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Posted by on Aug 7, 2009 in Media, Politics, Society | 29 comments

A Descent Into Ugliness

Nancy Pelosi has been roundly mocked by the right for her comment to a reporter about Republican opponents of health care reform carrying swastikas, but she was telling the truth. And that is far from the only evidence of dangerously high levels of thuggishness on display at townhall meetings and political events across the country, where even Blue Dog Democrats are being treated to behavior more reminiscent of rabid dogs than rational human beings.

Joan Walsh documents the insanity:

Who’d have imagined that our first black president would turn out to be a Nazi? Just when you think political discourse can’t any uglier, Rush Limbaugh is comparing President Obama to Hitler and calling all Democrats Nazis, while the frothing right-wingers turning Democrats’ town halls into “town hells” routinely refer to Obama and his supporters as “brownshirts.” Right-wing blogger Steve Gilbert has transformed Obama’s healthcare reform logo into a Nazi symbol by cleverly adding a swastika; meanwhile, some Republicans insist Democrats are lying about “town hell” rowdies carrying signs with swastikas, but they’re the ones with a problem telling the truth.

If you thought right-wingers’ claim that Obama is a racist was projection, here’s another case study for psychology students everywhere. At district meetings Democrats are being shouted down by angry mobs inflamed by corporate interests spewing lies about healthcare reform — Maryland Rep. Frank Kratovil was hung in effigy. Rep. Tim Bishop needed a police escort to his car, Rep. Brad Miller reports death threats, while Republican Todd Akin of Missouri joked — to cheers from his GOP audience — that his Democratic colleagues “almost got lynched” by the “town hell” rowdies. Glenn Beck is joking about poisoning Nancy Pelosi’s wine — but it’s the Democrats who are Nazis, fascists and brownshirts. Got it.

It was just a few years ago that MoveOn was pilloried — by the mainstream media, not just the right — when a couple of filmmakers used Bush-as-Hitler imagery in a video contest. MoveOn quickly took the videos down and apologized, but the controversy boiled for days. Sure, some on the left continued to refer to the administration as fascists or as Nazis, but they were mostly marginalized. Now two of the biggest right-wing pundits, with huge megaphones on the radio and Fox News, call Obama Hitler, and the media mostly shrug.

Glenn Greenwald puts up the video of Rush Limbaugh on his show today equating Pres. Obama and Nancy Pelosi with Hitler and the Nazis. He (Glenn) provides a dozen examples — specific examples, with quotes — of that storm of outrage that greeted MoveOn’s implied comparison of Bush to Hitler. Tomorrow, he plans to ask as many of those people as he can reach for their reaction to what Limbaugh said today.

And then there is the plastering of posters all over Los Angeles depicting Pres. Obama as the Joker. Right-wingers can sneer all they like about how the posters are just saying that Obama is a “joker” because his campaign message of hope and change was “false advertising,” but the fact is the Joker — especially as portrayed by the brilliant Heath Ledger — is a psychopath who kills and terrorizes: Just the perfect image to play into 400 years of white racial fears of the crazed and violent black criminal.

Philip Kennicott has a good article in today’s Washington Post about the ways in which the anonymous poster campaign exploits and manipulates centuries of racist white fears about black people — especially black men (emphasis is mine):

Between Jack Nicholson’s 1989 portrayal of the Joker in “Batman” and Heath Ledger’s 2008 characterization in “The Dark Knight,” something sinister happened to the villain’s iconic makeup. What had been a mask, with the clearly delineated lines of a carnival character, became simply war paint, and not very well applied.

The visual change signaled a change in the Joker’s inner mechanism. Nicholson’s dandified virtuoso of violence was replaced by a darker, more unpredictable and psychotic figure. What had been a caricature became more real and threatening. An urbane mocker of civilized values became simply a deformed product of urban violence.


The Joker’s makeup in “Dark Knight” — the latest film in a long franchise that dramatizes fear of the urban world — emphasized the wounded nature of the villain, the sense that he was both a product and source of violence. Although Ledger was white, and the Joker is white, this equation of the wounded and the wounding mirrors basic racial typology in America. Urban blacks — the thinking goes — don’t just live in dangerous neighborhoods, they carry that danger with them like a virus. Scientific studies, which demonstrate the social consequences of living in neighborhoods with high rates of crime, get processed and misinterpreted in the popular unconscious, underscoring the idea. Violence breeds violence.

