Rage Against the Machine

I have not said much on any blog concerning the rising tempers taking place at town halls, the “birther” movement, or the nasty words coming from right-wing radio hosts. The reason for that is because there are a lot of twists and turns that I am dealing with concerning the whole mess.

But I think I have some thoughts to share, so I will share them, muddled mess they maybe.

On the one hand, I have always found such trash-talk repugnant no matter who says it. I’ve always believed that grown adults in a democracy can and should be able to carry on a debate without yelling at each other or finding ways to show how your opponent is the second coming of Adolph Hitler. But for some reason, we do these things to shock people and shock us they do.

The images from various town halls, the growing number of Republicans who think that Obama is not an American, and always big mouth of Rush Limbaugh are disturbing to me and show a nasty side of conservatism. It isn’t civil or respectful and it should stop. We can protest something without yelling. We can see someone we disagree with as a human being and not as something sinister. We can refrain from trying to compare said person to a genocidal maniac.

Having said that, I do think there is a bit of a double standard going on here. Commentators on the left and the right are wringing their hands on the words and actions of conservatives. While some of that might be warranted, it is interesting that very few people commented on the fears and nastiness on the Left. Indeed, as one commentator talked about the dangers of comparing President Obama to Hitler, I remember the numerous times that many on the Left compared President Bush to the deranged German leader.

As to the whole “birther” nonsense, it is important to remember that there are other Americans that toil in conspiracy theories. As Michael Lind noted in a recent Salon essay:

Oh, those dumb white Southerners! No other group in American society could possibly believe in preposterous conspiracy theories. Well, maybe one other group, the most reliably Democratic demographic in the whole U.S. electorate. A 2005 study by RAND and Oregon State University showed that a majority of blacks believed that a cure for AIDS was being withheld from the poor; that nearly half believed that AIDS was man-made, with a quarter believing that it was created in a U.S. government laboratory and 12 percent naming the CIA as its source. Black paranoia about AIDS is understandable, given the Tuskegee experiments. Even so, the theory that AIDS was created by the CIA to commit genocide against black people is wackier than the craziest Birther conspiracy theories. Would Kathleen Parker write, or the Washington Post publish, a column arguing that black Democrats “have seceded from sanity”? Would Kevin Drum applaud Parker’s insult and extend to it to all African-Americans?

Or we could also talk about how the Left was heard at town halls in 2005 concering Social Security:

Republicans in Congress have a game plan to avoid “March madness” when they go home this weekend to talk to constituents about Social Security during a two-week holiday recess.

Shaken by raucous protests at open “town hall”-style meetings last month, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio and other GOP leaders are urging lawmakers to hold lower-profile events this time.

So, it’s not like all the tantrums on the right are any new…they were done by the left only a few years ago.

Now, at this point, this tends to be where the argument ends for many on the right. “Well, the Left does it too!” some shout. But it can’t just end there. I think the Left is as guilty as the Right in their behavior, but the fact is we can do better.

In the Bible, Jesus tells the story of a person who tries to take the spec out of a friend’s eye, while ignoring the log in their own eye.

I think no matter where we are on the political spectrum, we need to consider being more charitable to each other. I’m not as fearful that equating Obama to Hitler is going to lead to some kind violence, but I do fear what underlies such talk: the fact that we see our fellow Americans not as people we just disagree with, but as fundamentally evil. Such views tend to divide us and make society a poorer place.

That is what is going on this summer. The Right fears the Democrats, which is why we hear all the yelling and screaming. Up until recently, the Left feared the Republicans and was doing a lot of yelling and screaming. Because we now rarely meet someone who doesn’t agree with us on political or social views, we have tended to paint the other side as the barbarians hurtling towards the gate.

I do denouce what my fellow conservatives are doing. I don’t like all the uncivil talk. I don’t care if liberals choose to ignore their own sins. We Republicans can be better human beings than this. We can be civil and we can be adults. Raging against the machine might seem fun and can rally the troops, but in the end it doesn’t help flourish our democracy.

Lets work on the logs in our eyes and learn to respect each other.

Crossposted at the Progressive Republican

Author: DENNIS SANDERS

34 Comments

  1. Whackjob conspiracy theories on the Left were promoted by whackjobs. Many of the whackjob theories on the Right (Birthers, Deathers, etc) are being promoted by the leaders of the Republican Party, like Newt, Palin, Limbaugh, Grassley, etc. Which mainstream Democratic leaders are guilty of promoting whackjob theories?

