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Conservatives Thinking About Assassination

September 30, 2009

One does not want to tread these waters, but as I have mentioned on this blog numerous times unless the right-wing tamps down the rhetoric and hate I fear violence will follow.

One of the most respected writers and thinkers on any OP/Ed page today is that of Thomas Friedman who writes for The New York Times.  It was chilling to read his latest column today, as it echoes so much of what we hear and read in the papers lately.  Just yesterday I posted about a column penned by a conservative who all but urged a military coup against the elected government of President Obama.  We live in absurd and troubling times.  Hate and vitriol are all the conservatives have to offer, but will they now turn their words into violence?  Will conservatives bring death and blood to the streets of Washington, D.C.?

I hate to write about this, but I have actually been to this play before and it is really disturbing.

I was in Israel interviewing Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin just before he was assassinated in 1995. We had a beer in his office. He needed one. I remember the ugly mood in Israel then — a mood in which extreme right-wing settlers and politicians were doing all they could to delegitimize Rabin, who was committed to trading land for peace as part of the Oslo accords. They questioned his authority. They accused him of treason. They created pictures depicting him as a Nazi SS officer, and they shouted death threats at rallies. His political opponents winked at it all.

And in so doing they created a poisonous political environment that was interpreted by one right-wing Jewish nationalist as a license to kill Rabin — he must have heard, “God will be on your side” — and so he did.

Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.

What kind of madness is it that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, “Should Obama be killed?” The choices were: “No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care.” The Secret Service is now investigating. I hope they put the jerk in jail and throw away the key because this is exactly what was being done to Rabin.

Even if you are not worried that someone might draw from these vitriolic attacks a license to try to hurt the president, you have to be worried about what is happening to American politics more broadly.

Our leaders, even the president, can no longer utter the word “we” with a straight face. There is no more “we” in American politics at a time when “we” have these huge problems — the deficit, the recession, health care, climate change and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — that “we” can only manage, let alone fix, if there is a collective “we” at work.

Sometimes I wonder whether George H.W. Bush, president “41,” will be remembered as our last “legitimate” president. The right impeached Bill Clinton and hounded him from Day 1 with the bogus Whitewater “scandal.” George W. Bush was elected under a cloud because of the Florida voting mess, and his critics on the left never let him forget it.

And Mr. Obama is now having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet “socialist” to calling him a “liar” in the middle of a joint session of Congress to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen. And these attacks are not just coming from the fringe. Now they come from Lou Dobbs on CNN and from members of the House of Representatives.

Again, hack away at the man’s policies and even his character all you want. I know politics is a tough business. But if we destroy the legitimacy of another president to lead or to pull the country together for what most Americans want most right now — nation-building at home — we are in serious trouble. We can’t go 24 years without a legitimate president — not without being swamped by the problems that we will end up postponing because we can’t address them rationally.

The American political system was, as the saying goes, “designed by geniuses so it could be run by idiots.” But a cocktail of political and technological trends have converged in the last decade that are making it possible for the idiots of all political stripes to overwhelm and paralyze the genius of our system.

Those factors are: the wild excess of money in politics; the gerrymandering of political districts, making them permanently Republican or Democratic and erasing the political middle; a 24/7 cable news cycle that makes all politics a daily battle of tactics that overwhelm strategic thinking; and a blogosphere that at its best enriches our debates, adding new checks on the establishment, and at its worst coarsens our debates to a whole new level, giving a new power to anonymous slanderers to send lies around the world. Finally, on top of it all, we now have a permanent presidential campaign that encourages all partisanship, all the time among our leading politicians.

I would argue that together these changes add up to a difference of degree that is a difference in kind — a different kind of American political scene that makes me wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest.

We can’t change this overnight, but what we can change, and must change, is people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable.

5 Comments
  1. Patrick permalink
    September 30, 2009 9:42 PM

    While 12sg seems to ramble a bit too much for me, the point is this: it doesn’t matter that you think there is no comparison between the way Bush was handled and the way Obama is being handled; you only offer your perception. Other people do think differently. To them, there is a certain equivical balance here.

    Some things are true: politics has gotten much more destructive. Back when I was a liberal I thought Clinton was pursued too harshly for Monica while I knew he was a scum bag for dishonoring his wife and office. I still think so. However, its not hard to see that the harsh treatment Bush got–or at least the volume it reached–was a retaliation of sorts, but one which set the stage for a future of ultra partisanship and politics of destruction.

    While the right might have gone too far with Clinton, the left proved itself equally aggrassive and negative. This blog provides a clear record of the conflict which greeted every Bush move. I’m sure our fine author will stand by his comments and assume they are all based on reason and noble ideals, and maybe they were. Nevertheless they echo the negative tone. The shock with which opposition to Obama is met demonstrates how hard it is to turn the tone we use to discuss a president.

    So here we are now, citizens. We all listen to Obermann or Limbaugh equally faithfully. We are more aware, but we have only learned disdain and suspicion for the other guy. How can we have a discussion of the issues when we have to constantly pause because some nut who nobody would have paid attention to five years ago puts up a stupid poll and we then need to debate if all conservatives are potential killers.

  2. September 30, 2009 4:54 PM

    You make a lot of my points for me. Thanks for adding your comment.

  3. 12sg permalink
    September 30, 2009 4:49 PM

    See how you are making excuses for the left and what they did to Bush-There is no way that you can equate what has taken place in the past 9 months with that which took place in the Bush years.-see he deserved it.
    It doesn’t matter-no one deserves it-and maybe you like “this change and level of corruption” the politics of Chicago, and do not know what is happening to the late great country America, and I am blaming every politician that ever raised their right hand to “uphold and defend…………”.
    We reached a level of the Peter Principle (a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence) with all of them including the current resident of the WH-he is just one more man-we are all sick of everyone trying to turn us into Europe and how no one can appreciate the USA for being the USA-no one elected him to “fundamentally change” (his words) the USA. The USA doesn’t need his kind of change.
    We are America and we do not condone nor encourage such methods-we have the law of impeachment-whenever we may find treason, etc.
    For anyone to even think of such drastic measures regardless of their dislike for any president is wrong-wrong-wrong.
    Your “yeah, but you can’t equate” is no argument, and it goes to prove my point from above, the one way street that it is ok for your side to do whatever you want because you are just and pure, while those guys on the other side deserve to burn in hell.

  4. September 30, 2009 1:36 PM

    There is no way that you can equate what has taken place in the past 9 months with that which took place in the Bush years. There is just no comparison. While there was plenty of emotion over the way Bush was ‘elected’ in 2000, and the Iraq War, there was not the same intense and sickening display on such a large scale as there is now. To pretend otherwise is absurd. As Thomas writes, “His political opponents winked at it all.

    And it seems you do too.

  5. 12sg permalink
    September 30, 2009 1:30 PM

    Things like this went on during the previous 8 years, there was even a movie that depicted the assassination of Bush. How many times we heard those things out there and guess what we all get scared when we think of such things regardless of who is president.
    Don’t blame the kooks on the right for the same things the kooks on the left did while Bush was president.
    I do like those on the left’s excuses “but Bush deserved it”, just goes to show you how stupid it all is.

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