kind of hate before. I have seen this discussion before," he said. "I have seen snarling dogs going after people who were trying to peacefully assemble. I have seen the eyes of people who were being spat upon."

"This is all about activity trying to deny the establishment of a civil right. And I do believe that health care for all is — a civil right," the House Majority Whip argued. "And I think that is why you see this kind of activity. This is an attempt on the part of some to deny the establishment of a civil right."

If this doesn’t stop, something awful may happen. Those close to the President told ABC News that they were extremely concerned for his safety. The Secret Service does a great job, and I am sure they can adequately protect President Obama. But they cannot protect everyone. It’s only a matter of time before one of these extremist attention-seeking clowns gets frustrated that he can’t get to the liberal leaders talk radio has told him to hate, and takes out his frustration on random people.

Actually, it already happened. Last summer, a right-wing fringer walked into a Unitarian Universalist Church in Tennesee and began randomly killing strangers because he couldn’t get to the liberal leaders talk radio told him to hate. The conservative movement stirred up a hornet’s nest for ratings, and to sell books. But that hornet’s nest is proving that the founding principle of the modern conservative movement–that extremism is defensible–is wrong.