  2. Here you go Rip Van Winkle……..House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made the news yesterday by claiming that Americans who are expressing their disapproval of Obamacare are “carrying swastikas and symbols like that to a town meeting on healthcare.”

  3. When you talk about a double standard you are making a false equivalence. The example you gave of the left making the Nazi comparisons is from a relatively obscure blog, CounterPunch.org, while on the right you have people such as Rush Limbaugh, who, according to your Washington Post link, is “arguably the most influential ideologue of today's American conservative movement.” There will always be goofballs – left, right and center – making the Nazi connection, but what we are seeing here are leaders of a major political party saying these things.

    So unless you can come up with examples of major Democratic party leaders or spokesmen for the left saying these things I don't think you can claim that “the Left is as guilty as the Right in their behavior.”

  4. Someone – forgot who – on Morning Joe commented that, except for the first 30 minutes of the George Washington administration, we have had 200+ years of continuous partisan rants and accusations as part of the fabric of our democracy. Much as we may wish it, it probably will not end.

    Some people read the box scores and enjoy the subtleties of the game. Others just go to the stadium to scream obscenities and throw beer on the opposing players.

  5. “I’m not as fearful that equating Obama to Hitler is going to lead to some kind violence, but I do fear what underlies such talk: the fact that we see our fellow Americans not as people we just disagree with, but as fundamentally evil. Such views tend to divide us and make society a poorer place.”

    And this is the major point. It is demonizing the other side instead of debating. There is no critical thinking. And issues and problems cannot be solved as long as this kind of behavior is allowed. IMO, all the protesters are achieving is trying to make our President fail, when just a year ago these same people screamed the left was trying to make the President fail. My Conservative friends screaming this health care reform is “socialism” ironically are all three on Medicare and collecting SS. I said to them, “OK, if we are against socialism in this country, lets repeal Medicare and SS right now. Let's end socialism in America for good, because these are socialistic programs.” One said Medicare is not socialism. One had all kinds of excuses for not ending Medicare. And my third friend claimed he paid all his life into Medicare so we can't end it. I replied to them all, “Either you are against socialism or you are not, which is it?” They were are quiet. Now I watch these town hall meetings and many of the people screaming socialism are older Americans and most likely on Medicare and collecting SS. This is where their screaming argument loses credibility. You can't be benefiting from a socialistic program and scream it is evil! So what is the real agenda here? It isn't they are against socialism. They just want the President to fail. And this I have a problem with whether you are Conservative, Moderate or Liberal. No America should want our President to fail.

  6. “No America should want our President to fail”

    Amen.

  7. No America should want our President to fail

    This is such a ridiculous meme. We have a system of checks and balances specifically because the founders knew that sometimes the chief executive should fail.

    If the meaning of wanting Obama to fail is considered equivalent to meaning that the country fails, then obviously the person holding that sentiment doesn't have the country's best interest at heart. But on specific policy initiatives that might be misguided or poorly crafted, of course presidents should sometimes fail and people should have the ability to not only wish for it, but to actively work against the presidents' agenda in those circumstances.

  8. ElZagna,

    Could you show us an example of Rush Limbaugh making a NAZI comparison involving President Obama? I don't think that you can, but have a go at it…

  9. CS – If everyone were as rational and measured in their thinking as you, I would agree with all of what you said. As it is, I agree with your final paragraph, but wonder if maybe there's a point being overlooked in the “ridiculous meme” paragraph.

    I don't read Smithmj or Shannonlee as having a problem with standing in opposition to certain policy initiatives. What they refer to, and they can correct me if I'm wrong, is the plague of the “out” party opposing everything indiscriminately in an attempt to create an across-the-board failure of any president of the other party. Some liberals clearly did this to GWB, and some conservatives are now doing it to BHO. Finding excuses to oppose everything in an attempt to create general failure is different than opposing specific policy initiatives. I know you understand the difference…just wanted to clarify.

  10. tidbits- I completely agree with your comment. What I meant by 'ridiculous meme' though is that I think that its a very poor way of communicating the ideas that you stated. And I don't doubt that the other commenters meant it more in the way that you are seeing it, but I think it's important to be clear about what kind of opposition you're criticizing instead of using a phrase that paints everyone with a broad brush if they don't root for the success of particular policy agendas of the sitting administration.

  11. CS – Agreed!!

  12. CSstanley,

    First, this is not a ridiculous meme. To oppose every policy a President supports is not taking issue with the policy itself, it is just wishing the president to fail. And, yes, the country does fail in this situation. No real solutions are accomplished. We do have a health care crisis in this country. Now if people have constructive criticism to achieve the reform, then fine. But screaming “socialism” and “death panels” and screaming them so loud that nobody can express a thought to move towards a solution, then this is just wishing failure. You know this.

