Decent Americans have an obligation to refute scurrilous lies about Barack Obama. Not just Democrats Republicans have a responsibility to discredit the inflammatory falsehoods flooding the Internet every day. Especially Republicans.
For the last eight years, George W. Bush has endured every manner of character assault from the rabid left. He was an idiot unworthy of the presidency. A white-knuckle drunk who could not be trusted near the nuclear button. He stole an election then another election to enrich his corporate friends with an illegal war.
Thief, murderer, mass murderer, war criminal these are the decent words citizens have used to express political differences of opinion. The amazing thing is that the hysteria of Bush hatred hasn't gone beyond words.
Words have consequences, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., reminded us last week. One wonders where his public counsel has been through these ugly years.
If you truly endorse the notion that someone is a mass murderer who must be stopped, then someone will hear that endorsement and act on it. When the assassination of an archbishop and a presidential candidate racked Mexican society in 1994, author and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz wrote, "Verbal violence and ideological violence are the antecedents of physical violence."
Before the 2004 election, I met a young couple who had made a fortune in the dot.com boom, moved from California to Texas and in their forties lived lives of leisure, traveling the world and supporting the charitable and political causes of their choice.
They enjoyed a healthy piece of the American dream. But one obstacle blocked their path to happiness Dick Cheney. They needed him to keel over and die. "Just a heart attack, G-d please," the wife told me.
I waited for the punch line. There was none.
When well-adjusted, well-educated Americans can pray for the death of an elected leader, what do you suppose the maladjusted and ignorant can do? What has happened to our civil society?
Part of the answer goes back to a tumultuous election four decades ago. Another president, another decent man, a champion of civil rights was hounded from office as a war criminal. It's been downhill from there.
Bill Bishop, a journalist, and Robert Cushing, a retired professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, explain this deterioration in "The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart."
Over the last three decades, Americans have increasingly sorted themselves into economically, educationally and politically homogeneous communities.
Living in such communities provides validation and comfort. But it also breeds intolerance and extremism, as Bishop recently explained in Slate:
"Homogenous groups are privy to a large pool of ideas and arguments supporting the group's dominant position. Everybody hears the arguments in favor of the group's belief, and as they're discussed, people grow stouter in their beliefs.
"We are constantly comparing our beliefs and opinions to those of the group. There are advantages to being slightly more extreme than the group average. It's a way to stand out, to ensure others will see us as righteous group members. "If you have sorted yourself into the community of people who believe Bush is a war criminal, it requires only a few steps for members of that community to righteously seek some misguided notion of justice.
If you have sorted yourself into the community of people who believe Obama is an Islamic terrorist, it requires only a few steps to progress to the kinds of repulsive threats the Secret Service is now investigating.
I read e-mails and letters from such people every day, people who have lost all sense of balance, proportion and decency by sorting themselves into successively more intolerant tribes a digital age "Lord of the Flies."
I am embarrassed for them. Mostly, though, I am fearful for our nation.