Monday Morning, January 12, 2011
We’ll never escape the outbursts of random rage that leave beautiful, innocent people in pools of blood. When a politician or law enforcement official or community leader takes to the microphone and proclaims, “We must take the necessary actions that will assure our community that this will never happen again,” I wonder out loud if this expert knows any history. Deranged people do deranged things. They’ve been with us since Cain and Abel.
But make no mistake. This weekend in Tucson, the senseless murder and mayhem inflicted on a gathering of people meeting with the energetic, articulate Congresswoman and her guests trigger outrage in even the most calloused among us. Apparently, the crazed perpetrator of the crime was on a premeditated mission.
It is difficult not to link this episode with the current political climate. Vigorous political debate is one thing. Vitriol quite another.
It’s been about three years now since I tuned Fox News and Rush Limbaugh out of my life. I listened in for too many years. I think I was one of the first when Rush showed up at UC Irvine on his “Rush to Excellence Tour.” I was in business for myself. I was intrigued by his pro-business stance. While his attacks on Clinton were fierce, I found them amusing and entertaining. And when Sean Hannity came along, I believed that someone had come onto the scene worthy to assume Rush’s mantel. I pretty much kept my interest in conservative talk shows to myself, living by the old maxim that religion and politics were private matters.
I soured on the whole conservative enterprise as the Obama phenomena gathered momentum in the last Presidential campaign. It became clear to me that in spite of the brisk denials, conservative’s fears of Obama were quite more than opposition to a liberal democrat agenda. The Jeremiah Wright fiasco clinched it. Yes, Wright’s preaching was provocative; offensive to most all of us. But the sheer relish with which Hannity and Limbaugh and their friends played and replayed the audio and video over and over and over again betrayed something deeper. I became embarrassed. Fair and balanced seemed to me anything but. Then they brought in Glenn Beck.
And as I stepped away from a pre-occupation that took way too much of my time, I began to realize that, in Orwellian terms, I had bought into the Newspeak. Old familiar terms redefined often enough lose their original meaning and their power. It came to me that good strong labels that were once noble, that had character, that brought understanding and mutual respect had been turned into buzzwords for evil. Words like “liberal” and “tolerance” and “diversity” and “compromise” and “egalitarian” and “multi-cultural” and “pluralism” in the world of conservative talk are synonymous with everything that is wrong with America. If you are liberal or tolerant, if you affirm diversity or argue for equality, if you celebrate pluralism – you are the enemy. If you care about the poor, you are a socialist.
To suggest that conservative talk radio is the only culprit is to miss the point. It just happens to be the narrow world I have lived in for too much of my life. Fox News somehow believed it was needed in the marketplace as “equal time” to counter the “liberal media establishment.” But the Glenn Becks give us the Keith Olbermanns. Sean Hannity gives birth to Rachel Maddow. Jerry Falwell gives us Mel White. Ann Coulter is in a class of her own. The vitriol escalates, all in the name of point/counter-point.
Rush liked to posit that there is only one thing worse than a liberal: a moderate. Give me a flaming liberal any day – he would say – but we must not, under any circumstance, accept the moderate. The moderate has no backbone. No ideological compass. The moderates will give it all away. They are compromisers. They can’t handle the heat. They can’t handle the truth. Pretty convincing, or so I thought then.
Reminds me of those preachers I listened to in the early years who sincerely believed that the hottest real estate in hell was reserved not for prostitutes and drug dealers, murderers and thieves, but those “liberals” who planted all those modern propositions in the minds of our vulnerable children causing them to question their precious faith. Or worse, those lukewarm believers who will be spewed out… moderates all.
So the placards express the rage. They label. They condemn. They legitimize bigotry. They reinforce prejudice. They trigger resentment. They seem so justified in the mind of the holder. And they become sensational grist for the deranged.
In Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonheoffer, he exposes a sad moment in Christian history. Martin Luther’s vitriolic anti-Semitism fueled Hitler’s philosophy of Aryan supremacy. It was a primary rationale for what became his “Final Solution.” Christians like Bonheoffer were convinced that the church had a biblical duty to counter Luther’s misplaced rage. Sadly, too late.
It is popular to fault grand conspiracies. Hilliary Clinton blamed a “vast right-wing conspiracy” for her husband’s troubles. Conservatives cling to a notion of a vast liberal conspiracy. Both are pleased to have a scapegoat with a name. It works really well as a fund-raising technique.
But for me, in the shadow of this terrible, irrational slaughter in a Tucson retail center, I need to make this confession: I do not believe that “liberalism” or “conservatism” matter nearly as much as so many seem to think. (Most people, I’m convinced, would have a hard time defining either one other than a way to choose sides.) I value diversity. I long for reconciliation; for civility; for genuine dialogue; for cooperation; for mutual respect; for inspiration that brings out the best in us.
And if that makes me a moderate, so be it.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011