It is an ugly idea, operating covertly in that gray area that is always supposed to be opened up to honest examination whenever America has one of its “we need to talk this through” episodes. But it lingers, unspoken but powerful, leaving all too many people with the sense that exposure to crime creates an ineluctable propensity to crime.

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Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • elrod

    And now Glenn Beck worries that he might have unleashed another McVeigh…because it would ruin his cause.

  • AustinRoth

    OK Kathy, back to normal I guess.

    First, the Joker thing. Have you forgotten, or did you just not know, that it was Vanity Fair that first did that to Bush last July? Hard to see how that makes doing the same to Obama a racist act, unless of course any unflattering negative image of Obama must be considered by definition racist.

    As to thugs at town hall meeting, you have the wrong groups labeled as agitators and thugs.

  • When is the Gop going to learn? How many groups can they completely offend in the ongoing cultural insensitivity?. . . .

    if anyone would care to do a search on the symbol of swastika they would find it is a deeply spiritual symbol for millions of Hindu and Native voters here in the States and others abroad . . .just because the KKK used the cross that does not tarnish the sacredness of the cross image for Christians. . . in a few short weeks there have been cultural insults to Latinos, African Americans and now it has spread to the East and Indigenous peoples . . . .

    go figure. . . what is next in the descent of fear and ignorance?. . . .

  • Leonidas

    This whole spectacle by the democrats is too hilarious. The DNC released an ad calling the protestors angy mobs and not a genuine grass roots movement (unlike the Obama townhall with preselected questions and only calling on folks from pro-healthcare groups and one from the DNC masquerading as an average citizen) so what do they do?
    You just can’t make this stuff up.
    But these canvasses, town halls, and gatherings only make a difference if you turn up to knock on doors, share your views, and show your support. So here’s what I need from you:
    Can you commit to join at least one event in your community this month?
    –Barack Obama
    “If you get hit, we will punch back twice as hard,”
    –deputy chief of staff Jim Messina
    “SEIU & Castor organize a townhall and announce it at the last minute as to reduce opposition voices. The townhall was packed 1/2 w SEIU people.” (and they locked out alot of people not supportive of the legislation)
    “The nation’s largest federation of labor organizations has promised to directly engage with boisterous conservative protesters at Democratic town halls during the August recess.”
    Wonder if the Teamsters are coming? or as its been put elsewhere:
    “A guy from Chicago with shady connections needs some muscle, so he calls in organized labor. What could go wrong?”
    Guess they wasted all that money and time on their silly Mob meme and DNC ad……
    …. and called in a mob of there own

    Gee it took the Liberals all of what, 2 days to surrender their claimed moral highground?
    Just goes to prove that this was NEVER about listening to the Voter concerns, it was all about selling Snakeoil.

    As for the treatment of Blue Dogs….seems to me the Liberal wing of the democratic party is showing them a lot of disrespect. Obama and others are saying Reconciliation is still a possibility. Using that Parlimentary measure they could sidestep the normal rules and procedures of Congress and force a straight vote immune to filibusters. They claim this would circumvent Republican influence. Well obviously they aren’t very good at math, only spin, because they ALREADY have a filibuster proof majority. Even if not one Republican voted for it, there is nothing they could do to stop it. Nothing….Nada…..Zilch. So why would Obama and Liberal Congressmen need this procedure? To get past the Blue Dogs, members of their own party the ones standing between them and passage of the legislation. Using reconciliation (and they are already using the threat of it) they are calling partisan nuclear warfare not only on the Republicans, but on the Blue Dogs as well.
    If the Blue Dogs can no longer operate as a moderate foil to the Liberals within the party, Conservative democrats and Independents will have little choice but to vote them out and replace them with Republicans that could challenge the Democratic majorities. In a “Reconciliation Congress” there is no roll for a Blue Dog. and the GOP will capitalize point it out to the public and get a new crop of freshmen GOP replace them, just like Moderate Republicans largely disappered from Congress under Bush.

  • DaMav

    For years we have watched the left compare Bush, Cheney, and a variety of conservatives to Hitler and Nazis. Just google “Bush Nazi” and you will see literally thousands of relevent images and demonstrators waving swastikas around. Whenever we would object we were lectured about how “dissent was the highest form of patriotism” and told to shut up.

