Friday, October 01, 2004

Nasty days are here

Now that the dust has settled, it's more than abundantly clear that John Kerry kicked George W. Bush's squinting, smirking little kabootie in last night's debate. The polls are likely to reflect a shift in his favor. And that means it's about to get really nasty.

It's become clear (as long predicted) that the central theme of the Republicans in this year's campaign is going to be: A vote for Democrats is a vote for terrorists. (See, e.g., the ad that appeared on the RNC Website: "10 out of 10 terrorists agree: Anybody But Bush!") That was, as just noted, the context of one of Bush's more notable evasions last night.

This meme has already been in play for awhile, and we're going to start hearing it a lot more. Of course, if you want to get to the meat of the GOP meme du jour, go to the wellspring. Ann Coulter, as always, boils down the meme to its essential in this interview at Amazon: How important is this presidential election in the larger context of the Republic and its history?

Ann Coulter: Insofar as the survival of the Republic is threatened by the election of John Kerry, I'd say 2004 is as big as it gets. Is there one standout issue, and why does it make a difference? What are the most crucial issues?

Coulter: I repeat: The survival of the Republic is threatened by the election of John Kerry. I'd say that's the big one.

... What would a Kerry administration mean?

Coulter: Quite possibly the destruction of the Republic.

Talk about staying "on message."

Now, it doesn't take a majority of the country to make widespread belief in this meme a serious problem. I mean, if you believed that the very survival of the nation itself rested on defeating John Kerry, wouldn't you be willing to resort to just about anything to prevent it?

The mainstream conservatives who propagate this belief -- from Bush to Cheney on down -- are effectively radicalizing their supporters, at least those who take their pronouncements as Gospel. Anymore, that's about 30 percent of the population -- a minority, but sizeable enough to be a serious problem.

And believe me, it is getting nasty out there.

We've already seen, of course, incidents of arson and vandalism directed at Democratic campaign offices; assaults on protesters at Bush/Cheney appearances; and generally ratcheted-up levels of political thuggery.

Look: There's always a certain amount of nastiness in any election, and it's usually an equal-opportunity situation. Certain conservatives haven't enjoyed any monopoly on nastiness, this year or any other.

But the increased levels of threats, intimidation, and dirty tricks like sign theft, as well as the sheer number of problems, are heavily on the Republican side this year, especially in rural and suburban districts.

It's being directly encouraged by such pseudo-fascist threads as the "Democrats=terrorists" theme, as well as incidents such as Dick Cheney telling Pat Leahy, "Go fuck yourself" on the Senate floor -- and then not only refusing to apologize for it, but clearly recommending it as a course of action.

Longtime readers are aware I've been cataloguing the rise of this eliminationist nastiness for some time, and will continue to do so here. The latest updates, in fact, are indicative of another ratchet-step forward in an increasingly violent and intimidating approach to the 2004 campaign, particularly on the ground level. It's a level that hasn't raised itself to being newsworthy on a broad scale; but like a low-grade fever, it can be a harbinger as well.

Take, for instance, the recent report from Pulling Out the Savoy Truffle on the following incident out of Rockingham County, North Carolina:
As reported in a full color above-the-fold front page article in The Messenger today, the local newspaper, several houses, including (some) on on the NC Register of Historic Places, were paint balled last week apparently because they had Kerry/Edwards signs in their yards. Houses in the same neighborhood that had no yard signs, or had Bush signs, were not hit by the gun propelled missiles.

On 9/16, the Eden Daily News carried a front page below-the-fold article datelined Madison which described how vandals were tearing down over 50 Kerry/Edwards signs almost as fast as they were put out. A local Democrat who had signs stolen said "Bush is the problem. He made this country divisive. We'll all have to pull together after the election is over. We've got to be bigger than tearing down signs."

In response to the article, Tommy Harrington, Chairman of the local Republican Party published a long "Second Opinion" article in the Eden News on Sept. 22nd, addressing the story. A bitter former Democrat who switched some years ago after serving as a State Highway Commissioner, Harrington launched into personal attacks on the reporter and the person quoted in her article. A practicing lawyer in Eden, Harrington made these comments about John Edwards and Congressional Democrats:

"They have divided this country, and the crime is they have done is deliberately. They are the ones who have turned other nations against us; they are the ones who have helped kill American military personnel by encouraging our enemies. It is undeniable that Mr. Kerry and his organization have given aid and comfort to enemies of this nation. Such actions as this can best be described as 'treasonous.'"

Before Harrington's article appeared, Dick Cartwright, Chairman of the local Democratic Party sent a letter to Harrington, notifying him of the sign vandalism and paint ball incident by his Republican supporters, and sent an abbreviated copy to local newspapers. Cartwright said, "I am asking you to enter into an informal agreement that you and I will do whatever we reasonably can to avoid this kind of vandalism and threat to private property for the duration of this election. I'm sure you are as embarrassed by the behavior of your supporters as we are upset by it. Hopefully, if you can speak forcefully to your people, we shall have no more of this".

