(This is more or less a continuation of the Patriotism v. Nationalism series. See also “Patriotism v. Paranoia” and “Patriotism v. Francis Fukuyama.”)
Very recently Digby published a post called “Haters v. Haters” in which he argues, using very concrete examples, that the Right works a lot harder at cultivating hate than does the Left.
How many hateful liberal books accusing Republicans of treason, slander, being unhinged or ruining the world are there out there? A couple? Probably. But let’s just say that the market for accusing political opposition of capital crimes, indulging in fantasies about their extinction and musing about how someone should be killed as a way of sending a message to others has leaned heavily on the right wing side of the equation for decades.
A rightie responder to this post claims that much of what Digby identified as hate speech is not, in fact, hate speech. For example, when Rush Limbaugh expresses satisfaction and pleasure when Christian peace activists were taken hostage by Muslim terrorists who are threatening to kill them —
I said at the conclusion of previous hoursâ€”part of me that likes this. And some of you might say, â€œRush, thatâ€™s horrible. Peace activists taken hostage.â€ Well, hereâ€™s why I like it. I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality.
— that is not hate speech. “There is nothing hateful about enjoying the suffering of other people when that suffering is due to their own stupidity,” says the rightie.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s hateful to enjoy the suffering of others regardless of how “stupid” they are. (Psychologists would call it sociopathic.) Let’s just say that I think it’s cold and inhuman and leave it at that.
Digby is right; the Limbaugh quote is sociopathic. And it sure as hell is hate speech, whether the rightie recognizes it as such or not. Which brings us to another distinction between liberals (patriots) and “conservatives” (nationalists).
There’s an ongoing intrablog argument about whether there’s more hate speech on the Right or Left blogosphere. Each side is certain the other is worse. I say the difference is not in quantity, but in quality. The Left Blogosphere hurls a lot of insults at the Right. I do it myself. I call righties whackjobs and idiots and Kool-Aiders and all manner of other derogatory things. No question, there is ugly rhetoric and demonization being generated on both sides of the blogosphere.
But here’s what I don’t do — I don’t wish the opposition dead. I don’t want them rounded up and shot. I don’t take pleasure in any pain or suffering they experience. And this is true of most of the Left Blogosphere. There are always exceptions. But by and large I don’t see leftie bloggers, especially prominent ones, wishing death, injury or deportation on the Right. I certainly don’t see such rhetoric coming from elected Democratic politicians in Washington or any liberal commentator appearing in commercial print or broadcast media. I can’t say the same about the Right.
(Quibble: One occasionally runs into some fairly ghastly examples of eliminationism coming from the extreme Marxist fringe — marginalized even by most of the Left — and from juvenile anti-Bush protesters with poor judgment and worse impulse control. This is one reason I am leery of public demonstrations; even though most demonstrators are serious-mnded people, there are always a few who don’t understand what is and isn’t appropriate. I’m saying I don’t see eliminationist rhetoric from people who are prominent enough to have some following among liberals, progressives, or Democrats or who hold prominent elected office or positions in the Democratic party. If you are a rightie who wants to disprove my point, you’re going to have to find examples coming from liberal equivalents of Rush Limbaugh, not just something naughty drawn on a sheet by anonymous adolescents and held up at an antiwar rally.)
And the fact that someone who is, I assume, bright enough to tie his shoes doesn’t recognize that what Limbaugh said is hate speech is fairly alarming. Can it be that righties don’t recognize their own hate speech as hate speech? No wonder they think we’re worse than they are. It also makes me wonder if some mild form of sociopathy — a personality disorder marked by an inability to feel empathy or concern for others — is a common trait of hard-core righties.
Dave Neiwert of Orcinus is Da Man when it comes to assessments of rightie v. leftie hate speech. His most recent post, published yesterday, discusses Ann Coulter’s recent address to the Conservative Political Action Committee conference. You know, the speech in which she went on about “ragheads” and oh, how she fantasizes she could assassinate Bill Clinton. The speech that generated some chuckles and a few mild rebukes from righties. Anyway, it’s a good post, and it points to the fact that rightie hate speech is coming from prominent spokespeople for the Right; people who do appear in commercial print and broadcast media and who are invited to speak for the bleeping Conservative Political Action Committee conference.
David has blogged a lot about “eliminationist” rhetoric., which he defines this way:
What, really, is eliminationism?
It’s a fairly self-explanatory term: it describes a kind of politics and culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas for the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through complete suppression, exile and ejection, or extermination.
… Rhetorically, it takes on some distinctive shapes. It always depicts its opposition as simply beyond the pale, and in the end the embodiment of evil itself — unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus in need of elimination. It often depicts its designated “enemy” as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and loves to incessantly suggest that its targets are themselves disease carriers. A close corollary — but not as nakedly eliminationist — are claims that the opponents are traitors or criminals, or gross liabilities for our national security, and thus inherently fit for elimination or at least incarceration.
And yes, it’s often voiced as crude “jokes”, the humor of which, when analyzed, is inevitably predicated on a venomous hatred.
But what we also know about this rhetoric is that, as surely as night follows day, this kind of talk eventually begets action, with inevitably tragic results.
