Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rebuffing Repulsive Right-wing Rhetoric

Last time I wrote about the need for greater civility in what we say and more respect for those with whom we disagree. I believe that those attitudes are needed especially by those in the public media and by politicians. Regrettably, some definitely seem to lack those characteristics.
That people will disagree on various matters is certain. And that is OK. What is not OK is using false, misleading, or inflammatory rhetoric. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of the latter going out over the airwaves every day. And most of it is coming from the political right-wing.
Every day (M-F) two radio stations in Kansas City broadcast hours and hours of right-wing talk. On KCMO one can listen to Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, and Rusty Humphries eleven hours a day, and KMBZ airs Rush Limbaugh for six hours, Glen Beck for four hours, and Mark Levin for two hours daily!
There are some left-wing talk shows accessible on the Internet and MSNBC on cable TV, but I have tried in vain to find any liberal talk-radio stations in the Kansas City area. It is quite certain that “talk radio” around here is overwhelmingly conservative (right-wing).
I often listen to the Mark Levin Show on the way home from the class I teach at Rockhurst University. Much of my negativity toward repulsive right-wing rhetoric comes from him. His criticism of the President is extreme: he has linked the President to Hitler and Stalin, accused the President of leading the government toward tyranny, and yelled into his radio microphone, “Obama is a bald-faced liar!” as well as “Nancy Pelosi is an idiot!” and other such disrespectful and uncivil ranting.
As for the politicians, I do not in the least think that Sarah Palin has intentionally encouraged physical violence against political opponents. But it is a fact that her website had crosshairs on districts with politicians she opposed, such as Rep. Giffords. It is also true that she posted these words on her Facebook page: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!”
It is also true that Sharon Angle, who sought unsuccessfully to unseat Representative Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in last fall’s election, spoke about “Second Amendment remedies” and said that that Amendment, which protects the right of the American people to keep and bear arms, is “for us when our government becomes tyrannical.”
It is also a fact that Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), member of the U.S. House of Representatives and chair of the Tea Party Caucus, said back in 2009 that she wanted residents of her state to be “armed and dangerous” over the President’s plan to reduce global warming “because we need to fight back.” Apparently, she did not mean armed with guns and physically dangerous, although some who heard those words might not have recognized that.
While there are, no doubt, some liberal politicians who have recently made indiscreet statements, I have not been able to find any left-wing officeholders who have made ill-advised statements such as the three examples (all women!?) given above.
So, I rebuff the repulsive right-wing rhetoric that is fouling the airwaves and encourage readers of this blog to join me in calling for more civil, respectful discourse, and less inflammatory public speech on the radio and by our elected officials.


  1. I, too, long for a more civil discourse. However, when I posted on Facebook about that very thing this week (after having posted a video of Keith Olbermann's farewell statement from last Friday's program and being jumped on about how horrible he was and how horrible I am for having watched/agreed with him, for the most part---which my cousin then turned into a diatribe about how horrible universal healthcare is, all while I'm sitting on almost $30,000 of unpaid medical bills), I was jumped on all over again for saying that I feel like I must censor myself from posting what I truly believe because, many of my commenters said, I should expect dissenting comments when I post something like that Keith Olbermann video. I reiterated many times amongst all the commenters---the most negative, personally insulting comments came from my family members---that I don't mind when people POLITELY disagree with me in order to lead to CIVIL DISCUSSION, that I'm tired of not being able to express myself freely without the knowledge that I'm going to be publicly ripped up one side and down the other by someone (again, usually a family member) who thinks I'm wrong and will stop at nothing until they convince me I'm wrong and force me to believe/think/feel the way they do---and they use quotes from some of the same people above to try to convince me.

    Has there ever been a time when there was a truly civil discourse in politics?

  2. Kaye, thanks for sharing the pain of incivility. We all, left or right, ought to be able to share our opinions without being censured for doing so, as long as those opinions are shared in a civil way, as I am sure yours were.