    Now the shoe is on the other foot. And the left is squealing and melting down. Holy smokes, stop the presses, the HuffPo found one demonstrator with a tiny sign linking Obama with a swastika. I have watched a hundred hours of video of Tea Parties and Town Hall meetings and such imagery is rare to say the least.

    Ya know what? Enjoy your moral outrage meltdown. You are nothing but a bunch of flagrant hypocrites who can dish it out but not take it. And as to the racism, check out the charicatures and comments the left has put out on Condy Rice, Judge Clarence Thomas, and even General Powell. Remember the prominent comments about Powell being a “House N—-“? Sure you do. The left screamng racism at anyone who attacks a liberal who happens to be black has turned into today’s version of Peter crying “wolf”. Very sadly, the left has trivialized it from a moral statement into a tactic. We all lose because of that but the source of the loss is the propensity to clothe every imaginable criticism of Obama with white robes and pointed hats. Those who despise racism AND liberalism are done listening to that BS.

    Check the polls, especially the independents to see who is being alienated these days. We are not backing down because of your suddenly and conveniently discovered sensitivities. Let’s say that everybody should decry violence, but nobody needs to stop exercising our first and second amendment rights just because you are throwing a hissy. We didn’t start the ugly. You did. Telling people to ‘hit back twice as hard’ is not a call for polite debate. So why pretend?

  • Leonidas

    So a couple protestors invoked Godwin on Pelosi *shrug* Its not like they are elected representatives and have the responsibility to uphold the dignity of the Office of Speaker of the House by not invoking Godwin. Too bad Nancy doesn’t take that responsibility seriously and fired a Godwin right back at them for the national media. You would expect the Speaker of the House not to engage in name calling with the citizenry.

    Another figure engaging in this is U.S. Rep. Brian Baird
    “What we’re seeing right now is close to Brown Shirt tactics,” Baird, D-Vancouver, said in a phone interview. “I mean that very seriously.”
    So Baird supposedly feel threatened by meeting with the public and now will be doing a “telephone townhall” rather than face the public. Be interesting how he selects questions for this, prescreening? making sure he gets more views from one side than the other? Only calling on people who work for pro-heathcare bill organizations like Obama did at his townhall meeting that he got his chops busted on by Helen Thomas and Chip Reid
    Who knows, at least the people of his district won’t witness him hiding under the bed and wetting himself in fear of Brownshirt senior citizen protestors with swastikas.

  • daveinboca

    Kathy K. Kattenburg is obviously projecting Democrat ugliness onto the conservatives who Barbie Boxer sniffs are “well-dressed.” Leonidas correctly points out the Dem propensity towards rent-a-mobs like ACORN and SEIU that their Dear Leader summoned to defend his wack-job “health” reforms. Pelosi is your typical Botox victim in an advanced stage of paranoid delusional withdrawal from reality. BoBo Boxer is used to ACORN slackers and stoners doing “demonstrating” with dress codes from the sixties, I guess.

    So the POTUS calls for union thugs to protect proponents of his euthanasia “reforms” on health? To paraphrase Forrest Gump, ugly is as ugly does and Dear Leader is doing very ugly on this “health care” fiasco.

  • superdestroyer

    Let’s look at the progressive’s proposed rules:

    1. Only the left is allowed to shout people down. The freedom of speech should be limited due to editorial content.

    2. Only progressives are allowed to mock people. What is street theater for the left is a hate crime for the right.

    3. Only the left is allowed to taunt politicians. It is OK to taunt George Allen but not OK to taunt any Democrats.

  • Kastanj

    People sure are feeling sulky and assuming today.

  • CStanley

    From the Joan Walsh excerpt: “Sure, some on the left continued to refer to the administration as fascists or as Nazis, but they were mostly marginalized.”

    That line (among others) has to be a joke. Do people think that none of us have lived through the last eight years? Those references to the Bush administration were everywhere (even on occasion here at TMV, although usually the language was a bit more sophisticated), as were burning effigies, toppling statues of Bush, and gleeful shoe hurtling. Even if this writer and others think we have short memories, does she not realize that this stuff is all archived on the internet?

    I mean really, this rewriting of history is positively Orwellian.

