Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hate Speech Redux

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is that he did not go to the New York Times Building."~Ann Coulter

The overwhelming response received from LNJ letter writers (and one forum columnist) regarding my column of Sept 12 titled "Taking Our Country Back From the Hatemongers," was impressive for the sheer variety of concerns that were aired. Let me say that I appreciate the time and effort expended by these citizens to join a conversation that we've clearly needed to have. That said, while I applaud these commentators for their passionate embrace of the right of free speech, none of the counter-arguments offered has managed to move me one iota from my original thesis: that hate-speech is decimating public discourse and civility in America. Inadvertently, the responses of these writers, which were pretty much all over the lot, have made my point for me. The question remains will we allow it to continue, or move decisively to end it?

Since my column had a relatively tight and simple focus, it begs the question - what were these people responding to? - I suspect the generalized, toxic mental environment that hate speech gives rise to and nourishes. One respondent asked whether my intention was to "extinguish free speech." Nothing could be further from the truth. Another intimated that I somehow desired the "eradication of conservative Christians," but no such phrase appeared in my piece. Finally, a forum columnist sought to divert attention from Glenn Beck's hatemongering in a clumsy stab at smearing President Obama as a racist using the threadbare tactic of guilt by association. Why this writer became fixated on race perhaps he could best explain, but race per se was never my focus. Hate speech was. Despite the well meant (if uniformly off-base) efforts of the respondents, it still is.

David Neiwert's book THE ELIMINATIONISTS deserves further mention in the context of this discussion. Only those who haven't read it could characterize it, as did one writer, as "polemical." In it, is a good working definition of hate-speech, or as he calls it, eliminationist speech. Two main features set it apart from the normal, lively back and forth of oppositional political language. First, it is focused on an enemy within, constituted by entire blocs of the citizenry. Secondly, it advocates the excision and extermination of those blocs by violent or civil means. In other words, the purveyors of hate speech are not content merely to oppose those with whom they differ. They mean to eliminate them.

In July of 2008, Jim David Adkisson entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church and gunned down two elderly congregants. Officials told reporters the next day that Adkisson had been motivated by his hatred of the liberal movement. A search of the attacker's home in Powell, TN yielded guns, ammunition, and books by leading conservative pundits Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. Also found was a "manifesto" written by Adkisson which was, according to Neiwert, a "distillation of these works."

Abortion provider Dr. George Tiller after being mentioned on FOX's "The O'Reilly Factor" on 28 occasions with such nicknames as "Dr. Tiller, the Baby Killer," was gunned down as he attended church in Wichita, Kansas in May 2009. When confronted about his coverage, O'Reilly, Pontius Pilate-like, washed his hands of the matter. Recently, at the Family Research Council's annual Values Voters Forum, O'Reilly was awarded the forum's first ever "Courage" award. The trial of alleged shooter Scott Roeder, begins in January.

This summer, in Phoenix at a speech that Barack Obama gave on health care, a man identified as Chris Broughton showed up outside the venue toting an AR-15 assault rifle and a handgun. The day before he'd heard his pastor, Steven L. Anderson, deliver a sermon titled, "Why I Hate Barack Obama," in which he explained why congregants should pray fervently for the President to "die and go to hell." I'm still waiting for the "inevitable" public outcry from those conservatives who still rail against Barack Obama's erstwhile minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

As a liberal, I often peruse the comments expressed by Maddow, Franken, Olbermann, Dowd, Rich, Letterman, Rall, Maher, Pelosi, The Daily Kos, and The Huffington Post. Strange though it may seem, such content has not once caused me to desire or advocate doing physical harm to my conservative fellow Americans.  It was a fair criticism of my previous column that it was sparse on examples of left-wing eliminationist rhetoric, but it is equally fair to note that recent incidents like those mentioned above known to emanate from the liberal community have been very rare. If my detractors can produce such examples, I'd be happy to consider them. Until then, I continue (as does Neiwert) to view hate speech, and more importantly, the violence it increasingly incites, as a predominantly right-wing phenomenon.

