In the wake of the tragedy in Tucson, there has been a renewed focus on eliminating what is being called the "climate of hate" within our political environment. President Obama spoke to this in his meaningful memorial speech when he cautioned that we have been, "far too eager to lay blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently." While that admonition is appropriate, and while we all would do well to consider it before speaking, the truth is that our "climate of hate" isn't going anywhere for two reasons.
First, passionate and sometimes rancorous debate is the trademark of free, democratic societies. As a history teacher, I have to admit to being amused by all this talk about how our political discourse has just recently devolved into the odious pit of irresponsibility.
I wonder if those who believe this would prefer to go back to the respectful days of 1828 when Andrew Jackson's Democrats and John Quincy Adams' National Republicans were exchanging pleasantries. In that most reverential environment, the two sides certainly demonstrated a commitment to keeping their rhetoric above board, focusing on the issues that mattered most to the nation.
For instance, Jackson accused Adams of having provided a young American virgin for the carnal pleasure of a visiting Russian czar. Adams returned the favor by calling Jackson a military tyrant and a barbarian. Worse still, the Adams campaign disgracefully targeted Jackson's wife Rachel with a merciless string of accusations that she was a bigamist. As it turned out, the accusations were technically true given that when she married Jackson, her first marriage had not yet been officially dissolved. The public shame weighed heavily on Rachel, and just days after having purchased her inaugural gown following her husband's victory, Rachel died of a heart attack.
So forgive me if I smirk when I hear that calling Obama a socialist or McCain a dinosaur somehow compares to a political environment where the American people were told their choices were either a pimp or the husband of a tramp.
This is the same point Sarah Palin addressed when she accurately mused that things weren't exactly less heated, "when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols."
This isn't an excuse for fomenting personal hostilities and animosities, but merely acknowledging that it is one of the potential realities that comes with freedom. When people are given a right to speak their mind, sometimes regrettable words are uttered. The only way to prevent that is to stifle freedom and smother expression. History shows that the consequences of such "prevention" are far worse than anything coming from free and sometimes explosive debate.
The second reason our "climate of hate" isn't going anywhere is because amazingly, those on the left who have been most responsible for facilitating it don't believe they're culpable. Consider what the New York Times editorial board wrote immediately following Obama's speech: "It was important that Mr. Obama transcend the debate about whose partisanship has been excessive and whose words have sown the most division and dread. This page and many others have identified those voices and called on them to stop demonizing their political opponents. The president's role in Tucson was to comfort and honor, and instill hope."
In other words, as the standard bearer of the left, the Times opines that Obama agrees with them. In the memorial setting, he couldn't call out the guilty parties by name - that would have been un-presidential - but they have done that for him by exposing all the hate merchants. Really?
Remember this is the same Times that recently gave space for defeated Democrat Representative Paul Kanjorski to lecture us that, "it is incumbent on all Americans to create an atmosphere of civility and respect in which political discourse can flow freely, without fear of violent confrontation." That would be the same Paul Kanjorski who, speaking of Florida's Republican Governor Rick Scott, suggested back in October that, "Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to have him and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him." To a rational mind, a comment like that causes Sarah Palin's innocuous crosshairs graphic look pretty mild. As does Democrat Senator John Kerry's 2006 quip to alleged comedian Bill Maher that he, "could have gone to 1600 Pennsylvania (then President Bush's address) and killed the real bird with one stone." The Times exhibited no signs of hand wringing over that threatening remark. Moreover, to my knowledge the Times has not spent any ink condemning liberal radio host Mike Malloy for his on-air wish that Rush Limbaugh would choke to death, Chris Matthews for his expectation that someone will shove a CO2 pellet into Rush's head causing him to explode, or Ed Schultz's publicly declared desire to take Dick Cheney's heart and, "rip it out and kick it around." The Times hasn't dressed down liberal radio talker Montel Williams for urging Republican Michele Bachmann to slit her wrists, or as he disgustingly put it, "Move that knife up about two feet. I mean, start right at the collarbone."
That's why all this talk about resolving our "climate of hate" is nonsense. When those who are most guilty of perpetuating it believe the rules of civility don't apply to them, it becomes clear that their supposed crusade for calm is more about slandering the political right into silence than it is about reinstating a dignified debate that never really existed in the first place.