The most significant component of eliminationist rhetoric is the desire to inflict harm. David provides examples in several posts: here, here, here, and here, to pick just a few posts at random. As you read, you’ll notice that the examples are not coming from some beyond-the-pale fringe. Many examples are taken from prominent columnists and widely known rightie bloggers.
It is fundamental to rightie orthodoxy that we lefties are the haters, not them. This is how they explain our opposition to Bush; no matter how many concrete reasons we cite for opposing Bush, righties dismiss them with the simple explanation: You’re just Bush haters. Or liberals, or partisans, or variations thereof. And since we hate them, in their minds it is blameless and righteous to hate us back. So righteous, in fact, that taking pleasure in our deaths isn’t actually hate in their minds, as illustrated by the Limbaugh listener discussed above (and here). Fact is, if what Limbaugh spews out day after weary day isn’t hate speech, then nothing is hate speech.
A couple of years ago I experienced a fairly disturbing half-hour cab ride in which the cab radio was tuned to Laura Ingraham’s radio show. The cabbie was a young man so utterly absorbed in Ingraham’s hate speech — she spoke of nothing but her contempt and resentment of liberals — he could barely stand to sit in his seat. He was filled to the brim and quivering with hate. He punctuated Ingraham’s litany of liberal atrocities and her desire to see the tables turned by pouncing his fist on the dashboard and shouting yeah! On close observation it became clear the young man saw himself as some kind of oppressed minority suffering at the hands of a liberal power establishment. The fact that liberals have virtually no real political power in the U.S. today, and that Ingraham’s examples of liberal perfidy came entirely out of her own imagination, mattered little. I’m not saying this guy is typical — one guy does not make a representative sample — but I am saying this is what a steady diet of rightie hate speech can do to a person.
One of the most common bits of rightie shtick is to take something a prominent Democrat or liberal has said out of context and present it to the faithful Right as hate speech, so that righties feel justified in hating back. A classic example was the smearing of Senator Richard Durbin after he remarked on an FBI report on torture at Guantanamo. Durbin did not say that the U.S. was running concentration camps just like Hitler’s, but that’s what righties were told he said. And the reaction from righties was predictable, and sick, and terrifying. A substantial number of of our fellow citizens are, like the cabbie, primed to hate. All the VRWC has to do is yank their chains, and the eliminationism will commence.
I don’t want to put all conservatives in the same boat here. Traditional conservatives whose ideas are based in conservative political philosophy certainly can, and do, find much to criticize in liberal political philosophy and in many progressive policies enacted in the past (not many progressive policies around at the moment to take potshots at). What must always be understood is that the hard heart of our current political Right is not conservative. Whether one thinks of it as a quasi-religious cult or an old-fashioned political machine, or a little of both, I think it’s important to keep it separated from actual American political conservatism, which is an honorable tradition with a legitimate place at the table of government.
But this makes much “MSM” posturing over “balance” and fairness all the more bizarre. They’re no longer balancing opposing political philosophies. They’re balancing people whose opinions are based on political philosophy against a mindless hate cult. And you know this is true because, increasingly, the traditional conservatives are somehow getting kicked over to our side.
Yesterday Matt Stoller at MyDD posted “Reporters: The Right-Wing Hates You,” in which he argues that while we lefties get frustrated with news media for not doing a better job, righties want to destroy news media as we know it entirely.
They hate reporters, blindly. You as reporters can’t do a good enough job to satisfy them, because they are after obedience and not truth. They hate you. They hate what you stand for. They will rejoice in your downfall. They will lie to you because you don’t matter to them. You have no legitimacy.
It’s taken many years of propaganda about the “liberal media” to get us to this point but … we’ve arrived, folks. We’re here. Wake up. (See also ” ‘Marginalizing’ the Press.”)
If you want to see where we’re heading, just take a look at the Middle East. We’re told Muslims still carry a grudge about the bleeping crusades. We’re told Muslim leaders and Muslim schools have been teaching hate for decades. And recently a few imams used a few cartoons to yank the chains, and large numbers of Muslims go on a rampage.
Righties insist we are not like them, even as they use the Muslim rampage as an excuse to ramp up their own anti-Muslim hate speech. I agree that the majority of our home-grown rightie haters are not likely to riot in the streets. Yet. But give ’em time. My cabbie certainly was ready to join a lynch mob had he bumped into one.
I have argued in the past that righties define liberalism in more hateful and demonic terms than lefties define conservatism (click on the link for examples). Liberals who criticize conservatism tend to be person- or issue-specific, and give reasons — This guy is a jerk because he did thus-and-so. This policy stinks because it’s going to have such-and-such effect. On the Right, however, the word liberal itself is such a pejorative that no qualifiers are required. There are always exceptions, but if you start googling for examples of broad-brush demonization of liberalism by righties and of conservatism by lefties, you find truckfuls more of the former than you do of the latter.
And I think that’s because, for too many righties, hate itself is the point. And hate doesn’t need reasons.
[Next (and probably last) in the series: Righties discover intolerance!]
Update: See Arianna Huffington, “Is Sean Hannity Addicted to Coulter Crack?”