by Anastasia Pantsios
The timing was uncanny. Before he left on vacation, my editor at the publication I work for wrote this week’s cover story which hit the streets this morning, imploring George Voinovich as a sane — if not exactly as-moderate-as-described — Republican who is retiring and whose office is therefore not vulnerable to attacks from right-wing crazies, to secure his legacy by reclaiming the Republican Party from its wingnut branch.
Then today, yet another lunatic killed in the service of his hatred. Less than two weeks after such a person murdered a doctor in Kansas for the “sin” of performing legal abortions, a man walked into Washington D.C.’s Holocaust Museum and started shooting, killing a security guard.
The former was ostensibly driven by his hatred of women (because that’s what motivates the extreme wing of the anti-abortion movement); the other supposedly by animosity toward Jews. But the background of both these individuals shows that their hostility and rage was not focused on a single specific group: It was generalized and consuming, fueled by off-the-wall conspiracy theories. They hated a LOT of people, and ultimately, they were killing for their right to hate someone —anyone — that they could blame for their alienation. Women, Jews, gays, Hispanics, Muslims — whoever.
This demonization of the “other” — anyone who is not a straight, white, Christian male with a conservative political philosophy — has swept through the ranks of right-wing commentators, bloggers and columnists over the last few years, who have amplified it with their mighty microphones. Sadly, it’s been enabled by far too many Republican politicians, who cozy up to, or make excuses for, these haters.
The “balanced” mainstream media has often tried to make a case that there are extremists “on the right and the left.” But they struggle to come up with anyone on the left equivalent to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly. You just can’t produce evidence that Michael Moore or Al Franken or Keith Olbermann has ever advocated the type of animosity toward entire groups of individuals that comes from Beck’s or Savage’s mouth nonstop. Certainly, no one on the left has advanced the untethered, anger-generating untruths that Limbaugh does on a daily basis. Just today, I was watching a video in which Limbaugh chuckled about Obama’s alleged “messiah complex,” saying “He has one thing in common with God — he doesn’t have a birth certificate.”
For those of you lucky enough to not know what he is referring to, he’s encouraging a group of wackos known as “birthers” who believe that Obama has somehow concealed or altered his true birth certificate to hide the fact that he isn’t American-born and hence he is an “illegal” president. If that’s not going to stir up hatred in those already angry that the president is black and liberal, I don’t know what is.
Yes, the left has its so-called “truthers” — people who think that the Twin Towers fell because the government detonated bombs inside them — but you would be hard-pressed to come up with any liberal media figure who promoted this theory and many of the liberal blogs don’t even allow discussion of it. It would be fair to say it’s widely mocked on the left. And in 2001 (especially after 9/11), most on the left were soft-pedaling the idea that Bush was an “illegal” president, even though the case for his illegitimacy was based on — wait for it! — facts. Certainly, talk about this wasn’t allowed within a million miles of the mainstream media.
There is no case for balanced left-right hatred here — not even remotely.
Hatred of George Bush and Dick Cheney? That’s directed at specific figures for actual things they’ve done, not at entire types of people for their imagined collective sins. Where are the people who threaten violence against anti-abortion demonstrators or who attack people for going to church? Despite the hallucinatory imaginations of a few on the religious right who claim that Christians are being persecuted (“War on Christmas?” Yeah, right), you can’t find them. And even if Sonia Sotomayor DID say that the opinions of a Hispanic female were superior to those of a white male (she didn’t; news outlets completely failed to explain what she WAS talking about, probably in order to stir up controversy), she in no way demonized white men to the point where an unbalanced person might go pick up a gun and start shooting. Yet, there were plenty of Republican elected officials claiming she did — and provoking hatred toward Hispanics.
While Democratic politicians tiptoe around any expression of disapproval of their foes that might be construed as a tad harsh, Republicans have been enabling and encouraging it for years. I try to imagine the uproar had someone on the left said the kinds of things Limbaugh routinely says. Not only would there be no groveling apologies to the talk-show host, but Democrats would be rushing to disown him and distance themselves from him. Recall the spectacle of Obama being hounded repeatedly by moderator Tim Russert in the Cleveland primary debate to disown Louis Farrakhan’s praise of him — when Obama himself had absolutely no connection to Farrakhan. Recall the grotesque spectacle of Congress, including way too many Democrats, formally censuring MoveOn — composed of citizens exercising their free-speech rights — for gently mocking Gen. Petraeus in his role as a Bush mouthpiece. That was an egregious, bullying misuse of congressional power. Given that powerful right-wing talkers like Limbaugh and O‘Reilly have created a climate of approval for any old hatred that might inflame somebody, isn’t it time that they be censured in the strongest possible language — by both parties? While citizens have a constitutionally guaranteed right to speak, no one has constitutionally guaranteed access to the airwaves to spread whatever kind of disruptive hatred they choose.
These shooters might be extreme, but they are NOT anomalies, or as some in the media would have it, “isolated instances.” They take to what could be considered a logical conclusion the rhetoric that fills right-wing talk radio on a daily basis, with hosts that tell the crazies, basically, “Whoever you hate deserves it.” Once you’ve told a crazy person that, many of them will take the next step and think the object(s) of their loathing deserve to die as well. The environment created by the constant hate talking tells these nuts that they are supported and they’re not really wrong. Just listen to the tepid, equivocating semi-condemnations of Dr. Tiller’s murder from the right. The half-heartedness is setting the stage for more murders.
It would be wonderful to see some Republicans who aren’t crazy and who surely can’t be encouraged by the escalating violent expressions of hatred, to stand up and speak out. Because he can’t suffer electoral consequences, Voinovich is in a great position to do so. But there are others. What about Steve LaTourette? Here’s a Republican congressman from Northeast Ohio, who is willing to openly brag on his website and in press releases about his partnerships with Dennis Kucinich. I can’t believe he’s comfortable with the ongoing demonization of entire groups of Americans. And honestly, I don’t believe he’d lose too many votes in his Lake/Geauga/Ashtabula County district for speaking up.
If Republicans don’t get control of the fear-mongers and hate-provokers that their party has encouraged and coddled for too long, the violence is likely to go on and on. I could gloat as I say that it’s also likely that the Republican party will become more and more marginalized, but I don’t think that’s a good tradeoff for this — let’s call it what it is — domestic terrorism. If dialing down the rhetoric on the right creates a stronger and more reasonable Republican party, and at the same time, more sanity to prevail in this country, it’s likely we’ll all be better off.
Anastasia Pantsios has been a writer for Cleveland alternative newsweeklies the Free Times and Scene for the past 15 years, and also did a stint in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a freelance pop-music writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In addition to music, she has also covered theatre, visual arts and politics with an emphasis on election integrity and religion in public life. She is currently on staff at Cleveland Scene and blogs at OhioDailyBlog. An essay of hers on the formation of We Believe Ohio to push back against the religious right appeared in the book, Dispatches From the Religious Left, edited by Frederick Clarkson, published last fall. This is cross posted from Ohio Daily Blog.