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Dividing America with Hate

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Six months after a sweeping defeat in the Presidential election, Republicans have taken on an unlikely political persona, Oscar the Grouch. And judging from their muddled "Tea Parties," the GOP has adopted their new Ideology from a familiar Sesame Street Song: We're mad. Very angry, very, very angry. Real mad. Very angry, very, very angry. While 88 percent of Democrats approve of President Obama's job performance, only 27 percent of Republicans share that perception. This 61-point difference of opinion is the largest spread since Pew began conducting its poll in 1969, when 84 percent of Republicans approved of Richard Nixon's job performance and 55 percent of Democrats agreed. Because President Obama's popularity ratings are so high, Democrats tend to dismiss Republican sentiments. After all, a recent New York Times/CBS News Poll found that while two-thirds of Americans approved of Obama's job performance, only 31 percent had a favorable view of the GOP. Americans are abandoning the Republican Party. The latest Gallup Poll found that 35 percent of respondents identified as Democrats, an equal number as Independents, and only 28 percent as Republicans. But rather than propose ideological alternatives to Obama's policies, the GOP has responded with anger and dogmatic negativity. When Obama proposed to ease the financial crisis with a stimulus package, Republicans argued for tax cuts. When Obama responded to the launch of a North Korean missile with a call for renewed diplomacy, Republicans wanted military intervention. On issue after issue the GOP stance is we're against anything proposed by the Obama Administration. It's clear Republicans lack of leadership. Their base has not rallied around politicians such as John Boehner, John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and Michael Steele. Instead they've turned to conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh and Fox News personalities Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. Republican ideas are being dictated by vacuous media personalities who care more about ratings than they do about prudent national policy. As a result the unifying theme is anger: We're mad. Very angry, very, very angry. Since the inauguration, the tone of the anti-Obama discourse has become increasingly strident. Karl Rove described the President as a "fiscal radical" and suggested that Obama is a "divisive figure." Former Senator Rick Santorum berated the President's supposed, "disdain for American values." Leading this cacophony is Fox News where commentators rant that Obama has an "agenda" for gun confiscation and plans "a total police state." Recently Glenn Beck suggested the federal government is a "heroin pusher using smiley-aced fascism to grow the nanny state," concluding "[we have] come to a very dangerous point in our country's long, storied history." This incendiary rhetoric is a throwback to the thirties, when conservative commentator Father Charles Coughlin used his national radio show to attack Franklin Roosevelt. A virulent Anti-Semite, Coughlin managed to derail initiatives such as support for Jews fleeing the Nazis. Thirties hate-radio fomented white supremacy. Now, Fox News and conservative talk shows are again stirring up the lunatic right, who are more heavily armed than they were in the thirties. Writing in THE HUFFINGTON POST Eric Boehlert links several recent mass killings to hate-radio messages: Obama plans to take away your guns and kill all liberals. At the least, Republican anger will delay Obama appointments and legislative initiatives, as GOP Senators use procedural gimmicks to block the President's intent. But judging from the experience of the thirties, it's likely that as the recession drags on, the conservative hate-media will inflame class, race, and ethnic tensions, as they blame specific minority groups, particularly undocumented immigrants, for social problems. A report from the Department of Homeland Security warns of the rise of right-wing extremism. The most alarming trend is the increase in threats against the President. Since the election, the Secret Service has tightened security around Obama, responding to a disturbing number of warnings. A recent Council on Foreign Relations report noted that in the last decade the vast majority of US terrorist attacks were carried out by domestic extremists. Now Republicans, through their media surrogates, are appealing to the hate that fuels domestic terrorism. During the Presidential campaign, Sarah Palin called Barack Obama a terrorist, stoking crowds who yelled threats. On March 29th, Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, appearing on the Sean Hannity TV show, warned of dangers of tyranny under an Obama Administration and appealed for revolution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote, "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic." Now Republicans and their toadies are stoking the anger of their constituents, shouting fire in the theatre of American politics. The GOP has gone too far. Congress needs to reprimand legislators who make extreme statements. And the FCC should punish Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, and other purveyors of hate, whenever they abuse free speech and fan the fires of insurrection.

 

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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