Friday, January 07, 2005

Beyond the pale

The hatemongers of the right-wing pundit class are always pushing the envelope, trying to top each other with fresh outrages that continually redefine the boundaries of acceptable public discourse, grossly distorting that discourse along the way.

Every now and then, one of them will tread well over that line. Think of Ann Coulter's remark about wishing Tim McVeigh had blown up the New York Times building. Not only the remark, but people's reactions to it, become telling. They tell us a lot about the real characters of the people who would condone such filth, let alone utter it.

Michael Savage, who has had many such moments, has finally topped himself. Media Matters reports that he said the following on his Dec. 31 radio show:
SAVAGE: It is the Savage Nation out here on the West Coast. We've had rain for five days. We have another five days of it. I need some aid right now. International aid. Because I may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder if this keeps up. Maybe I should go to the U.N. [United Nations] and see if I can get some special psychotherapy and sun lamps.


We shouldn't be sending as much as we're sending. Bush has a lot of gall writing a check for 135 million dollars. This is more a UNICEF deal, it's a U.N. deal, it's a Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, George Soros, Bill Clinton bleeding-heart-liberal deal. I don't want to send them any money. You know, a few airplanes with some medical supplies and a little lip service would have been fine for me.


You could take the argument that it's God's will, it's too bad and let's move on. And then let others help them. They're not in our sphere of interest. Primarily, they hate our guts in plain English. All right, well, the argument is, well, if you send them money, they're gonna like us, show 'em we're not anti-Muslim. That is such rubbish. That is such rubbish. They're gonna hate you anyhow, no matter what we ever do.


It's not a tragedy. I wouldn't call it a tragedy. It's a human disaster. It's not a tragedy in that sense. But, the issue is, theological questions suddenly arise. ... Now, for you atheists, you have no questions about this. It's a pure accident of nature. You don't ask yourself, "Was it God's hand?"

Apparently, Savage has now joined the Fred Phelps school of compassionate conservatism.

But as unconscionably inhuman as these remarks were, he was only getting started. In fact, what followed was genuinely dangerous:
If you are a God-believing, God-fearing person, I am sure at some point you ask yourself, wait a minute. The epicenter of this earthquake and the resulting tidal wave was adjacent to the sex trade island of Phuket, Thailand ... and then it knocked out many, many regions of Indonesia, some of which are the most vicious recruiting grounds for Islamic terrorists. That's a fact of reality. Then going the other way, it hit Sri Lanka, ex-Ceylon. And as you well know, Sri Lanka is a viciously anti-Western nation, the home of the Tamil Tigers, who are not only separatists but anti-Westerners, anti-Christians, etc. You could argue, maybe this is God's hand, because some of their brethren struck Christian America. Maybe God speaks the truth but waits. Seeks the truth and waits. I don't know. You could argue: God struck them. Now, I don't argue that because I'm not a theologian. Nor do I believe that God is omnipotent. I believe God is omnipresent. But I don't think God has control over every act because there would be no free will and I don't believe in that. ... But then again, who knows? I'm one man amongst billions of people, with one man's opinion.


Many of the countries and the areas in these countries that were hit by these tidal waves were hotbeds of radical Islam. Why should we be helping them destroy us? ... I think what we're doing is feeding our own demise. ... I truthfully don't believe in foreign aid.


We shouldn't be spending a nickel on this, as far as I'm concerned. ... I don't want one nickel of my money going over there. ... I am sick of being bled to death by every damn incident on the earth.

If Michael Savage ever were perceived as the voice of America, we'd all be in big trouble. The rest of the world would see us as monsters, and they'd be right.

Digby the other day caught Rush Limbaugh playing footsie with the same kind of sentiments:
CALLER: (Giggle) Well, I was pretty upset and even getting madder the more coverage I watched, and I was thinking, 'Why am I not feeling so charitable, and I'm seeing all these bodies,' and then I see this picture on the Internet that was sent to me, and it was them carrying a body along in Sri Lanka, it said Galle, G-a-l-l-e, Sri Lanka and they had a crowd of people watching and this guy in the middle is standing there looking at the body wearing an Osama bin Laden T-shirt.