    Another Thinking Friend mentioned Keith Olbermann, and I wrote back to him saying that Olbermann (who was on MSNBC which I did mention) was often quite caustic, but the nature of his rhetoric is in no way as uncivil as that of Limbaugh, Levin, and others on the right.

  3. I was happy to receive the following thoughtful comments from Easel Roberts, a Thinking Friend who used to be a part of the same Sunday morning "Bible class" here in Liberty but who now lives and works, for GE, in South Carolina.

    "I really think that you’ve missed the point and are fighting the wrong problem. We all play a war of words. Somebody’s 'conservative' is another’s 'fundamentalist' is another’s 'fascist.' It also goes the other way. One’s 'moderate' is another’s 'liberal' is another’s 'anarchist.' Only I can label what I’m hearing. Even your blog you refer to 'repulsive right-wing rhetoric' and try to balance the dialogue with 'liberal politicians . . . have made indiscreet statements.' You placed REPULSIVE RHETORIC up against INDISCREET STATEMENTS. Does that really sound balanced?

    "The 'right-wing' words are an easy sale when times are, or appear, tough. With unemployment at 9.5%, that’s easy to sell. The 'right-wing' words that give me something or someone to blame for my pain, 'see, it really isn’t my fault.' Think historically, the KKK, the Inquisition, McCarthy were all attempts to eliminate a powerful group’s perspective of pain.

    "The problem is FAR deeper than the rhetoric. The world of the US working man or woman is changing radically and forever. The less educated the worse the pain currently is but this pain is working its way up the working 'food chain.'

    "ANYTHING that can be reduced to a form (think your taxes), an equation (Software Design) or a process (calculation heavy engineering analysis) is leaving the US at a frightening pace, NEVER to come back. Well educated labor is available in India, Poland, Vietnam and dozens of other places for wages <50% of the equivalent US worker. As these economies recognize the power of the brain over manual labor the pain in the US will only get worse. I work regularly with technical experts.

    "Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh can be good entertainment but they are simply actors selling a product that many are buying. Our politicians committing to PLAY NICE is not going to change the tectonic shift that is happening. Rush and friends want us to be angry and the Politician (after being re-elected) simply wants us to 'trust them.' In either case, they are providing 'comfort drugs' to the populace. Today’s worker has to be the best in the world not just the best in the building or even the country. If not, he’s lost and that job is gone forever.

    "Until effort is spent on the REAL problem (education, innovation, market development) all the commentators or politicians are doing is putting their finger in a failing dike."

  4. In response to Easel's comments, let me say first that I readily acknowledge that the problem is, certainly, far deeper than the rhetoric. But that doesn't mean that seeking to rebuff inflammatory rhetoric is "fighting the wrong problem." As we see in Kaye's comments above, harsh rhetoric is a problem for some personally, and I think it is injurious to a civil society.

    Again, the real problem is certainly just the rhetoric being used, and I appreciate Easel articulating what he sees as "the REAL problem." But that problem cannot and will not be easily solved. By contrast, the problem of repulsive rhetoric could be solved--simply by people choosing to be civil in what they say and refusing to use inflammatory language.

  5. My esteemed TF in Kentucky who regularly responds to my postings wrote (in an e-mail),

    "I'm with you, Leroy. You have better equilibrium than I to listen to those right wing rantings. I don't want to offer them any encouragement by expanding their listening audience. I also don't want to enrich them any more than they have enriched themselves with such tripe. I'm glad my car radio isn't working now!"

  6. There is one more thing I intended, and failed previously, to say in response to Easel Roberts' comments.

    Easel wrote, "Even [in] your blog you refer to 'repulsive right-wing rhetoric' and try to balance the dialogue with 'liberal politicians . . . have made indiscreet statements.' You placed REPULSIVE RHETORIC up against INDISCREET STATEMENTS. Does that really sound balanced?"

    No, it is not balanced, because the problem is not the same on both sides. I have not heard and have been unable to find liberal statements that are anything like the "repulsive right-wing rhetoric" that one can hear on talk-radio daily.

