GUEST COLUMN: The battle of bully run
Pamplona has its running of the bulls, but we have the running of the bullies.
Before 2010 health care reform became law, here’s what we got from Tea Party and Republican activists: racial and homophobic taunts against Democratic Congressmen, a Congressman spat upon, the shout of “baby killer” directed at a colleague by a Republican representative on the House floor and death threats directed at families of elected representatives who voted for reform, all punctuated by the FBI arresting a man charged with threatening to kill Senator Patty Murray.
Sarah Palin urged people who opposed reform to load their weapons and target 17 congressional representatives across 10 states, sadistically using rifle crosshair imagery to make her point. I wonder what brilliant incitements she would have made from the office she unsuccessfully sought 18 months ago. You can bet that her Facebook message wasn’t metaphoric!
Democratic representatives’ office windows were shattered in a massive display of intimidation. An Alabama militiaman continues exhortations to throw bricks against those he opposes, openly inciting terror. Other cowardly bullies anonymously hide behind Internet pseudonyms and unidentified vile answering machine messages.
Is this the America that Republicans and Tea Party activists want?
For now terrorism threats come less from foreign sources than from domestic crazies. If these threats against Americans came from al-Qaida, the right-wing would be all over President Obama for not replying more forcefully.
Republican leaders’ comments about the widespread thuggery have been tepid. Whenever they’ve acknowledged that violence is unacceptable, it’s been coupled with a “but.” As in, “But the people are angry, ” “But both parties do it!” “But you can understand their rage!” This makes John McCain, Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch, John Boehner and Eric Cantor tacit accomplices in whipping up violence. The only proper answer is: “We condemn violence unconditionally, no ifs, ands or buts. There are no excuses.”
Against a backdrop of economic and social disorder in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, hoodlums became increasingly politically influential. Directing wrath at their national government with cries of socialism and communism, the mobs took over in 1933. This creeping disease is brilliantly depicted in the production “Cabaret.” Its consequences are poignantly displayed in films such as “Sophie’s Choice,” “Schindler’s List” and “Judgment at Nuremberg.”
Can it happen here? There are eerie similarities between the Nazi mobs in 1938 that ran rampant through Germany’s cities in the infamous Kristallnacht when storefront windows were shattered because the mobs hated Jews, and the hoodlums in this country who break windows targeting Congressmen who hold views contrary to their own.
We’ve recently watched elements of right-wing mobs here stir up hatred with cries of socialism and communism, taunting government leaders committed to social justice, to improving the health of most American citizens and to Wall Street regulatory reform. The mobs are urged on by extremist talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck who excel at fanning dangerous waves of national hate.
Limbaugh and Beck describe moderate health care reform as radical. They have compared President Obama to Adolf Hitler. Beyond maligning our compassionate leaders, the comparison disgustingly discounts the horrific evils perpetrated by genocidal maniacs who were running wild 70-plus years ago. At the cost of more than 400,000 military lives, America led the coalition that destroyed that world-wide scourge. What Limbaugh and Beck represent insults the bravery of our World War II heroes who fought for nobler purposes.
These fanatical talk show hosts weren’t around then. They cannot imagine what it was like listening to the crackling of short wave radio broadcasts carrying harangues from Berlin, the clouds of war building in Europe, the distant threat of attack on this country becoming less distant as Europe’s countries fell. Their flamboyant and delusional rants mock any semblance of reality.
We are at one of those crossroads where as a society we must decide whether we follow our historic patterns of civility and the rule of law or whether we succumb to the habits of passionate mobs that took us four years to defeat in the mid 20th century. The raucous behavior of so many town hall participants during the year-long debate about health care reform, which was reprised on the Capitol steps just prior to its passage last month, is not reassuring.
Those who keep calling for us to “go back to the Constitution” ought to read it. After all, promoting the general welfare is ordained in its body. Certainly that promotion should take precedence over our domestic bullies running amok.
– Michael Zucker is a resident of South Lake Tahoe and a stockbroker with Regal Securities.
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