Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Politics of Hate

Back in July when all of the rhetoric around President Obama and his proposed healthcare reform was really starting to heat up, I wrote a previous posting How About Some Rational Discussion for a Change? and incredulously wondered how somebody could actually go as far as circulating an E-mail comparing Obama with Hitler.

Today, photos of public protests with signs calling Obama a Nazi along with posters of his likeness sporting a Hitler moustache are so common they no longer have any shock value. These protesters along with many who listen to conservative radio talk shows that egg them on have gotten to where they have so much more than just disagreements over political issues. It’s gotten personal. Many of these people obviously have a strong personal dislike if not an outright hate of the president along with others who may agree with his policies. Disagreement in a free country between people of differing views is always healthy. Hate between them is never healthy! At its worst, it can become a cancer that robs us of our capacities to feel compassion and empathy for others. And it also has the ability to grind a government to a total halt because when hate comes between two sides, compromise which is needed to make anything happen becomes impossible — an irony that is probably lost on so many of these same people who complain about how ineffective government can be.

Of course it doesn’t have to be this way. Those who saw the eulogies for Ted Kennedy were touched by the genuine and mutual respect that Republicans Orrin Hatch and John McCain had with Kennedy despite the fact that their conservative political philosophies could hardly be more different than Kennedy’s liberal ones. Despite their differences, Orrin Hatch proudly talked about the health insurance program for children that he and Kennedy worked on to become signed into law.

But many in the Republican leadership today are trying to have it both ways. On one hand, they are not actively participating in the name calling and are saying that they did not approve of Congressman Joe Wilson’s “You Lie!” outburst at Obama’s Congressional address. But on the other hand, they are not doing anything to condemn the hateful behavior that has taken place at many of these demonstrations and town hall meetings. In fact Minority Leader John Boehner’s comments this morning to moderator David Gregory on
Meet the Press calling the demonstrations “spirited” did little more than give his implicit approval of what has transpired.

MR. GREGORY: I want, I want to come back to some of the specifics about health care. But I want to, I want to stay with this tone of the debate right now and whether or not you agree that by some of the things the president said in the course of that interview, he is trying to cool off the debate, the tone of the debate. Do you see it that way?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, I don’t know that the tone of the debate has gotten out of control.

MR. GREGORY: You don’t think so?

REP. BOEHNER: It’s been spirited, because we’re talking about an issue that affects every single American. And because it affects every American in a very personal way, more Americans have been engaged in this debate than any issue in decades. And so there’s room to work together. But I first believe that we’ve got to just take this big government option, this big government plan and move it to the side. Now, let’s talk about what we can do to make our current system work better. Then we’ll have some grounds on which to build.

Then Gregory brought up the concern of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about possible violence if things get too overheated to Senator Lindsey Graham.

MR. GREGORY: This question about the role of the government, and, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying this week what she worries about in terms of the tone of debate is that it could lead to violence, as it did in the ‘70s; you know, there was anti-government violence in the ‘90s in Oklahoma City, as well. How much of a concern is that? Do you share it, or do you think that that was an overstatement on her part?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, quite frankly, I mean, the whole idea of the role of government needs to be debated.
Graham then continued to spout off talking points before Gregory could finally pin them down to a response that neither Boehner nor Graham are concerned about any violence.

Again, honest dissent is fine. But it is obvious that neither of these Congressional leaders care about whether we are getting beyond simple dissent and into mean-spirited hyper partisanship that benefits no one.

To stir things up further, former President Jimmy Carter spoke his opinion that the overwhelming majority of the hate directed toward President Obama is racially motivated. Only the most naïve person would totally discount that racism plays some role in all of this. But even so, the racism question provides an unwelcome distraction. Yes we can label some of these people as racists which would in turn lead to denials of racism which leads us to an unproductive dead end since many of these people may well have hate that has nothing to do with racism.

So maybe the most appropriate question for these people — including those whose radio and TV talk shows feed on all of this — would not be to ask why or even if they are racists. But instead we must ask why they have such hate in their hearts!

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