Friday, February 20, 2004

Political hate speech

You know, I'm perfectly aware that my concern about violent, eliminationist rhetoric aimed at liberals leaves me susceptible to accusations of paranoia by the conservative set, who find it easier to dismiss such talk than address the underlying facts, anyway. This was, I gather, the point of the decidedly unfunny troll who posted a "death threat" in my comments the other day.

Of course, I'd probably feel the same way myself if I didn't keep having occasion to document it. I've been troubled by what I saw in the Flathead Valley in 2002, and concerned that the trend is spreading. I'd probably dismiss it as alarmism too -- indeed, I'm quite certain I wouldn't write the things I do -- if it didn't keep turning up.

Here's a recent e-mail from a reader of, weighing in on the Web site's not-inconsiderable role in keeping alive the controversy of George W. Bush's military record:
From: "Baker, J." []
To: []
Subject: Comments . . . Date: Wed, 18 Feb 2004 22:33:11 -0500

You people are beyond evil. George W. Bush will be re-elected to a second term, and hopefully it will drive die-hard idiotic leftists to commit suicide, that would be the bonus round!

Instead of bitching about how much you hate George W. Bush and how he stole the election and went AWOL from the National Guard, why don't you rotten cocksuckers spend your time and money and offer up a candidate who isn't a god-damned America-hating lunatic?

You people are utterly useless to humanity and wholly better off dead, burning in eternal damnation.

Ya know, I think it's too bad that we can't follow Saddam's model of dealing with opposition - just open up mass graves and start torturing, maiming, and murdering liberals and leftists by the millions - toss them into the ground, and fill the holes up with dirt. I would love to volunteer for such duty!

Eat shit and die, all of you!

J. Baker

And then there are strange incidents like this.

Talk like this has always been around, of course. But what concerns me is the volume and breadth of it. It's ranging from everyday encounters and e-mails like this to "best-selling" pundits like Sean Hannity and Michael Savage. And I don't expect it to improve if the Kerry-vs.-Bush poll numbers maintain their current status. Indeed, listening to right-wing talk radio, I'm beginning to detect a real fear, sometimes bubbling up in little frantic moments. This makes them, in my estimation, very dangerous.

While I'm on the subject, I also want to weigh in on the reaction to these kinds of assaults from liberals as well, with the understanding that I may alienate some of my good friends and readers in the process.

I understand that liberals have been subjected to a relentless barrage since, really, 1994, and by this stage of the game many of them, myself included, are in a fighting mood.

But the atmosphere, due to the nature of the rhetoric being encouraged on the right, really calls for cool heads at this juncture.

I understand the desire to want to fight back. But I don't think it behooves anyone in the liberal camp to use the rhetoric of violence, in any shape or fashion right now.

Most of what I've seen so far is of the decidedly harmless variety. Some liberal commenters, for instance, on certain threads I read have devised, satirically, a "duck pit" into which all conservative minions will be cast on the day of liberal reckoning, there to be nibbled to death by a thousand hungry ducks. My friend Atrios the other day said he'd respond well to a campaign appeal based on taking Tom DeLay "out back and kicking his ass."

In any other environment, I wouldn't worry about that kind of semi-violent talk; it's part of the rough and tumble of political jousting. Lord knows I know exactly how Atrios feels. But things seem awfully volatile to me now, to the point that I think liberals need to stick to the high road and eschew any sort of in-kind response to this rising tide of violence.

I'm not advocating backing down in any fashion, of course; but it will be important, for the sake of winning, to beat them with a combination of coolness and steel.

When they talk about "doing away with liberals," the right response is: "We don't wish to do away with you. But we will beat you at the ballot box. And if we have our way, you'll never be allowed near the reins of power again."

When they smear our candidates, it will be important to respond with a rigorous critique of the conservative agenda that makes clear just how disastrous their reign has been for the nation.

It will be important to make irrevocably clear this election the difference between liberals and conservatives. Where conservatives threaten violence and discord, liberals need to respond with firmness and healing. The mass of voters out there will not have to be told who the "real Americans" are.

Talking tough may feel good, but it can be a two-edged sword. There are ways for liberals to make known their fierce determination without playing the right-wing's violent little game. That's their trap; let them thrash in it.

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