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September 30th, 2009

The Incendiary Rhetoric of the GOP

As a regular reader and active participant over at Huffington Post, I have become increasingly concerned about the dangerous and hateful rhetoric that has been coming from the far right and conservative media pundits.  My fear is that - as Nancy Pelosi recently warned - such discourse could spill over into violence.

It might already be happening.  Recently, ultra-conservative nut job (I honestly could not think of - or bear to give her - a more tactful moniker) Republican Michele Bachmann, a Congresswoman and former Minnesota Senator, went on another of her infamous warpaths; this time taking on the U.S. Census, which will be sent out to households across America in 2010.

First, however, a little background.  Congresswoman Bachmann became a household name when, in October 2008, she accused then Presidential nominee, Barack Obama, of being "anti-American" (and later denying she had done so, even though her original statements were from a live video-taped interview for Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC).  She went on to suggest that the entire Congress should be investigated to find out who was "pro-American" and who was "anti-American".

Pertinent to that interview, was Matthews's later discussion on the show with co-editor of The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel, who stated:

"I think what we just heard was a Congresswoman channeling Joe McCarthy... There is an... extremism unleashed in this nation which you just heard on this program, which could lead to violence, and hatred, and toxicity, and against the backdrop of the great depression we're living through...could lead, and I don't use this word lightly, to a kind of American fascism which is against the great values of this nation and which people like that are fomenting."

Vanden Huevel's quote would prove, as we will soon see, to be prophetic.

Later, the radical Congresswoman went on WWTC 1280 AM radio on March 21, 2009 inciting her Minnesota constituents to be "armed and dangerous" when it came to a proposed energy tax because, as she put it, "we need to fight back" while also reminding listeners that "having a revolution every now and then is a good thing."

On June 17, 2009, Bachmann gave an interview to The Washington Times wherein she expressed her concerns about the 2010 U.S. Census and indicated she will fill out - if anything - only the number of people in her household on her census form.  She discussed her fears that the information given would be "abused" and used as collection-collecting by ACORN, and went on to say that the current census "asks too many questions" and that those questions were "very intricate, very personal".  In a June 25 interview with Glenn Beck on The Glenn Beck Show, she went even further, stating:

"Here's the other thing that will happen.  From history, the United States government, between 1942 to 1947 passed the 2nd War Powers Act.  They used the U.S. Census information to round up the Japanese and put them in the internment camps.  Americans were told that they wouldn't have their information used against them; they did."

Then, on August 31, at an Independent Institute fundraiser in Denver, Colorado she told a cheering crowd that health care reform had the ability to "destroy this country forever".  She then instructed the crowd to ban together against reform with these choice words:

"What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn't pass."

In light of the current atmosphere in and around Washington, scaring the ignorant masses is in no one's best interest these days, but Bachmann seems all too eager to be playing that dangerous game.  Insinuating that the census will be used to "round up Americans" like was done to the Japanese during WWII is nothing if not incendiary, and it feeds fuel to the fire that is the growing discontent and fear of change among certain members of the American public.  The same ones that have caused ammunition sales to go through the roof - because they believe (though there is nothing to base it on) that Obama is going to take away their right to bear arms.

From the "birthers" - individuals from the American pubic right up to high-ranking politicians who insist that Barack Obama's claim to the presidency is false because they believe he is not a natural-born citizen - to the constant insinuations that Obama is an America-hating Nazi Marxist trying to destroy the country and rebuild it into a socialist nightmare, all before he, then, takes over the entire world and establishes the New World Order, there is a visceral backlash against anything Obama says or proposes.  He has been called everything from the Anti-Christ to Hitler (a snub dropped often by Rush Limbaugh) and though negativity and criticism are nothing new for any President, the vitriol that is constantly being thrown at President Obama is unequivocally unprecedented.

Some of it is grounded in racism, but also, a great deal of it is based on the fear of change.  Playing to the base fear and ignorance of a large population of the United States, these elected officials and media pundits - many of whom have stated they hope to see Obama's presidency "fail", regardless of what that might mean for the citizens of America - are quick to use people's prejudices to rally them to their causes and in their crusade to destroy President Obama at all costs.  Unfortunately, they don't have to push too hard for many Americans to get riled up wherein Obama is concerned.