In light of all this, one would expect moderate conservatives (assuming any are left) to quickly move to decry the hate-speech occurring daily within their ranks in order to avoid the stigma it justly carries, taking responsibility and action where appropriate. Unfortunately, what we've seen from politicians, national pundits, and alas, the respondents to my column has been, for the most part, obfuscation, deflection and finger-pointing.

That's disappointing, because the situation we face is becoming dangerous and ever more deeply embedded in our civic discourse. The local response to date has been to reject the search for solutions in favor of partisan inertia and misplaced bravado. Ultimately, this is to settle for being a part of the problem.


Below are links to the column and letters in response to my August 23  blog post:"Civility Strikes Back!"


Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Little Push Back For The Locals

It's difficult to believe that in the space of a 300 word letter to the editor that someone could get so much so wrong, but I guess Trudy Taylor is some kind of linguistics savant for having pulled it off. Taylor's letter (Longview News Journal, Sept. 20) was in response to my own LNJ column of September 12, titled "Taking Our Country Back From the Hatemongers." It first appeared on this blog on Sept 6 under the title "Civility Strikes Back." I will take a crack at answering Taylor's concerns because, as the blog's title suggests, Liberals can and should,  when called for, respond.

Italics are Trudy

Anderson's list was incomplete

May I remind Durren Anderson that President Barack Obama himself would have to be included in his remonstration of hate-speech users and listeners since the president has gone along, in order to get along, with race mongers like Jeremiah Wright.

Really? The only person Taylor could manage to come up with in completing my list of hatemongers was President Barack Obama? Now even a cursory glance at my piece will show the average reader that it was inspired by those who use the outsized megaphones of TV and talk radio to spew an unrelenting stream of vile, hate drenched demagoguery into the ears (and minds and hearts) of people too dull or desensitized to realize its harmful effects. And it was willful obtuseness to deflect attention from these purveyors of hatred by dragging out the fusty old ghost of Jeremiah Wright. The matter of Wright was laid to rest in the campaign. Obama broke ties with his erstwhile minister and apparently America was satisfied. After all, America did elect him President. Its foolish, and transparently vicious to equate the likes of Rush Limbaugh and others of his ilk with Obama.

Glenn Beck is a buffoonish political entertainer who has recently found his niche taking shots, sometimes very accurate ones, at an administration which has apparently declared open season on itself with its unwillingness or inability to shepherd its own minions.

In the spirit of seeking common ground with those who differ from me on political issues, let me say that I agree with Taylor's assertion that Beck is a Buffoon. Beyond that bit of detente however, I have to disagree.As stated in my column, and in David Neiwert's book which I referred to, it's a mistake to let people like Beck and Limbaugh off the hook with the "entertainer" dodge. I guess what liberals and conservatives consider entertainment just doesn't jibe. Beck referred to the country's first African American President as a "Racist," and said that Obama "had a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." This doubtless would have come as quite a shocking surprise to Obama's white mother and grandparents! Nor can I find anything "entertaining" about it, especially in light of this country's anguished history of political assassination and home-grown terror. But hey, conservatives apparently get their jollies in different ways than we liberals do.

May I also remind Durren that eight years of hysterical name-calling and nastiness was standard operating procedure on his part while President George W. Bush was in office; the bulk of which was due to erroneous frustration at a perceived stolen election. The likes of which did real damage to the office of the presidency, leaving our current occupant even more vulnerable to slights and misjudgments from opponents.

This Orwellian double-speak is the strangest comment of all. And frankly, it cuts me to the quick to have my writings over the last eight years reduced to mere "hysterical name-calling." I prefer to think of it as eight years of deploying some of the most exquisite sarcasm, ridicule, and satire that LNJ readers have seen. All of it "reality-based" and richly deserved. Bush was elected under a cloud that included such stark images as the Brooks Brothers Riot in Florida that intimidated vote counters into stopping their work, and a conservatively stacked Supreme Court that ratified those rioters. This is all well documented in Vincent Bugliosi's book, THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICA. Look it up. 

