Archive for the ‘Political Rhetoric’ Category

Obama Takes a Lesson from Elizabeth Warren

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

At the risk of turning this space into an Elizabeth Warren admiration society, I need to post this one. This is one of the best defenses of liberalism that I have ever heard and it’s nice to see Obama taking the cue. Infrastructure, education, police protection, a dominant military to protect our economic interests abroad, all of these are part of the story of what has made America so successful over the years…and all of these things are brought to you by the government.

More on this later, but the lesson here is that Democrats need to learn how to defend their philosophy more effectively and aggressively. The things I listed above are centrist ideas that a large majority of Americans support, but they don’t come for free. They need to be paid for.

Keith Olbermann Out at MSNBC

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Keith Olbermann is out at MSNBC.

The details on why are still sketchy and promise to remain so for the next few months since Olbermann has most likely signed a confidentiality agreement that (among other things) may prohibit him from discussing his dismissal for a number of months.

Details are here, and the clip of his final show is below.

I Tivo’ed Olbermann’s show almost every night for the past few years since it was the closest thing that MSNBC has to a nightly news show, but I have to say that he was increasingly hard to listen to. I am a total partisan, and Olbermann’s show was always a good way to see what outrageous things the Republicans had said on any given day, but sometimes the constant vitriolic attacks just wear on you.

He had an unlikely career path, bouncing around from sports journalism on ESPN and other networks to jobs as news anchor and commentator for MSNBC and NBC News. In 2007, while he was hosting countdown on the weekdays, he was hired to be an anchor for NBC’s Football Night in America along with another ESPN alum Dan Patrick. I was always amused watching him on NBC, knowing that just days before, he was on MSNBC savaging the President of the United States for one thing or another. I wondered how long NBC would let this go on. This year, he was cut from the show. Unclear whether his politics played a part in the decision, but it couldn’t have helped.

One thing that is clear is that MSNBC will be different without him. Olbermann was very much in the mold of the Fox News pundits that he loudly raged against every night: bombastic, angry and consistently stoking the fires of partisanship. The guests that he had on almost always agreed with him and he seemed to avoid having people on that he could argue with.

His replacement, Laurence O’ Donnell, is also a partisan, but although he has a fiery Irish temper, he has much experience working with people from all sides of the aisle and will be able to point to the same contrasts with the Republicans, while not being as bombastic as Olbermann was.

In the meantime, fare thee well Keith, we look forward to the next chapter in an already noteworthy career.

Conservative Uncle Demands Retraction (and Get’s One)

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

So My Conservative Uncle was outraged (outraged I say!) to hear my relatively mild comments about how rhetoric by prominent Fox News talking heads, certain Republican politicians, and some Tea Party “Patriots” might have contributed to an atmosphere that encourages (or at least condones) political violence in this country. According to My Conservative Uncle, the teabaggers can do no wrong and occasionally pointing out the racist, violent and over the top language that has been known to come out of their rallies is outrageous.

To that end, he sent me this Michelle Malkin “Democrats have also been mean to Republicans” collection that is supposed to minimize the teabaggers hate speech. Parroting O’Reilly, he claims that the Democrats are just looking to quiet the Republicans “now that they lost the political debate.”

Of course I reminded him that I was talking about the Republican climate of hate during the 2008 election cycle when Sister Sarah turned up the rhetoric about how “Obama paaaallls around with terrorists” and soon after, angry white people outside her rallies started yelling “Obama’s a terrorist!” It didn’t take long until the face of the Birthers materialized and this disheveled lady gave the fateful “Obama’s an Arab” comment at John MCain’s town hall meeting. I’ll never forget the mix of horror and anger on McCain’s face when he realized that he couldn’t control the monster his campaign had released.

Actually, my uncle sent me a similar Michelle Malkin moral relativism parade of horribles at that time as well (I remember, since it is difficult to get the image of a monkey shitting on John McCain’s head out of your mind), and of course I pointed out to him that this discussion all occurred before the Republicans “lost the political debate” in 2008…and continued in 2009 when his favorite patriots broke windows (including Gabby Gifford’s) and carved swastikas in black congressmen’s signs because they had voted to give health care to Americans.

So of course, this starts the conversation about whether there’s a double standard for conservatives vs. liberals when it comes to over the top/hateful political rhetoric and whether there should be. I struggle with this one, because on the one hand, there shouldn’t be; but on the other hand, given that many Republicans in general and teabaggers especially are gun fetishists and there hasn’t been any significant left wing political violence in this country since the 1970′s, there is clearly a different consequence to Republican hate speech than to Democrats’ hate speech.