    • $199537

      I mean really, this rewriting of history is positively Orwellian.

      You’re right. It’s not a descent into ugliness, it’s a continuation.

      Maybe I need to reconsider my position on rudeness, using Nazi imagery, being disruptive, etc. Traditionally I’ve felt those sorts of things just served to diminish the people using those tactics and would ultimately hurt much more than they help. The facts are though that Democrats used those tactics and now run the government. Who knows whether they succeeded despite or because of those tactics.

      Maybe these kinds of tactics are an effective way to mobilize the base.

  • SmoothJazz0204

    Hey, I don’t get it??? What does this site call itself “The Moderate Voice” when all I read here are liberal talking points and DNC propaganda. Why don’t you just call yourself “The Liberal Voice”. I don’t get it.

  • AustinRoth

    More union thuggishness

  • CStanley

    DaGoat- I think you and I are of like mind about those tactics- I find them demeaning and I wish that people would take the high road. But you’re also right, unfortunately- they appear to work. Joe posed the question in his latest post, of whether or not the angry protesters shouting down their Congressional reps might end up winning this battle, and if so, will that not mean that this strategy will be repeated. I think quite likely, yes.

    And I don’t know what to make of that. Big money has too much influence in politics, and that often prevents us from getting good policy. Big angry mobs might be slightly preferable to that, but gee, wouldn’t it be nice if we had mobs of Americans who were really accurately informed? I happen to agree with many of the angry protesters, but I’m betting that I often agree with their general stance but for different (and I’d say, more accurate and valid) reasons. I wish the real, intelligent arguments would win the day instead of the ones that have the most money behind them and/or the loudest boors promoting them.

  • Silhouette

    I always try to look for the silver lining in every GOP cloud. People who think like I do are watching silently and making those decisions based on balance and sanity. When in the voting booth one cannot be reached for comment. Just a little black mark next to a name and that is our commentary. The GOP is reminding me of a desperate person caught in quicksand who is just sure that the more violently they struggle the more likely it is they’ll be saved. It never occured to them to come clean and own up to what they did. The vast majority of internet-using ever-learning intelligent folk on the demographic rise [what, ya never heard of the net?…] are staring with their jaws on the floor.

    That’s the mistake the GOP is making BTW, underestimating the internet and it’s power to educate people in spite of propaganda. People can read both sides. People are curious and basically smart at their core and when left alone in front of the PC their minds begin to expand to include other possibilities besides the limited information that used to reach them. That’s the GOPs greatest enemy: information. And oh have they tried to control that flow all these many years.

    The dam broke when Microsoft went huge. Like I said, come clean or perish GOP the old tricks ain’t workin’ no mo’.

  • AustinRoth

    People who think like I do

    Oh, I cannot even fathom that concept.

    • StockBoySF

      AR, “Oh, I cannot even fathom that concept.”

      There’s FT….

      What I can’t fathom is (by Sil in the same comment), “People are curious and basically smart at their core and when left alone in front of the PC their minds begin to expand to include other possibilities besides the limited information that used to reach them.”

      I find it hard to believe that she speaks from personal experience.

  • ModDemMD

    Ah, the hypocrisy from both sides (including many posters on this blog).

    I will say I consider myseld a Blue Dog, and the poster declaring the Obama is steamrolling them is disturbingly misinformed. If you look at the final cap-and-trade bill as well as the way the health care discussion has been moving for the past few weeks, it has been moving steadily to the center and the White House had a sit down with Blue Dogs just last week. Indeed, with the blessing from the White House, the public option is being removed and I would be stunned to see it in any final bill.

    Ah, but the fact just do not matter to some people. Yelling, screaming and scaring is more important.

  • geo12

    If you read your history books you will see that the nazis came from the ultra conservative side of the political spectrum that was upset about the changing demographics in their country. Hitler played upon these fears and predjudices and promoted the hatred of anyone who was “different” and preached a nationalistic (and also racial) “purity”. They were facsists, not socialists. I am a republican, but right now in this country if I had to decide which side was acting more nazi-like, I am sad to say, it’s the republicans. The people showing up at these protest seem to be uneducated to the facts and are only yelling out the talking points they have heard from the Limbaughs and the Becks. It’s really sad for this country and for our democracy.