    Second, I think our system of checks and balances have portrayed for quite a while that this system is broke. Our executive branch tries to legislate with executive orders, line item vetoes, etc. Our judicial branch tries to legislate. And who knows what our legislative branch is doing.

    So let me be clear, to portray your opposition as evil serves no purpose. It isn't debate. It isn't trying to find solutions. It is wishing failure for your opposition. And like I said, No American should wish failure on our President.

  13. Davebo & ElZ, thanks for the examples. I would have thought that it would have taken more time…..sad on Limbaugh's part that it was so easy. Now I know why I don't listen to his show.

  14. Oh come on. It took an unjustified war, torture programs, warrantless wiretapping, years of demonization of particular ethnic groups, a full-blown years-long fear campaign, and systematic removal of anyone from the administration/justice department/etc who was not toeing the party line closely enough (and I could go on, of course…) before anyone of note was comparing Bush to Hitler. So yeah, it was certainly going too far, and was mindblowingly disrespectful to those who knew those directly affected by the holocaust or the war, but at least there was some connection there. Obama has been in office for only a few months, and he's trying to pass health care reform, and for that we have (as Davebo shows) major Republican party leaders calling him a Nazi. False equivalency, much?

    I read that article by Lind a few days ago, and it's such a pile of dreck. It's actually NOT as crazy as the birther movement or the deather movement for black people to have a conspiracy theory that the government created AIDS. The US intelligence agencies do have a long and ugly history of targeting the black community (remember that little thing where the FBI tried to pay MLK Jr to commit suicide? remember the forced sterilization of poor black women? Anyone remember that?) And really, the AIDS epidemic was set back so, so far by the fact that Ronald Reagan basically ignored it, due to the fact that it was mostly a black thing and a gay thing. So while it's still a conspiracy theory only actually believed by a small fringe, there's some historical reasons why black people are extremely wary of the government. Not to mention the fact that it is NOT a conspiracy theory that anyone of any sway has trotted out on the evening news over and over and over again.

    I also find it interesting that the link you have for how the Dems in 2005 were just as bad at town halls as the Reps now specifically says the opposite: they were nowhere near the sorts of behavior we're seeing now. Not to mention, maybe the Dems were on to something in that whole “let's actually NOT leave Social Security up the whims of the stock market” thing. You know?

    These constant false equivalencies kind of drive me nuts on this blog. Sure, both sides have good things and bad things that they offer up, people on both sides behave badly, and we need to call it out regardless of where it comes from, but let's actually draw equivalencies where they exist.

  15. Excellent post Dennis. All the tit for tat nonsense that has become the popular substitute for adult discussion is useless and self-perpetuating. Both parties need to grow up and employ higher standards of behavior… beginning with the politicians themselves. If they look the other way when their constituents run off the tracks, then they are unworthy of our respect, regardless of party.

    As for the Limbaughs and Becks, it doesn't take a genius to understand they are promoting themselves first and an ideology second ( or 3rd, 4th, etc.). Btw, who exactly are the media “parasites” on the left who have as long and “popular” a legacy of creating and feeding on division as Limbaugh (and imitators)?

  16. Came in late to this thread, but at the risk of being repetitive, I think the best eight little and most patriotic words I have seen are” No American should want our President to fail”

    Amen and thank you!

  17. That phenomenon has grown in popularity since Obama took the helm. Maybe it's a defense mechanism for “conservatives” who have unresolved issues relating to their disappointments with the last administration… a way of distracting themselves from it perhaps?

    No, this hasn't increased, the sides have just flipped so now you notice it more. When Bush was criticized in hyperbolic and vitriolic fashion and some of us pointed out the extremes it was going to, we were often told that this was just the result of the Clinton derangement. And so it goes- next time we have a GOP president, he/she will be demonized by the left and some people here will say that it's justified because of the way Obama was treated.

  18. First, this is not a ridiculous meme. To oppose every policy a President supports is not taking issue with the policy itself, it is just wishing the president to fail.

    @smithmj- in your initial comment, you didn't specify that you were referring to people who “oppose every policy a President supports”, you were referring to people who oppose the current health insurance reform plan. And I realize that you think that anyone who opposes it but is OK with Medicare is a hypocrite (I happen to disagree, and I think the folks you're talking to just don't seem to be able to articulate why they accept one but not the other, but that's a side point…) but opposing the current healthcare plan, even for reasons that you don't agree with, still doesn't lump all of those people into the category of people who might want Obama to fail because of political gamesmanship.

