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Posted by on Aug 14, 2009 in Politics | 34 comments

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

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