RUSH: I saw that picture.

CALLER: And I thought, it just validated the way I felt and I thought these are the same people that were the cheerleaders on 9/11, and we're going to go rebuild their world for them.

RUSH: Yeah.

CALLER: Now, I love President Bush. I respect him. I voted for him, but when I saw him come out and I realized they were asking for more money --

RUSH: Yeah.

CALLER: -- I got even madder, and I thought, 'I don't think we should be asked to give any more.'

Later in the show, a Sri Lankan man called in to correct the woman's misimpressions:
CALLER: Yeah, Rush, hi. I wanted to answer the lady called earlier regarding to the guy is wearing a T-shirt. I don't know he was a dead guy or not. I'm from Sri Lanka. I've been listening to you for a long time. Sri Lanka is not a Muslim nation. Sri Lanka is 68% Singhalese people, that influence all the Catholics and the majority is Buddhist.

RUSH: Yes, yes.

CALLER: There are Muslims around that, you know, probably hate America, but we don't hate United States of America. The Singhalese people do not hate America. I just want to tell you that because we have our own problem for years with Tamil, and Muslim people. I just wanted to tell you that.

RUSH: That woman was calling from Pennsylvania, and there's picture going around the Internet, and I've seen it. Some aid is arriving while a body is being carted away, and there's a kid, a young man watching it all with a bin Laden t-shirt. She said the picture is from Sri Lanka. I don't know that it is. I don't know the picture is from Sri Lanka, but you have to understand the power of pictures. You know, there are going to be some Americans who are just going to recoil at the thought that we are bailing out and helping people who swear an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, whether it's in Sri Lanka or not. I don't think her comment was actually aimed at Sri Lanka per se, specifically. It was just in reaction to that picture she saw. What are the Muslim nations that were affected by this tsunami, if not Sri Lanka?

The ignorance that abounds here really is astonishing in both the Limbaugh and Savage transcripts. The epicenter of the quake was near Sumatra, one of the islands of Indonesia, a largely Muslim nation. (In case anyone has forgotten, it was also a noteworthy victim of an Al Qaeda attack, namely, the bombing in Bali.) Most of the rest of the victim nations are Hindu or Buddhist.

What's dangerous about these remarks is the way they play right into the hands of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. As I long ago remarked, people who make all of Islam out to be our Enemy are furthering bin Laden's hopes, which is to draw us into an all-out global religious conflict pitting Islam against the West.

Savage has been playing this theme for a long time, but rarely has he stooped to such vicious and monstrous depths. These remarks, if repeated in the Muslim world as representative of American beliefs, have the potential to cause serious long-term damage.

Fortunately, no one really takes Savage that seriously. He remains firmly embedded in the public mind as a representative of far-right conservatism.

The flip side of this caveat is the fact that he's the third-most popular talk-show host on right-wing radio. If he's on the fringe, it's become a mighty big damned fringe.

Worst of all, you'll find all kinds of supposedly "mainstream" conservatives defending him, a la Limbaugh, as just an "entertainer."

Actually, Savage is a right-wing propagandist. He belongs to, and is a major spokesman for, the conservative movement.

And these remarks, it should be clear, place him well beyond the pale of what should be acceptable public discourse. He is a hate-monger and an unreconstructed bigot who deserves not even a scintilla of credibility. Any right-winger who refuses to renounce him -- let alone who condones him or supports him -- is making clear that they stand shoulder to shoulder with Savage in his bottomless moral abyss.

Savage's remarks should be a benchmark: Either repudiate them, and the man who spoke them, or stand confirmed as a moral wretch. It's a simple test. Let's see who passes.

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