  19. CS, when the reason for opposing health care is “socialism” when there is no socialism and “death panels” when there are no death panels. Yes, these are the people who are just opposing any policy Obama supports. And yes, someone who collects Medicare and screams “socialism is evil” is a hypocrite.

  20. “The US intelligence agencies do have a long and ugly history of targeting the black community (remember that little thing where the FBI tried to pay MLK Jr to commit suicide? remember the forced sterilization of poor black women? Anyone remember that?)”

    Don't forget that during the 80s the government supported (either directly or at the very least stood to the side) the development of the inner city drug trade — including the rise of crack cocaine — because the money was funding the anti-Communist contras. The stain of that is indelible.

  21. smithmj- there are significant differences between the way that Medicare was structured, and what its purpose is, and the programs that are currently being proposed. The people who can't articulate these differences may be politically naive, and some may be completely misguided- but your broad brush interpretation of them and your impugning their motivations, isn't any more helpful to a real debate than their iterations are.

  22. And so it goes- next time we have a GOP president, he/she will be demonized by the left and some people here will say that it's justified because of the way Obama was treated. – CStanley

    And that would be a continuation of the tit for tat dynamic, which is counterproductive in itself. Let's not forget the degrees to which criticism occurs though, meaning the whens and whys. The abandoning of context and giving in to the tit for tat reflex really sets the stage for the false equivalence roro80 referred to.

  23. “Whackjob conspiracy theories on the Left were promoted by whackjobs. Many of the whackjob theories on the Right (Birthers, Deathers, etc) are being promoted by the leaders of the Republican Party.”

    Testify brother. Give a conservative any story that ties in with what they believe already, however loosely, and you don't even need evidence to make it a talking point. That seems to be the ongoing pattern with the right. And I'm not just talking a misreported issue that later gets clarified and/or retracted, it stays in the conservative media forever no matter how badly its refuted by later evidence. Lingering like a bad smell that never quite goes away. Most of the men in my family are college educated, well off, card carrying members of the GOP, and absolutely believe that Clinton killed Vince Foster. It boggles the mind.

  24. “Give a conservative any story that ties in with what they believe already, however loosely, and you don't even need evidence to make it a talking point. That seems to be the ongoing pattern with the right. And I'm not just talking a misreported issue that later gets clarified and/or retracted, it stays in the conservative media forever no matter how badly its refuted by later evidence.”

    This is so true. I have an equal number of left and right wing friends. Throughout the presidential race last year, I received no left wing wingnut chain emails. If I printed out the right wing ones, I'd have a small book. What's really scary is that these live on today. The whole birther movement was created by a chain email.

    It's become nearly impossible for me to discuss politics with conservative friends. You spend too much time Googling and debunking stuff they hit you with that they read in chain email hoaxes or heard on Limbaugh/Beck/Hannity/O'Reilly the day before, material that is just outright wrong. If it's not that, you're trying to explain to them what the difference is between socialism, fascism, and Communism and why Democrats are different from Nazis. It's frustrating. It used to be enjoyable to debate politics. Now it's like trying to jog behind a manure spreader, and the right is keeping it full.

  25. Just got back. This is too much fun. Libs blame the Cons, Cons blame the Libs. It's always the other sides' fault when I comes to the vitriol.

    Crazy idea: let's all take responsibility for our own and stop pointing the finger at others.

    Time for a Budweiser. Carry on.

  26. This is one time when there's much more vitriol from the right. When the left attacked Bush, it was usually about the war, his policies, methodologies, etc. and the worst it got was calling him outright stupid. The right's attack on Obama has been much different. They've attacked his citizenship, religious beliefs, motives, and patriotism. The attacks on Bush didn't start until well after things went sour with the “war on terror”. Obama attacks started before he even got into office. I'm sure some on the left have paralleled the Bush administration to Nazi Germany. They undoubtedly protested with signs with such material on it in Wingnutville, USA in a deep blue state. With the right's attack on Obama, however, I don't need to drive to Wingnutville in deep red state territory, I can turn on Glenn Beck and watch it in the comfort of my own home. The outrageous and baseless attacks are no longer fodder for wingnuts, it's mainstream and as accepted as apple pie, mom, and Chevrolet.

    I'd like to see a social experiment conducted. Craft two different emails with equally outlandish claims about Obama and Palin. Send the emails out to 500 random email addresses. I would bet the farm in two weeks the Obama email material is front page news and variants of the email are still around five years from now. The Palin email gets some blog airtime, a lawsuit threat on Palin's Facebook page, and disappears.

