Friday, June 12, 2009

A Quick Thought on the Holocaust Memorial Shooting

Careful observers will note that there has been an rise in domestic terrorism and violence in the past few months. I don't wish to be grim, but we have seen this coming and we should expect more in the future. There has long been an extreme right bubbling just under the surface, usually white supremecist or neo-nazi groups, disaffected paranoid types, and those harboring various conspiracy fantasies about the government - see "black helicopters," "they're coming to take my guns," "9/11 was an inside job," and "Obama is a Muslim foreigner" for starters.

While it should be obvious that these recent violent episodes are not the fault of Republicans or conservatives, one of the more troubling developments in the last 10, 15, 20 years is how the GOP propaganda machine - Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill 'O Reilly, Fox News, etc - has stoked the fears of their listeners, and cynically appealed to extremism. This is nothing new, really. Richard Nixon's "southern strategy," which enabled the GOP to return to power a generation ago, was a cynical appeal to southern segregationists and Dixiecrats. That was a deal with the devil if there ever was one.

I don't believe the likes of Limbaugh or Fox News believe anything they spill out on a daily basis. It's just pure cynicism, stoking fears and paranoias for short-term political gain. And like any declining movement, the Republican Party has had to appeal more and more to hard-core elements who buy into the notion that Barack Obama is a socialist-communist-marxist-fascist out to destroy America, that his birth certificate is fake, that he's coming to take your guns, that he deliberately destroying the economy, yadda yadda yadda.

After eight disastrous years of George W. Bush, and nearly 40 years as the dominant power, the Republican brand is thoroughly vanquished. Where do you think all these independent voters have come from? They're disaffected Republicans, honest people who have grown weary of the direction their party has taken. I can't say I blame them. If I were a Republican, I'd be hopping mad every day at what Bush, Cheney, and Limbaugh have done to destroy my party. Now conservatives may find themselves out of power for a generation.

So what does this have to do with the shooting at the Holocaust Memorial? I'm certainly not blaming Republicans or conservatives. Bullets know no ideology. But I think it's time for those who continue to call themselves Republicans to think long and hard about the direction of their party, and the words of those who claim to be the leaders. Words have consequences, and you cannot continue to stoke fear and loathing in your followers every day, spewing paranoid fantasies and conspiracies.

I'm thinking of those McCain/Palin rallies during the campaign, which seemed to grow more unhinged as the weeks rolled on. These people were being whipped into a fury. They are constantly being told that Obama, the socialist, the communist, the fascist, the Muslim, the foreigner, the baby killer, is about to usher in the apocalypse, the very end of America. It's constant, endless whipping of fear - Orwell's "Two Minutes Hate" every single day.

The average Fox News viewer is not going to pick up a gun and start shooting people. But someone will. Someone who may be unhinged, who may not be smart, who may have carried bigotries and prejudices all their lives. And they're going to hear Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck, and just snap. Which leads to more tragedies and suffering.

Do I have to point this out? There has always been a dark underside to American politics, whether it was the Southern Strategy or Joe McCarthy or Jim Crow. We really don't need this insanity now. The economy is a wreck and the globe is melting down. We don't have time for this.

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