More liberal hate speech
AS IT DOES every year, the empty folder I labeled "Liberal Hate Speech" in January had grown to a thick sheaf of clippings by December. 2004 wasn't even a week old when two videos explicitly comparing George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler appeared on the website of the liberal group MoveOn. They were entries in a contest soliciting "really creative ads" that would help voters "understand the truth about George Bush."
So began another year in which liberals engaged in, and mostly got away with, grotesque slanders and slurs about conservatives -- the kind of poisonous rhetoric that should be beyond the pale in a decent society. Once again, too many on the left -- not crackpots from the fringe, but mainstream players and pundits -- chose to demonize conservatives as monsters rather than debate their ideas on the merits.
As in years past, Republicans were almost routinely associated with Nazi Germany. Former Vice President Al Gore referred to GOP activists as "brown shirts." Newsday columnist Hugh Pearson likened the Republican National Convention to the "Nazi rallies held in Germany during the reign of Adolf Hitler." Linda Ronstadt said that the Republican victory on Election Day meant "we've got a new bunch of Hitlers." Chuck Turner, a Boston city councilor, smeared National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as "a tool of white leaders," like "a Jewish person working for Hitler."
Such Nazi labeling is no less disgusting when it comes from Republicans, of course. According to Bob Woodward, Secretary of State Colin Powell described Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith as running a separate government out of his "Gestapo office." Commentator Ralph Peters, writing in the New York Post, accused Democrat Howard Dean of using the tactics of Hitler and Goebbels to silence his competitors. Too many conservatives and libertarians refer to antismoking extremists as "tobacco Nazis," or to the humorless critics of fast food as "food Nazis." Whether it comes from the right or the left, language like that is vile.
Overwhelmingly, though, political hate speech today comes from the left. It has increasingly become a habit of leftist argumentation to simply dismiss conservative ideas as evil or noxious rather than rebut them with facts and evidence.
That is why there was no uproar when Cameron Diaz declared that rape might be legalized if women didn't turn out to vote for John Kerry. Or when Walter Cronkite told Larry King that the videotape of Osama bin Laden that surfaced just before the election was "probably set up" by Karl Rove. Or when Alfred A. Knopf published Nicholson Baker's "Checkpoint," a novel in which two Bush-haters talk about assassinating the president. "I'm going to kill that bastard," one character rages.
Bill Moyers warned a television audience on Election Day that if Kerry won narrowly, "I think there'd be an effort to mount a coup, quite frankly. . . . The right wing is not going to accept it." Chevy Chase, hosting a People for the American Way awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, slammed Bush as "an uneducated, real, lying schmuck." A cartoon by the widely syndicated Ted Rall described Pat Tillman, who gave up his NFL career to enlist in the Army and was then killed in Afghanistan, as a "sap" and an "idiot."
So many examples, so little space. A political flier in Tennessee, depicting Bush as a mentally disabled sprinter, bore the message: "Voting for Bush is like running in the Special Olympics. Even if you win, you're still retarded."
The St. Petersburg, Fla., Democratic Club took out an ad calling for the death of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "Then there's Rumsfeld who said of Iraq, `We have our good days and our bad days,' " the ad read. "We should put this S.O.B. up against a wall and say, `This is one of our bad days,' and pull the trigger." Fantasies of murder likewise animated British pundit Charlie Brooker, who ended his Oct. 24 column in the Guardian with a plea for Bush's death: "John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. -- where are you now that we need you?" Brooker later assured readers that he "deplores violence of any kind" and had meant his call for an assassin only as "an ironic joke."
But the "joke" of left-wing hate speech stopped being funny a long time ago. There is room in the marketplace of ideas for passionate, even angry, rhetoric, but there are also lines that, as a matter of decency and civic hygiene, should not be crossed. The violent invective so often hurled at conservatives pollutes the democratic stream from which all of us drink. Democrats no less than Republicans should want to shut those polluters down.
Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.