  27. OK – I'll keep score, and, in the process punch back at both sides. Anthonygoods' comment makes it:

    Cons worse than Libs: 1
    Libs wose than Cons:0

    Punchback: anthonygood forgot to mention that Bush was accused of stealing the 2000 election; was touted as lazy; accused of letting Cheney run the White House; Lib “Truthers” developed the lovely conspiracy theory that the White House orchestrated 9/11; that he lied about Iraq to start a war (or finish his daddy's war), and that he was the worst baseball owner of all time.

  28. Um, most 9/11 conspiracy theorists aren't liberal, they are super-libertarians or paelo-conservatives. And Greenspan said that it was obvious the war was for oil. Personally I never focused on why he lied or even if he “lied,” “lied” being used in sense that he knew it was untrue as opposed to being criminally incompetent, because going in it was obvious that “this is BS*.”

    * This is literally what Colin Powell said when given the intel to present to the UN.

  29. The only claim or movement you list above that is really outrageous “tin foil hat” wingnut type material is the “9/11 Truthers” one. The rest, while perhaps untrue or a stretch, one can respectably debate and not be classified as a mental patient. There are facts and empirical evidence that support the other claims. I'm not going to debate them, but I'm making the point that these are simply not in the same category as attacking Obama's citizenship or religion or the ongoing socialist/fascist/Marxist/Communist takeover claims.

    I never considered the “9/11 Truther” movement as liberal. I can't say I've studied it thoroughly, but it's been my impression that it was more of the Libertarian types and those who hate all government who were behind this conspiracy theory, but not hardcore GOPers and not a large number of those on the left. In any case it certainly hasn't gotten the airtime that any of the Obama attacks have. Can you honestly say that the percentage of Democrats who believe that the Bush orchestrated 9/11 is anywhere close to the percentage of Republicans who believe Obama was born in Kenya?

  30. To oppose every policy a President supports is not taking issue with the policy itself, it is just wishing the president to fail.

    Isn't that an exact description of the Left toward Bush? Hypocrisy.Hypocrisy. Hypocrisy.

    They refused to give him any credit toward his work and progress with Africa (Bono brags about refusing to shake his hand, while at the same time being one of the few willing to acknowledge he did indeed do a lot).

    Go find me the plethora of quotes from Democratic leaders and Left-wing commentators praising Bush, other than early on when they did so out of self-preservation during that initial upwelling of Pro-Americanism (which many on the left admitted made them comfortable. After all, no one they knew actually LIKED America. We deserved 9/11, more than a few said)

    To me, this post shows again how the Left feels that when they do something it is OK, but when others do it to them, it must be quashed!

  31. Guys, Please !!!!!!!
    I'm just trying to have some fun and show that both sides use vitriol and rancor to degrade the other. If you want to take the holier-than-thou position…OK…I give up. Your partisanship is more important to you than any is to me.

    Frankly, I don't care about the truth of the “Truther” conspiracy…it isn't worth the time of day. Any more than the Skull&Bones whisper campaign against GWB (is it a Satanic Cult? a secret society bent on world domination? Both? Do they really drink blood as part of the initiation?) Don't Care ! Don't Care! It's all garbage and both sides do it…that…honest to God, is my only point.

    That you find credence to GWB stealing the 2000 election has some basis in reality? OK, good for you. Avid conservatives would argue conversely that there is some basis in reality for claiming BHO has a socialist agenda.

    See, you guys all claim the same thing from opposite sides. My name calling has some basis in reality but “theirs” doesn't.

    Why can't you stop this nonsense and have civil discussions about real issues instead of calling each other “liar”, “Nazi”, “illegal alien”, “9/11 conspirator”, “Satanic cult worshipper”, warmonger”, “wingnut”, “tin foil hat brigade”. In the name of God will you ever get tired enough of pointing the finger at the other side that you will actually address issues?

    Apologies in advance for the tone of this comment. I have just had it with the finger pointing crap from both sides.

  32. Scoring Update:

    Cons worse than Libs: 2
    Libs worse than Cons: 1
    Tidbits annoying to both: Unanimous

    Punchback: Please add “hypocrite” to list of namecalling . Thanks AR. Please take that in the good humor in which it is offered. :) Hypocrite is a favorite name call for both sides.

    I better be nice. I like both AR and Mikkel and have had numerous respectful exchanges with each. Anthonygood I'm not so familiar with, but I'm sure you're a really likeable sort, and probalby very intelligent.

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