    • JonathanO

      Wrong. Translate the official name of the Nazi party and you’ll find they were the National Socialist Workers’ Party. Why don’t YOU read a book or two instead of regurgitating lies.

      • geo12

        Just because you put the word socialist in your name doesn’t make you socialist. They were facsists!

  • JasonArvak

    People sure are feeling sulky and assuming today.

    Well, when the starting point is to call everyone who protests an impending takeover of one-fifth of the economy “rabid dogs”, it usually doesn’t set a nice, respectful frame for a substantive discussion. Due in no small part to the unwise use of such language on my own part, I have found that when a blogger regularly starts off by trying to deliberately insult people, the responses are rarely cheerful.

  • CStanley

    I actually agree with ModDem about Obama supporting the Blue Dogs (along with the fact that he hasn’t opposed dropping the public option, he’s also now chastising the blue-on-blue ads that Move.On and company are running against vulnerable Blue Dogs.)

    It’s just too bad he let Pelosi run the show until things blew up though- if Obama had supported more moderate legislation earlier in the process, they may have actually passed something by now (of course from my standpoint, that could be good or bad, depending on what form the centrist bill took- but speaking from the Dem’s strategic vantage point, Obama was a little late to the game.)

    • ModDemMD

      That’s the rub… the House Dems live in politically unrealistic environment, and every time the President passes the baton to them, they move it to the left, leaving Obama and the Senta to clean up the mess.

  • lurxst

    Good news is that so far very few have been pepper sprayed and as far as I know, no one has been tasered. That appears reserved for liberal protestors. This is definitely a low point in civic behavior, no matter how you look at it.

    I see some complaints about the Tampa event being packed with 1/2 SEIU people. Well the other half apparently was enough nutjobs to degrade the whole affair into a chaotic, worthless mess. Go Team AHIP!

  • casualobserver

    @@I was at the event. My name is David Brown. I am an atty in St. Louis. My friend, Kenneth Gladney, who is black, was passing out Don’t Tread on Me Flags and Tea Party buttons at the end of the event to Tea Party supporters and conservatives. He was then called a racial slur by two SEIU members. He was then attacked by two black males (SEIU reps) and white male, another SEIU rep., and a white woman. The punched him in the face and he fell to the ground. He was then kicked and punched by all four. One fled on foot, and three were arrested. Kenneth was taken to St. John’s Mercy Hospital to the emergency room. He has suffered numerous injuries. For more information, please contact me at PHONE NUMBER EDITED OUT. Thank [email protected]@

    Who drew first blood……..?

  • JSpencer

    Another symptom of the most dangerous virus facing the United States: Ignorance. Those who made the nazi, brownshirt, or Hitler comparisons with either GWB or Obama are fools who apparently never studied that period of world history. That said, Obama seems to be getting the comparisons sooner in his term than GWB did. In addition he gets to deal with the racial component. What fun.

    ugly is as ugly does – daveinboca . . . . . . . . . as aptly demonstrated by your own contribution.

  • StockBoySF

    If you want to show town hall meetings filled with poeple who support your agenda then Bush had it right for his: you carefully select the audience to be only pro-Bush and absolutely lock everyone else out.

    Not that I agree with it….

  • SJefferson

    Having lived through the LA riots after the policemen were let off for the Rodney King beating … I see many similarities in the behavior of the Republicans to those who participated in the Violence in Los Angeles during the riots. In LA, what started out as outrage over the injustice became mindless brutile violence with murder, beatings, fires, destruction and looting … not by those angry at the verdict of the police officers but rather by masses of people with their own vendettas and agendas that had nothing to do with seeking justice for Rodney King or the issues at hand. People who you thought you knew and who you thought were level headed became drunk by the violence and hostility and lost their minds and their morals.

    Now, I see the same wild eyed, rabid, hate infested behavior in those at the town hall meetings … merely seeking out an outlet for their pent up hostility and violence. If the anger was truly directed at health care, these people would be trying to gather information and ask questions in order to gain information and the ear of their Representative. Instead they are foaming at the mouth and refusing even to hear the response to the fake question they pretended to present. Their anger is not only turned on their Representative, but also on their fellow towns folks and anyone who they fear will shut them down.

    Those were dark days in Los Angeles … now I can see the minority of our citizens who have these violent tendancy are using this as fuel to their psychosis. It’s a sad day for America.

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