Meanwhile, as the story of the paint balling incident spreads, questions begin to arise as to what can be done. Madison Police Chief Perry Webster was quoted as saying "It seem as though they were targets because of the Democratic signs in their yards. We're not going to tolerate it. We will find out who they are". He said a citizen has stepped up to offer a reward for information on the crime that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible. "We've always had removal of signs, but I don't recall any damage being done."

Then there was this report out of Minnesota (via 42) involving the actual distribution of hate literature:
...[A]t least 17 families with lawn signs supporting John Kerry received hate-filled diatribes that were inserted in greeting cards.

The mailings were addressed to "Doltocrat." In the envelopes, recipients found greeting cards with perky messages ranging from "Happy Rosh Hashanah" to "Get Well Soon." When the cards were opened, three pages of typewritten hate oozed out.

"You have committed yourself to supporting Kerry as evidenced by your subversive and immorally-suggestive Kerry lawn sign display ... and it will be practically impossible for you to back out and retract it now. ..."

And on and on. The mailings included praise for Hitler. Attacks on gays and Jewish people and "not-so-Christian" churches. Attacks on Kerry. Praise for President Bush.

I've also received personal e-mails from readers in affected areas. Thomas Gordanier writes to me from Silverton, Oregon:
To get straight to the point, Republican yahoos have been swiping signs at a fairly impressive clip, with some signs getting less that 24 hours of lawn-life before some bozo in a pickup swipes it. This has been happening in Salem and Portland as well. People more or less have to bring their signs in at night or have them not be there in the morning. There are plenty of Bush/Cheney signs, but none of them have gone missing.

An Indymedia poster named Michelle reports that things are getting ugly in Nevada County, California, as well:
In my county, the threats are getting bigger and bolder. There are written threats and phone threats to all democratic candidates for all offices, including school board! Our last democrat was pressured to become republican.

...Most of our county democrats are senior citizens, and they are afraid to put bumper stickers on their cars, ride in cars with Kerry or local Dem stickers on it, etc.

These reports are less reliable, perhaps, but the sheer level of them this year strikes me as unusual.

And then there are cases in which Bush campaign staffers appear to be directly involved in intimidation attempts, such as the one recently reported in the Cincinatti Post:
Last weekend, minutes after obtaining two tickets to President Bush's huge rally Monday in West Chester, Caudell said she had the tickets ripped from her hand by two men who objected to the Kerry bumper sticker on her car.

The men, Caudell said, blocked her from getting into her car outside the West Chester office of Rep. John Boehner, one of the GOP's distribution points for the rally tickets, until one forcibly took the tickets from her. The two 40-ish men -- who Caudell believes were Bush campaign volunteers -- also were verbally abusive, calling her a "sinner" and "terrorist" for supporting Kerry and even going far as to suggest that she might intend to harm Bush at the rally.

... Although an ardent Kerry supporter whose interest in politics and the presidential race was aroused by a government class last spring, Caudell said she wanted to attend the Bush rally at Voice of America Park simply for the thrill of seeing a presidential visit virtually in her own backyard.

"I always wanted to hear the president speak," Caudell said. "How often is the president in West Chester?"

For Caudell, the ticket episode was not the only time that her preference for Kerry has drawn harsh reactions in heavily Republican West Chester. Her car, which until recently also had "Vote for Kerry" painted on its back window, has been spit on, and the 17-year-old, in her mother's words, frequently has had "single digits waved at her" while driving.

None of those past incidents, though, was as troubling as that which unfolded in the parking lot outside Boehner's office Saturday.

After picking up the tickets, Caudell said, she was confronted by a man who, seeing her getting into a car with a Kerry bumper sticker and the Kerry slogan painted on its rear window, asked whether she was a Kerry supporter. When she replied that she was, the man, by then joined by a second man, called her a terrorist for not supporting Bush, Caudell said.

"I said, 'If a Democrat was in the White House, would you support him?'" Caudell said. "He said, 'No.' And I said, 'Then by your own definition, you're a terrorist, too.'"

To that, Caudell said, the man told the 5-foot-3 cheerleader: "You're pretty snippy for someone so small."

The first man, who Caudell said did most of the talking -- with the second basically echoing his remarks -- grabbed her car door to prevent her from getting in and told her he would not allow her to leave until she surrendered the tickets. When she refused, he tore them from her hand, Caudell said.

This all took place before the debates, when their candidate was riding a steady lead in the polls and they were confident of victory.

As the tide turns, it's not going to get any nicer.

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