Richard Cohen’s iPhone played Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (and why couldn’t they come up with a standard DFH name for the group, like the Perpetual Turnip or the Electric Underwear?) and he had flashbacks to Kent State. Cohen recalls that the hateful words of politicians led to National Guardsmen shooting students, leaving four dead. And he attempts to make a connection between those hateful words and today’s hateful words coming from the teabaggers.
That was the language of that time. And now it is the language of our time. It is the language of Glenn Beck, who fetishizes about liberals and calls Barack Obama a racist. It is the language of rage that fuels too much of the Tea Party and is the sum total of gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino’s campaign message in New York. It is all this talk about “taking back America” (from whom?) and this inchoate fury at immigrants and, of course, this raw anger at Muslims, stoked by politicians such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Lazio, the latter having lost the GOP primary to Paladino for, among other things, not being sufficiently angry. “I’m going to take them out,” Paladino vowed at a Tea Party rally in Ithaca, N.Y.
There’s a point in there somewhere, although Cohen doesn’t make it clearly, I don’t think. He says those were angry times back then, and these are angry times now, and all that anger can lead to people killing each other. Well, yes. And both then and now, he ties the worst anger to the Right.
Back in the Vietnam War era, the left also used ugly language and resorted to violence. But the right, as is its wont, stripped the antiwar movement of its citizenship. It turned dissent into treason, which, in a way, was the worst treason of all. It made dissidents into the storied “other” who had nothing in common with the rest of us. They were not opponents; they were the enemy: Fire!
I don’t want this post to lead to a long discussion of what happened at Kent State, because we’ve got more current issues to worry about. To me, the issue isn’t anger per se, but the dehumanization of the Other. Cohen sorta kinda says that, but not clearly.
And, of course, the “angry” rhetoric Cohen discusses is not just angry, but eliminationist. Hey, everybody was angry back in 1970, and a smattering of people across the political spectrum were violent. But what was shocking about Kent State, to me at least, was the way most older people of my acquaintance just shrugged it off and thought the shootings were no more significant than the slaughter of some rabid dogs.
Kent State was also somewhat unique in American history in that the “rabid dogs” were young white folks from “good” families. Most of the time, when some part of government is behind the slaughter of humans on American soil, the victims are non-white and/or poor. So, while Middle America mostly shrugged off the killings at Kent State as just what the DFHs deserved, at least the massacre got more media buzz than the Jackson State shootings a few days later.
Another connection between then and now is that while there’s lots of anger across the board, conservative elected officials and senior leaders are far more likely to indulge in eliminationist rhetoric than are progressive elected officials and senior leaders. Richard Cohen cites the words of the governor of Ohio in 1970:
The governor of Ohio, James Rhodes, demonized the war protesters. They were “worse than the Brownshirts and the communist element. . . . We will use whatever force necessary to drive them out of Kent.”
Fast forward to earlier this year, quoting Krugman:
What has been really striking has been the eliminationist rhetoric of the G.O.P., coming not from some radical fringe but from the partyâ€™s leaders. John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that the passage of health reform was â€œArmageddon.â€ The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, surrounded by flames, while the committeeâ€™s chairman declared that it was time to put Ms. Pelosi on â€œthe firing line.â€ And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight.
All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush â€” but youâ€™ll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials.
Every time some 20-something male showed up at an anti-Iraq War protest with a poster suggesting a violent end to President Bush, Michelle Malkin posted it as proof of that the entire Left is “unhinged.” And yes, there are those among us who are immature and lack the sense God gave toast. But show me Democratic Party leadership, progressive elected officials, or the handful of progressive “pundits” in national media spouting rhetoric that denies the humanity of conservatives and threatens death and violence against them. Anybody?
You know that if Addison had spouted some leftist manifesto after killing two people in a church, the entire Left would still be apologizing for him. But since he spouted a rightist manifesto instead, we’re all supposed to pretend it didn’t happen.
Today, Predictably Dense Darleen of Protein Wisdom struggled to respond to Cohen with examples of mean things “lefties” say about the Right, and this was the best she could do:
It is Obama vowing to â€œkick assâ€, it is Pelosi calling for investigations into people raising questions about a mosque within the footprint of Ground Zero, it is Max Baucus calling on the IRS to investigate opposition groups, it is Alan Grayson dealing in hate-filled rhetoric and it is Democrats over and over again beating the drum, amplified and disseminated by their poodle media, of how evil and treasonous are conservatives, libertarians and Tea Party participants.
President Obama said he would kick ass? OMG, put a muzzle on him before he bites somebody! (/sarcasm)
Darleen might not think it is reasonable to have Cordoba House opposers investigated, but at least Pelosi was calling for the investigation of people, not the shooting of mad dogs in the street.
And how soon they forget — Dave Neiwert from 2003 —
We’ve been hearing for some time now, from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, that Americans who dissent from Bush’s war strategy are being “treasonous,” “pro-Saddam” and “anti-American,” and from the likes of Andrew Sullivan and David Horowitz that liberals now represent a “fifth column” of potential traitors who would aid the enemy. Now, from the repulsive Michael Savage sector, we’re also hearing that such dissenters are a threat and should be arrested. And finally, President Bush himself has intimated that opposition to his regime’s war plans from neighboring nations can bring about unhappy repercussions for the citizens of dissenting nations, not from the U.S. government, but from “the people” — a hint that has the distinct sound of loosing the dogs.
Look, everybody’s angry, and everybody’s language gets a bit harsh sometimes.. But the difference between progressives and “conservatives” in America right now is that progressives want better government that works for everyone, while “conservatives” just want retribution.
Update: BTW, today’s “Teh Stupid, It Burns” Award goes to Tim Graham of Newsbusters, who interpreted Cohen’s column to mean Cohen thinks teabaggers were responsible for Kent State. Graham’s prize, should he choose to accept it, is a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, plus an adult of his choice (other than me) to read it to him.
Update: Yeah, I thought of sending Graham My Pet Goat (actually The Pet Goat) too, but I think that book was written at a more advanced reading level.