Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Hate reverberates

Has anyone else noticed how silent the right side of the pundit class -- ncluding the blogosphere -- is about the nasty remarks about liberals made by Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons of Nevada last week? I've been scanning them and haven't seen a word, either of approval or disapproval.

Which is kind of funny, considering the way they jumped all over Howard Dean for saying: "I hate Republicans and everything they stand for." Jeff Jacoby's response was typical:
Intense political passions are nothing new in American politics, and they are not limited to one side of the aisle. Plenty of Republicans despise Democrats. Some conservative authors and radio hosts sully themselves by resorting to insults and invective when talking about liberals. But the willingness of so many Democrats to openly call themselves "haters," to make contempt for the other party their stock-in-trade -- that is something we haven't seen before. No doubt there is a kind of crude pleasure in hating so uninhibitedly, but it's no way to rebuild a Democratic majority.

Why not? After all, it's worked perfectly well for Republicans.

Because as the Gibbons episode rather fully illustrates, naked hatred of the opposition has in fact been the stock-in-trade of the conservative movement for some time now.

As Atrios has pointed out, it turns out that Gibbons' speech was lifted whole from a copyrighted speech first delivered back in 2002:
ELKO - The speech delivered by U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., during Friday night's Lincoln Day Dinner in Elko was largely plagiarized from a copyrighted speech by Alabama State Auditor Beth Chapman.

Chapman told the Elko Daily Free Press this morning Gibbons had not requested permission to use her speech, which she said she delivered Feb. 2, 2003, at a Stand Up for America rally in Alabama.

... Gibbons is under fire from Nevada Democrats for his speech in general and particularly the lines: "I say we tell those liberal, tree-hugging, Birkenstock stocking wearing, hippie, tie-dyed liberals to go make their movies and their music and whine somewhere else."

Those words, with the exception of "I say," were taken verbatim from Chapman's speech.

Since then, Gibbons has only dug his hole deeper. It's a gift, I guess.

As Atrios suggests, the incident raises obvious issues regarding Gibbons' apparent plagiarism. But it also points to a deeper, more systemic issue.

It's disturbing enough that Gibbons, a congressman with actual power on Capitol Hill, would utter such hateful remarks. It's even more disturbing -- but really emblematic of the state of conservative discourse -- that there's nothing new to them.

Chapman's speech, titled "Stand Up For America," in fact seems to enjoy a great deal of popularity with the conservative crowd. (How Gibbons thought he could get away with using it without giving credit is a question only he can answer.) She copyrighted it because of its enormous spread among the right-wing Internet set.

But this kind of talk, in fact, well precedes 2002 (though, as we pointed out at the time, it certainly spread deep and wide among conservatives back then). Certainly, the 1990s were rife with examples, particularly if you were to go back through old transcripts of cable-TV talk shows and Rush Limbaugh radio broadcasts, because overt hatred of liberals was the raw fuel of the conservative movement in that decade, particularly during the runup to the Clinton impeachment fiasco.

It goes back even farther, though. It was not uncommon to hear it even back in the 1980s, when conservatives were first rising to consolidate their control of the Republican Party behind Ronald Reagan.

A recent Washington Post piece about Jack Abramoff, which discussed his long association with conservative-movement leaders Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, mentioned this:
While at the College Republicans, Abramoff, Norquist and Reed quickly earned reputations as zealots. Abramoff wrote in the 1983 annual report: "It is not our job to seek peaceful coexistence with the Left. Our job is to remove them from power permanently." The group's recruits were required to memorize a speech that included the lines: "Democrats are the enemy. Wade into them! Spill their blood!"

This is, of course, the same Jack Abramoff who is now at the center of a fundraising scandal implicating House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. (See the Arizona Republic report for more details.)

Norquist has a history of similar propensities,, along with many other current conservative figures. Norquist, of course, is also embroiled in the current scandal.

In fact, Abramoff, Norquist, and DeLay are emblematic of a clear trend with the Republican hatemongers: Behind the nasty rhetoric is a nasty operative with no sense of ethics, people who are willing to say and do anything in order to win. People like that also have a tendency to indulge in all kinds of bad behavior when they think no one's looking. These three are only the recent examples; the conservative landscape is littered with such figures. Think of Rush "Oxycontin" Limbaugh, Bob "What hookers?" Livingston, Henry "Youthful indiscretions" Hyde, Newt "I believe in the instutition of marriage so much I've done it three times" Gingrich. And that's scratching the list.

But more significant has been the effect of their hatefulness on the national discourse over the past twenty years and more. It has grown nastier, more hateful, more degraded, precisely because of deliberate efforts by conservatives to make it so. When liberals have responded with temperate, reasoned answers, they have been brushed aside as weaklings. It's been like reasoning with the schoolyard bully after he takes your lunch money.

I actually don't think hatefulness is a constructive way to respond. But punching back, at some point, becomes necessary. Because sometimes, that's the only way to make bullies stop.

So it's kind of amusing that when liberals finally develop enough spine to respond in kind, these bullies cry foul. It's hard to have any sympathy for them -- unless, of course, you're a conservative.

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