Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Challenging a Culture of Mindless Hate

About a month ago, my mentor Charlie Leck wrote a piece on the Agents of Hate who fill the airwaves with venomous rumor and innuendo as a means of influencing the electorate. Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, and O’Reilly have built careers on playing to the most basic instincts of the conservative public, whipping their listeners into a frenzy through fear mongering directed at Barack Obama and his supporters. This being America, the fear mongers are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and the incredible ratings they generate for their respective media hosts.

Among the charges that are accepted as dogma among fans of the genre include (i) Senator Obama is a terrorist sympathizer, (ii) Senator Obama will sell out Israel to the Palestinians and Hamas, (iii) Senator Obama is a Muslim, (iv) Senator Obama gave $800,000 to ACORN to engage in voter registration fraud, (v) the Democrats are trying to stuff the ballot box in Ohio and steal the election using ACORN and its fraudulent voter registration tactics, (vi) Senator Obama will increase taxes on anyone making more than $42,000 a year, (vii) Senator Obama will push through a Canadian health care system where the government will dictate our medical care, (viii) Senator Obama will fine small businesses that do not provide health care for their employees, (ix) Michelle Obama is an unpatriotic angry Black bitch and (x) Senator Obama supports the anti-American “God Damn America” attitude of his long time pastor, Jeremiah Wright. There are many more core beliefs held by the Right; ten is a nice number to deal with and these rolled off my fingertips.

The problem, of course, is that fear mongering has a way of morphing into hate mongering and persons of little intellect, i.e., the audience in question, has a bad habit of wanting to act on their hate. I share Charlie’s sentiment expressed in his September 17th blog, “It frightens the living day-lights out of me. It makes me fear for the life of someone like Barack Obama and it makes me fear for the future of our country.”

I had already started working on this piece when I watched the third presidential debate tonight. As upset as I was beforehand, the cold reality of how far out of hand this has gotten hit home when the debate participants actually discussed before a national television audience the fact that attendees at McCain/Palin gatherings were chanting for the death of Senator Obama. Again, worked into a frenzy of hate by the blind acceptance of right wing propaganda, the Republican rallies have taken on a mob mentality that, if uttered publicly or privately on an individual basis would result in a visit from the Secret Service and possible criminal prosecution. Since Senator McCain would not disavow his running mate’s characterization of Senator Obama, allow me: Accusing Senator Obama of caring so little for his country that he pals around with terrorists as part of your campaign rhetoric is akin to shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. It goes beyond the pale of the First Amendment and one may not feign ignorance that the characterization may instigate a violent response and encourage extremely misguided vigilante behavior.

The contemporary impact of right wing hate mongering is bad enough. As Senator Obama suggested tonight, it eliminates the ability to have a meaningful discussion of the issues that must be addressed as this country slides toward third world status. Yes, we have a ways to go down that slide. But if you think in terms of not being able to provide adequate health care to our citizenry, of not being able to provide gainful employment opportunities to able-bodied workers, of not having a monetary system that serves as the world’s standard and, rather, is propped up by the lending whims of foreign investors, or of not being able to have any meaningful influence on world affairs because we have bankrupted ourselves in the eyes of other nations morally, militarily and monetarily, then you begin to realize what the stakes are. More than anytime in our history since, perhaps, the election of 1860, we stand on the brink as a nation. A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand.

The ten, “top of my head” characterizations of Senator Obama and his supporters itemized above are all nonsense, easily, and appropriately, dismissible with only a modicum of research accessible to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. It is incumbent upon all of us who have something better to do than sit around listening to The Savage Nation or watching the “Fair and Balanced” Fox network to speak out against baseless character assassination and the politics of destruction.

Today, when a friend enamored with right wing conspiracy theories fretted over Senator Obama’s plan to steal the election using ACORN operatives, I sent him a link to an article quoting Ohio Republicans admitting that safeguards prevented any meaningful fraudulent influence on the Ohio polling. When he made the statement that Senator McCain had never had anything to do with ACORN, I sent him a link to an article describing Senator McCain’s past support for the work of ACORN, even delivering the keynote address at an ACORN sponsored event, complete with photographs of the grateful Senator sitting beaming next to his ACORN host in appreciation for being given a platform to discuss immigration policy.

We can do this. We can demand better of our public servants. In Minnesota, Senator Coleman has disavowed negative campaigning. Whatever his motives, his change of tactics was clearly influenced by the public's negative reaction to the heretofore destructive tone of his campaign. Senator McCain's defense of Senator Obama's character in Lakeville, Minnesota last Friday, delivered to an unidentified, disheveled supporter who is probably thanking God that her back was to the camera, was a start, a seedling planted for a crop of civility. Perhaps Senator McCain, too, realizes we reap what we sow.

It is getting harder and harder to be a Nellie Forbush cock-eyed optimist. But I can't get it out of my heart. This heart is sentimental and patriotic. This heart thinks The American President, scripted by Aaron Sorkin of subsequent West Wing fame, is one of the best movies ever made (partly because this heart is also in incurable romantic). During this campaign, I often think of the climactic speech in The American President, delivered by President Andrew Shepard to a speechless press corps. Sorkin has his American President go on the offensive and, as if with 2008 in mind, speak the truth about his conservative opponent's dishonest campaign tactics. When I watch that speech, time and again, my eyes swell and I find the strength to believe that those of us who see conservative negativism as a desperate attempt to make up for the absence of substantive solutions to our problems are on the right track.

Click the play button on the image below to watch it. It provides a quick, inspirational lesson in democracy. Pay particular attention to President Shepard's description of his opponent's tactics at about 2 minutes into the clip. See if it sounds familiar and, more importantly, see if you don't come away invigorated by President Shepard's closing, ready to help get out the vote on November 4th and thereby save our nation from continuing down the slide.


2 comments:

Aurora said...

Greetings!

Your post came up in one of my RSS Readers on 'Hate-Speech in the Media'

We do have a campaign to change the tone of the public discourse, albeit being an immigrant and contrary to what the 'merchants of hate' preach, we immigrants love this country and truly appreciate the inspiring human principles that so many of it's citizens are working so hard to make it a full reality of being a 'more perfect union.

The language that hatemongers use, IMHO has no place in civil discourse, as an ardent believer in Free Speech, I do recognize their right to express their opinion, however, to dehumanize, vilify others and in general misinform their audience, has real consequences on the subjects of their scornful attacks and can be rightfully said that it infringes in their constitutional rights of peace in their daily lives and their pursuit of earthly happiness.

People have suffered and died as a result of their incited hate and intolerance.

Their disinformation results in their audience supporting and voting against their best enlightened interests, unfortunately, ours as well.

Take for instance Liberalism, their audience hate it with passion, I can't help but to reflect on how they call themselves conservatives and are anything but, furthermore, I daresay that most of their audience are working people who are not told that their working only 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, having vacations, sick leave, job safety measures, overtime, health care, etc., it due to the struggles and sacrifices of people who had a Liberal bent.

And that is just a start to our arguments.

But they are told to hate Liberalism, eh?

Anyway, thank you for your post and I hope you don't mind our cross posting your entry, but if you do, please let us know.

You can find it here, I liked the piece by your mentor Charlie Leck too.

I also loved "The American President" So much that I don't miss any re-runs.

Warm regards and best wishes.

Aurora Grajeda

Charles Leck said...

Sam, you hit a home run with this blog. You said it with passion and with common sense. Oh, that the hate mongers would read it with deliberation.
Thanks, pal, for putting into words what so many of us feel.
Charlie