Jewish World Review July 9, 2004/ 20 Tamuz, 5764
Conservatives and hate speech
Molly Ivins, in her entertaining new book Who Let the Dogs In?: Incredible Political Animals I Have Known, argues that "your basic liberal is a strikeout on the hatred front" and are "generally real wusses," ceding vituperative personal attacks to conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Rep. Tom DeLay and Sean Hannity. Although Ivins, a widely syndicated columnist, is no stranger to vicious daggers of her own, I've no reason to doubt her sincerity in portraying liberals as sensitive and restrained partisans who shy away from brawling political debate.
But she ought to take the blinders off, since if there is one macro theme of this explosive presidential election, it's that lies, exaggeration and lunacy are hardly confined to one political party.
Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley, for example, has a reputation for being a fierce but fair competitor, yet even he's been sucked into what passes for normal discourse these days. At a fundraiser for John Kerry on June 28 at M&T Bank Stadium, O'Malley said, "I remember after the attacks of September 11, as mayor of the city, I was very worried about al-Qaeda and still am. But I'm even more worried about the actions and inactions of the Bush administration." Now, compared to Al Gore, who on June 24 said the President's reelection team worked with "rapid response digital brownshirts," recalling Hitler's thugs, O'Malley's statement was fairly mild.
But does the Mayor really believe that the al-Qaeda network, which was responsible not only for 9/11 but recent beheadings in the Mideast, is less horrifying than Bush's "actions and inactions"? I doubt it: O'Malley knows that despite widespread criticism of the Homeland Security department there haven't been any attacks in the United States for nearly three years. Off-hand remarks like his are simply the battle cries of politicians today, applause lines to excite the crowd. At least he didn't compare John Ashcroft, as The New York Times' Frank Rich did on June 27, to Joseph Goebbels.
George Soros, the billionaire and Holocaust survivor who's donated large sums to groups dedicated to defeating Bush, has also compared the current administration to the Nazis. "When I hear Bush say, 'You're either with us or against us,' it reminds me of the Germans. It conjures up memories of Nazi slogans on the walls."
On June 11, Andrew Greeley published an op-ed in Chicago's Sun-Times that allowed that while Bush "is not another Hitler," comparisons could justly be made. "They have in common a demagogic appeal to worst side of a country's heritage in a crisis," he wrote. "Bush is doubtless sincere in his vision of what is best for America. So too was Hitler."
Bret Stephens, editor of the Jerusalem Post, wrote a piece (reprinted in the June 23 Wall Street Journal) that attempted to put all this frenetic distortion in perspective. He said, "When one describes President Bush as a fascist, what words remain for real fascists? When one describes Fallujah as Stalingrad-like [as former Clinton Adviser Sidney Blumenthal did in London's Guardian], how can we express, in the words that remain to the language what Stalingrad was like?'"
Eric Alterman, the Nation columnist and MSNBC blogger, refers to fellow journalist Andrew Sullivan as "Little Roy," as in Roy Cohn, the closeted gay aide to the infamous Sen. Joseph McCarthy. I don't care for Sullivan's popular blog-he changes his mind on politics every 12 hours it seems-but Alterman's dig is not only gay-baiting, but also nuking a lightning bug because they have different views on the Iraq war. Never mind that Sullivan's all but declared his endorsement for Kerry, mostly because of Bush's firm opposition to gay marriage.
Conservatives are not innocent in the ratcheting up of campaign rhetoric. Responding to all the Nazi analogies, the Bush-Cheney campaign released a web ad that places Hitler next to various members of "Kerry's Coalition of the Wild-Eyed." It's a stupid tactic that merely puts the GOP in the same gutter as those making the charges. No wonder the scads of presidential polls fluctuate wildly from week to week. I wouldn't be surprised that the poisonous atmosphere in Washington and at rallies by both parties caused the November turnout to be the lowest in decades.
You'd think Republicans would remember that their constant vilification of Bill Clinton in the 1990s backfired badly. The American Spectator, for example, was once an eclectic conservative magazine with a fine roster of writers. But editor R. Emmett Tyrrell's hysterical attacks on Clinton, publishing "investigative" stories about his alleged gun-running, drug use and murder was so outlandish that the biweekly justifiably lost all credibility.
I don't like Clinton, but much as he tries to prove otherwise, his presidency is in the past. Still, the bashing persists, to no ostensible political gain. On June 30, Jack Wheeler wrote in The Washington Times, in a quasi-review of My Life, that "[The Clintons] have had a pact for decades: He gets to fool around with women, and she gets to fool around with women (plus the occasional man like Vince Foster)."
Paraphrasing Walter Mondale, "Where's the proof?"
A dispassionate observer could dismiss all this excess as heated election sloganeering. I don't think so. As a Bush supporter, I dread the possibility of Kerry as the next president-both on a foreign policy and economic level-but no matter who wins, the poison won't stop on Nov. 2.
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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2002, Russ Smith