Bush did lie us into a war with a sovereign nation that never attacked us. He did lie about the depth and the full extent of illegal wire tapping of American citizens. He did lie about the horrors of detainee torture carried out in the name of the american people. These lies and others are laid out magnificently in David Corn's exhaustively researched, "THE LIES OF GEORGE W. BUSH". So I would differ with the statement that mere "name-calling" has damaged the presidency. Rather, it was the remarkable lack of ethics, morality, and respect for the rule of law which characterized the Bush administration that did the damage. 

Nice try though, Trudy.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Corner On Decency?

The latest manifestation of right-wing craziness has hit the airwaves. It seems that "President Obama is after our children!" In a fit of conservative paranoia in a season that has seen more than its share of the same, right wingers, stoked on a tad too much FOX news, are preparing to yank their kids in droves from school on Tuesday to prevent their hearing a special address to the nation's youth by the President. Spoon-fed on fear by conservative talking heads such as Michele Malkin, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh et al., parents nationwide are moving to head Obama's speech off at the pass. The speech, purported by conservative pundits to contain mind-altering messages about the wonders of socialism, has caused dozens of East Texas Schools to announce that they would not be showing the speech to their students. I can recall no finer civics lesson on censorship in the annals of American education. The lone standout unfazed by the hysteria gripping the region is the Longview Independent School District. Hats off to that oasis of rationality in East Texas.

Funny, I don't recall liberal parents yelling "Katie bar the door!" when Ronald Reagan gave a similar address to school children during his administration. Perhaps that's because liberals are just not as susceptible to the wild speculations, not to mention manipulations that irresponsible "journalists" and news "entertainers" traffic in these days. Beyond that, liberal and progressive parents seem to have a clearer understanding of the importance of a presidential address to the nation's youth, regardless of the politics of any given executive in any given year. It's the President, people! What is to become of us when we don't trust the individual elected by way of a thorough, legitimate democratic process to lead our country? I see this as the logical conclusion of a longstanding propaganda campaign that has reached its critical mass of "catastrophic success." After all, it was Reagan who famously opined that "Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem." Strange words from a man who invested so much to become the head of "government."

George Herbert Walker Bush also spoke to the kiddies when he held the tiller of our ship of state. Again, liberal parents didn't grab up their young'uns and head for the hills. Did liberals agree with the policy agenda of G. H. W. Bush? No, we didn't. Did we ascribe wisdom and clarity to his philosophy of governance? Not a chance. But neither did we attribute to him powers of persuasion so acute that he could, in the course of one speech, brainwash our little ones. Indoctrination is a long, drawn out, tedious affair carried out over years through a program that encompasses every level of society. One speech cannot possibly accomplish what these pitiful conservative parents hold in their fevered imaginations. That is giving President Obama way too much credit. One begins to think that in their minds, Obama has crossed over into some mythic realm of existence wherein all are rendered powerless to withstand his flights of oratory and his natural charisma and charm. Lighten up folks, he's just a guy like the rest of us. Seriously folks, it'll be alright. The children are OK. Really they are.

Finally, there's W. On that fateful day in September 2001, he was reading to school children when the planes hit the buildings in New York and Washington. Even though this same president would leave office when the nation's financial future was teetering over the abyss, when we were engaged in wars on two fronts, and all other economic indicators were flashing red, I still can say that the little ones to whom he read "My Pet Goat," received a rare historical treasure. If I disagreed with the father's policies, I abhorred the son's. That's to be expected in the adult world of politics. Yet few of us, including I suspect, President Obama, are capable of allowing politics to compel us to meddle with the innocence of a child. I have no trouble imputing integrity on this question to Republicans just as I do to Democrats. We have come to a sad and sorry pass when it becomes impossible to see our political opponents as decent human beings, or as being incapable of restraining themselves from tampering with the minds of other people's children. We forget at our peril that those on the opposite side of the aisle are not only our political opponents: they are Americans, too.