By way of citation, I point to Oklahoma City, the dude who flew his plane into the IRS building in Texas, the dude who watched too much Glenn Beck and was on his way to shoot up an obscure liberal orgainzation when he was pulled over for drunk driving and it took 10 CHP officers to take him down….and I also point to the often reported stat that death threats against President Obama have increased 400% over President Bush (which is where I get into trouble).

Doing some fact checking of his own, conservative uncle turns up a video of the Secret Service Director, Mark Sullivan, reporting to Congress in December ’09 that threats to President Obama were at the same level as Clinton and Bush II.


Along with that e-mail comes a rant about how this information was published. I’ll spare you the details but the general idea is that it was pushed by racist black people who hate America and want to show how racist white America is (see what I have to deal with?)

In actuality, this stat comes from a book about the Secret Serivce by Ronald Kessler. Far from being a liberal who “wants to show how racist America is,” Kesssler is the Chief Washington Correspondent of the conservative online publication Included among his liberal screeds are a touching portrait of Laura Bush, a fawning look inside the Bush White House and a literary beatdown on Joseph Kennedy Sr. entitled “Sins of the Father.”

But back to the reason for this post (what was the reason for this post again?). Oh yes:

I retract the statement about the 400% increase in death threats to president Obama.

Whether there was an initial spike, but it went back to normal, or there was never any increase and Kessler’s source made it up is not clear. What is clear is that it can’t be considered a reliable stat. So I humbly apologize to my readers.

However, I do not apologize for the main thrust of my argument, which is that inciting an armed insurrection against the government, calling the president a “secret muslim” when there’s no evidence to support it, saying that the president (or presidential candidate at the time) “pals around with terrorists,” is corrosive and dangerous, especially when your main constituency includes a large number of gun nuts with a strong sense of victimhood and paranoia.

Not to mention that there’s a certain amount of dissonance one experiences hearing the defense of violent rhetoric against the elected government from a group of people who spent 2001-2008 talking about how unpatriotic liberals were for the political sin of disagreeing with the president.

It’s worth a reminder that, by that standard, the people who are unpatriotic now are the ones in colonial garb with bags of Lipton hanging from their tri-cornered hats.

Scarborough: Moving Past Right Wing Rhetoric

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Here’s a link to another great Joe Scarborough piece on the Giffords tragedy and his discussion of it this morning.

Scarborough is fast becoming the chief critic of Palin and Glenn Beck in the Republican party, perhaps because of the fact that he is more concerned about the Republican party’s future than he is in saving his own political bacon.

Check this out:

We get it, Sarah Palin. You’re not morally culpable for the tragic shooting in Tucson, Ariz. All of us around the “Morning Joe” table agree, even if we were stunned that you would whine about yourself on Facebook as a shattered family prepared to bury their 9-year-old girl.

The same goes for you, Glenn Beck. You’ve attacked your political opponents with words designed to inspire hatred and mind-bending conspiracy theories from fans. Calling the president a racist, Marxist and fascist may be reprehensible, but it did not lead a mentally disturbed man to take a Glock to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s “Congress on Your Corner” event.

Good on ya, buddy. You weren’t personally responsible for the slaughter at the Safeway. Maybe you can put it on a poster at the next “Talkers” convention.


Later in the article, he makes the point that it’s not only the right thing to do to call out people who engage in this kind of rhetoric, but it’s probably the politically savvy thing to do as well because, while overheated political rhetoric might be a great way to win elections in midterm years,

Presidential-year elections are driven by a completely different demographic. Good luck trying that “Second Amendment remedies” crap on swing voters in the suburbs. It just won’t fly. And neither will the cacophony of crazy talk that has gripped the far right for the past two years.

Nice to know that at least some nationally known Republicans have managed to survive the Obama-Pelosi years with both their brains and integrity intact…  

BTW, The reference Scarborough makes to Bryon Williams and the Tides Foundation is about a guy dressed in body armor who was on his way to shoot up the ACLU and the obscure San Francisco based Tides Foundation last July, but who was stopped by the police for drunk driving and decided instead to take on 10 CHP officers. I wonder where he could have heard about the Tides foundation?

Bill Clinton on How Anti-Government Rhetoric of Today Paralells the 1990′s

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Here’s Bill Clinton on how today’s anti-government rhetoric is like the rhetoric at the time of the Oklahoma City Bombing, and the psychological reasons why he and Obama both infuriated the Right.

The second video is particularly interesting. Clinton picks out how the visceral hatred of the Right was unleashed on both Obama and on Clinton for different reasons. According to Clinton, as a Southern white Protestant siding with liberals he was considered “an apostate” who betrayed his class, while Obama symbolizes the diversity of America and the “loss of control, of predictability, of clarity, that a lot of people need for their psychic well being.”