    If someone has examples of repulsive left-wing rhetoric or inflammatory statements made by liberal politicians, I would be happy to hear them and willing to post them with negative comments. But at this point I don't know of anything more than some "indiscreet statements" from the left-wingers.

  7. I tend to agree with the analysis of Jim Morrison and the Doors, "People are strange, when you're unwanted. . ." Back during the Vietnam War there was a fair amount of radical leftwing talk, and it was driven by fear and loathing of that war. It may not have been shouted from the housetops, but there was plenty of leftwing contempt poured on the Bush administration for all eight years. On balance, though, for the last century, the left has been winning more than the right, so the right has more frequently been the ones on the outside, simmering in paranoia.

    A lot of would-be censorship gets dumped on pop lyrics, video games, and other forms of frequently out-of-bounds communication. Honestly, I suspect suppressing that sort of language does more harm than good. Politics is the same way. Rush Limbaugh is more of a symptom than a cause. Finding and healing the cause is the real challenge. Otherwise, we are just shooting the canary in the coal mine.

  8. Cheerio, good fellow, a stiff upper lip, and all that rot! We are not English who expect civility. If the books written about the founders of the US are even close to accurate, then their words and actions were often uncivil towards others and each other. The original construction of the government was to invite cacophony in order to limit the power and scope of the federal government. The House of Representatives was expected to be a boiling pot of heated emotions cooled by the deliberative process of the Senate--hence elections every two years for every house member. In addition the senators were originally selected by their state legislators for periods of six years to forward the interest of the individual states not the individual peoples.

    You mention that the left has not had the inflammatory rhetoric of the right. I recall as recently as last fall that our current POTUS talked about going to a knife fight with the republicans by taking a gun instead. This is the fellow who taught the Alensky methods of social protest and used a significant portion of his first two years attacking people and their reputations who disagreed with his policies. A majority of the American people rejected these accusations simply, because they did not pass the fairness test. Specifically, a person or organization in power verbally attacking those not in power and trying to impugn reputations looks like the playground bully from school years.

    Unfortunately, the President's call for civility after the horrific episode in Tucson came way too late after the inflammatory and caustic comments spewed by the various newspaper and video media outlets. Additionally, he could have specifically challenged these comments with his speech, but he chose to give these folks a pass. Once again, the American people went against the bullies in the media. The irony is that if the republicans regain power and use these same tactics, the American people will turn on them also. The American psyche is geared toward the underdog not the bully.

  9. If you like class warfare rhetoric, there is the much repeated "tax cuts for the rich". Pardon my bad memory if these are off, but I believe the total revenue estimate was $3.6T, with $700B going to the top 2%, the Obama defined rich. If less than 20% of the revenue goes to the group paying 50% of the taxes, that seems poorly defined to me. Regardless, I would not deny that was Bush's motivation.

    I also question that after ten years they are still tax cuts. I think they should be called "current rates". They were set to expire, so I understand the confusion. Either way, I think they should have been debated as needed tax increases without the rhetoric.

    No one mentioned Bill Maher, who attempts to offset the right. I watch his show regularly, but being a centrist, I only agree with half of what he believes. I especially disagree with the "tax cuts for the rich" rhetoric and some treatment of his guests that lean right. Of course, I have trouble with much of what they say as well. I think the problem is the extremists are the ones in the media.

  10. A wonderful evening with Christian social activist Shane Claiborne, a former student and protege of Tony Campolo. After speaking, he stayed the evening with one of our counter part ministries about 10 blocks away.

    I had just recently read his book Irresistible Revolution. Filled with anecdotes and personal stories his final summary for the evening: Have you noticed that neither Democrats or Republicans are very Christian? Noticed that liberals and conservatives are both just plain mean? That social justice and fundamental Christians are both self-righteous? Good and bad are entangled...

    Yet he spoke with much grace and humor in spite of reality.

    Today the sadness of the truth which he spoke was born out at work.