Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Talking down violent rhetoric

-- by Dave

I'm taking part in a roundtable authors' discussion this week at the newly launched Progressive Book Club.

The discussion is about Jeffrey Feldman's excellent new book, Outright Barbarous: How the Violent Language of the Right Poisons Our Democracy, which as you can imagine is right up my alley topic-wise.

We're talking with Feldman; Susan Gardner, the executive editor of Daily Kos; and Joe Bodell, a reporter at the Minnesota Monitor.

Here's my first contribution:

I’ve been rereading Jeffrey’s book because it covers so many points so well and so accurately. I think the essential point is one that simply can’t be stressed enough – not just for progressives, but for every citizen who considers himself a member of a civil society: Violent rhetoric (and particularly its eliminationist variant) is not a form of discourse at all, but rather represents the very death of it.

You can see this simply in the effect of the rhetoric itself. Last week Michael Reagan, the right-wing radio talk-show host, went on the air and said this:

There is a group that's sending letters to our troops in Iraq ... claiming 9/11 was an inside job -- oh, yeah, yeah -- and that they should rethink why they're fighting. Who -- we ought to -- excuse me, folks, I'm going to say this: We ought to find the people who are doing this, take them out and shoot them.

Really. Just find the people who are sending those letters to our troops to demoralize our troops and do what they are doing, you take them out, they are traitors to our country, and shoot them. You have a problem with that, deal with it. But anyone who would do that doesn't deserve to live. You shoot them. You call them traitors -- that's what they are -- and you shoot them dead. I'll pay for the bullet.

This kind of talk isn’t about the exchange of opposing ideas – it’s about simply wishing one’s opponents dead. And as much as the rest of us might wish the 9/11 Troofers would stick a sock in it when it comes to their cockamamie conspiracy theories, the idea of taking people out and shooting them is rhetoric that’s not merely anti-democratic, it’s flatly fascist.

So it was with some grim amusement that I read Michael Gerson’s Washington Post column today wringing its ink-stained hands over a Playboy humor piece penned by Al Franken that Gerson found much too much for his tastes. And he concluded:

At the very least, politics should not actively push our culture toward vulgarity and viciousness. This is not prudery; it is a practical concern for the cooperation and mutual respect necessary in a functioning democracy.

You have to wonder where Gerson has been for the past 10 years as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, and a host of other right-wing nabobs has been filling our airwaves and polluting our discourse with a real viciousness that goes beyond potty-mouth talk about porn, but open advocates the violent oppression and ultimate elimination of whole sectors of American society – particularly liberals.

Politely applauding, I would guess.

Come join in the fun.

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