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Between Hate Speech and Adoration

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Statements of undisputed facts about President Barack Obama's actions
can generate declarations on progressive websites that one has "gone
too far" or said something that "should not be said." Honesty has been
replaced by loyalty. The most common place to find accurate statements
on presidential abuses of power is buried in a sea of lunacy on
rightwing websites that conclude their analyses with encouragement of
violence, gun purchasing, and assassination.


Denunciations of rightwing incitement of violence and hatred come most
often from groups and individuals eager to change the topic from the
abysmal failures of Democrats who have been given large majorities in
the House and Senate, plus the White House, and chosen to do nothing.

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Tough talk about the failures of Democrats is most often heard from
racist, xenophobic believers in fantastical fairy tales with very
little connection to reality.


Room needs to be created for other types of speech. We must be able to
criticize and even legally prevent incitement of political violence,
while at the same time examining what has made some people susceptible
to that kind of talk, and while simultaneously speaking honestly about
the failings of the people being targeted.


To do this, we have to be clear about what is unacceptable speech, what
is acceptable but misguided speech, what we honestly believe, and what
amounts to adoration rather than advocacy. Comparing someone's actions
to those of Adolph Hitler is not, by itself, speech that should be
suppressed. The phrase "enemies, foreign and domestic" is not verboten.
If dictatorial power or fascistic tendencies could not be discussed,
huge chunks of what has been said about Bush and Cheney would have to
be eliminated along with hours of rightwing radio Obama-bashing. We
cannot resist what we cannot mention.


What we should not have on our airwaves are calls for violent
"revolution", for persuading our elected officials of their errors by
increasing the statistics on gun sales, for hating people's religions
or nations or races or sexual groups, and for assassination. We can
most effectively resist abuses of power through nonviolence. Blocking
the encouragement of violence does not deprive us of any rights. So,
the question is not whether the violence is driven by accurate facts
and agreeable theories. The question is simply whether violence is
being encouraged. Theories that depict groups of people as evil and in
need of elimination tend to encourage violence.

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What we should have openly reported and discussed are people's
fantasies and the possible resentments producing them. These include
claims that Obama was born in Africa and claims that Bush shot a
missile from an invisible plane into the Pentagon, as well as claims
that Jesus will come back if we can start enough wars in the Middle
East. We should see the people of Afghanistan burning Obama in effigy
and hear honest analysis of why they might be doing that. We should see
anti-abortion activists burning Congressional Democrats in effigy, and
hear honest analysis of why they might be doing that. The analysis can
include the possibility that people are badly misinformed and hurting
their own interests, but it must be open, honest, and accurate.


When assassination threats increase, when people begin killing police
officers or census workers based on fantasies that politicians and
pundits have used to manipulate them, when police themselves begin
abusing and even killing members of minority groups that have been
scapegoated, clear connections to hateful and inciting language must be
drawn and all those responsible held accountable.


But there is no conflict between that and speaking or writing honestly
about the actual failures of some of the real people so destructively
depicted as the antichrist or devils. We must oppose the use of
violence against anyone and everyone. By opposing the assassination of
an elected official, I am not joining his or her team. I am not signing
a loyalty oath and agreeing to pretend that a bailout for health
insurance corporations is meaningful progress. I can oppose the burning
of effigies and still describe the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan
as massive crimes legally equivalent to mass-murder. I can reject
racist portraits of President Obama that label him a socialist, and
still advocate for more socialistic policies in our government.


We've all mistaken politics for personal relationships. Our role is not
to be a friend or an enemy to a politician. Our role is to encourage
them when they work for what we believe is needed, and to discourage
them when they move in a different direction. We can best do either of
those things by remaining independent and indifferent to the childish
notion of being with them or against them. And we can best do either of
those things by nonviolent means. In fact, nothing would move our
government in a more dangerous direction than anti-governmental
violence. And nothing would encourage such violence more than
insistence that everyone refrain from criticizing politicians.


On the other hand, nothing would move our government in a more positive
direction, than uniting the 90 percent of Americans who oppose Wall
Street bailouts around a campaign of nonviolent resistance to
antidemocratic abuses, regardless of parties, free of delusions, and
apart from all bigotry and foolish distraction.
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http://davidswanson.org
David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 

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