A remarkably candid and spot on analysis of the Birther Right.

Kinsley: The False Rush to Cry ‘Balance’

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Here’s Michael Kinsley on the “both sides are equally to blame” argument.

Thoughts on the Giffords Shooting

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Here’s Joe Scarborough on the Gabbrielle Giffords shooting.

The discussion about civility is important, but I connect even more with the personal story of how he and his wife felt when they heard the news.

My response was similar. When I first heard the news, I thought to myself: the thing that we have feared for so long has come to fruition. Sharron Angle’s “2nd Amendment Remedies” have finally caught up with the nation. Watching the video of Giffords talking about how her office window was shattered after her vote on the health care bill  just reinforced that belief:

our office corner has really become an area where the Tea Party movement congregates and the rhetoric is incredibly heated. Not just the calls, but the e-mails, the slurs..things have really gotten spun up.


I watched Giffords talk in the interview about how Palin targeted her district with gun crosshairs. Her father was asked after her shooting if she had any enemies and responded “Yes, the entire Tea Party.” All of this just added to the sense that the shooting was a result of the overheated political climate we have seen in this country since Obama was elected. 

As more info came to light, it became clear that the truth was slightly more complicated than that: Jared Loughner had been obsessed with Giffords since 2007; he was not involved with any organized political movement, and the philosophies he espoused didn’t really fit neatly into any of our usual political debates.

Whether or not the overheated rhetoric created a climate that gave Loughner the go ahead in his demented brain to act on his long held feelings may never be known. What is clear, however, is that the discourse has become poisonous, and that we’re lucky that we only have a few broken windows, empty death threats and some swastikas on black congressmen’s signs to show for it.

While people on the left have tried to blame Sarah Palin for the Giffords shooting, others on the right have played the victim, protesting that they and the Tea Party have been falsely accused and that Democrats also used to say mean things about President Bush while he was president. While I understand the basic principle that it’s not nice to say mean things about national leaders, this is clearly a false equivalency. Consider the fact that death threats against Obama after his inauguration spiked by over 400 percent from George Bush levels; or the fact that the last time we had a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President, the doomsday rhetoric was also off the charts, and the result was that someone killed 168 people and blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City.

I don’t mind a good partisan fight, but when you have a whole group of people who believe that the President of the United States is a “secret muslim” Manchurian Candidate… and you have an even bigger group of people who can’t tell the difference between “tyranny” and losing two elections…and those same people have a tendency towards gun fetishes and a heightened sense of victimhood… and they are manipulated into believing that the biggest threat to their “freedom” is giving health care to people, this all adds up to a volatile mix. The worst thing you can do in this situation is to have community and political leaders fan the flames of that fire.

I’m not one to go on a big tirade against Sarah Palin for her ill advised gun crosshairs targeting map. It’s pretty outrageous, but I don’t think it’s worth spending too much time hyperventilating about it. Still, a few basic common sense rules might be in order here: It’s irresponsible to tweet to your supporters (many of whom are gun fetishists with an overwrought sense of victimhood): “Commonsense Conservatives and lovers of America: don’t retreat–Instead RELOAD,” as Sarah Palin did just after health care passed. It’s irresponsible to tell people to come to a rally against Obama’s policies “armed and dangerous” as Michelle Bachman did in 2010. It is way beyond the pale to suggest that if Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama aren’t thrown out of office, people on the Right might have to turn to an armed overthrow of the government, as the Republican’s best funded 2010 Senate candidate did, and if you are tempted to bring your semi-automatic weapon to the protest across the street from where the president’s speaking “because that’s your right,” you might just want to reconsider. 

As Bill Clinton said on the 15th Anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing:

What we learned from Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or reduce our passion from the positions we hold – but that the words we use really do matter, because there’s this vast echo chamber and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike.

So again, this isn’t an argument that all people who sympathise with the Tea Party are violent thugs, or that they shouldn’t fight for what they believe in. It is an argument that, in this charged political environment, leaders have a responsibility to think about the ramifications of what they say before they say it and make their case for a particular policy without resorting to incitement.

My sense of this is that, now that they got their way, some on the right will tone down the rhetoric. It’s my bet that, now that they’ve actually won a national election for the first time in 6 years, the government looks more like the elected representatives of the country than a “tyrannical regime” bent on imposing socialism on the country. But violent rhetoric is a tricky thing. Once you’ve taken that genie out of the bottle, it is hard to get it back in.

We all hope for the best here, but as the events of two weeks ago show, we need to prepare for the worst as well.