The root of much of this bigotry is the fear of the ominous "they"; the "others" who are not like us - be that difference in skin color, culture, religious affiliation, what have you.  This idea that our country belongs to one set group or adheres to a particular set of ideals that is being deviated from and must be returned to is simply ignorant, vile, and undemocratic.  When they talk about "our country", they seem to forget that America does not belong to the white man exclusively. It is a melting pot - it always has been - and if certain groups are gaining a stronger foothold in government or high positions, it is no more than natural progression. No one is going to, or can, "take over our country" for the simple fact that it is our country just as it stands; a vast conglomeration of different races, religions, and creeds. Believing that the country belongs to one group - race or religion or any other tribe - is simply skewed thinking.  And it is dangerous.

Yet "taking our country back" is a popular theme, as proven by the recent How To Take Back America Conference in St. Louis on September 21.  It was there that Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona's 2nd District, threw out this gem:

"Obama's first act as president of any consequence, in the middle of a financial meltdown, was to send taxpayers' money overseas to pay for the killing of unborn children in other countries.  Now, I got to tell you, if a president will do that, there's almost nothing that you should be surprised at after that. We shouldn't be shocked that he does all these other insane things. A president that has lost his way that badly, that has no ability to see the image of God in these little fellow human beings, if he can't do that right, then he has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an enemy of humanity."

What is sad is that this kind of rhetoric is becoming commonplace.

Freedom of speech allows morons like this senator to express his ignorant and blatantly presumptuous ideas, but how far can someone go when not only insulting the President of the United States, but portraying him as an enemy of certain values and of humanity itself? Such histrionics are dangerous in that they give people already afraid of the obvious differences in this President from all that came before him an excuse to act on violent tendencies.

Speaking of which, we return to Michele Bachmann.  In early September, a part-time census worker, William Sparkman, was found dead near a rural cemetery in Clay County, Kentucky.  Displayed to look as if he had been hung (though his body was in contact with the ground) and said to have died of asphyxiation, the 51 year-old substitute teacher had the word "fed" scrawled on his chest.  Though his death has been ruled yet neither suicide or homicide, the FBI have been called in on the possibility that Sparkman was killed because of his census-taking work.

The natural inclination was that Sparkman was killed, and "fed" written on his body, in protest over the census.  Not such a far jump, when you remember the words of Congresswoman Bachmann.  Though she did not tell people to be "armed and dangerous" over the census itself, it can be argued that she has incited fear and anger in those already fearful and angry that the federal government, presided over by President Obama, is out to take over their country, destroy their freedoms, etc..  Bachmann has accused the President of creating indoctrination camps to "re-educate youth" to work for the government and compelled people to "rise up" over the supposed tyrannical rule of our President.  She has even accused the Presidency of "reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom".

William Sparkman may or may not have been killed because some ignorant bigot was riled up or inspired by the powerfully dangerous rhetoric of Michele Bachmann or those in her hate and fear-mongering camp.  The point, however, is that whether Sparkman is the first, he most assuredly will not be the last.  Assassination concerns, those actively looked into by the Secret Service, are at an all-time high.  Recently, a Facebook poll titled "Should Obama Be Killed?" was removed from the site.  The incendiary and dangerous rhetoric of the GOP and conservative media pundits is not completely to blame, but they certainly are guilty of fanning the flames.

People like Michele Bachmann (such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Trent Franks, etc.) spreading this hateful rhetoric and these dangerous words incite those that are already unhinged and scared of "losing their country". Telling people to be armed and dangerous is not idle wordplay. They either do not realize (or do not care) that words have extreme power - or perhaps, even more terribly, they know that they do.

Words can heal and hurt, build-up and destroy. They can change a person's life or take it down a dark path. Words are not random, jumbled letters with no meaning or merit; every day people take to heart what they read and hear and decide whether or not to act on it.  These individuals are quick to speak out rashly, then step back - surprised - when people act on the words they have spoken. They want to remain blameless, but, the fact is, they are anything but. Anyone who has a public office or a place to speak out to others should be careful of what they say and how they say it. The reckless speeches by these ignorant, vile people have caused violence to be committed and this will continue to happen as long as we allow them that platform. The power of words to incite tangible action is either being ignored by these politicians, or being exploited for that very purpose. Either way, it is time to start holding them accountable.

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