This article cross-posted from Consortium News
Most people probably think that scientists working on embryonic stem-cell research are committed to finding new treatments to help fellow human beings suffering from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, paraplegia and other terrible ailments -- but not former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
To the Republican presidential hopeful, these researchers are engaged in what amounts to "the use of science to desensitive society over the killing of babies." Just stop there for a minute. In Gingrich's world, these researchers are using "science to desensitive society over the killing of babies."
That comment on Saturday at a Baptist church in Winter Park, Florida, got the applause that he apparently was hoping for and maybe some votes from Christian fundamentalists who object to the experimental use of embryos, even ones destined for destruction at fertility clinics. However, in doing so, Gingrich put on display, again, his casual use of ugly language to demean fellow Americans.
For Gingrich, it is not enough to disagree with embryonic research. No, the researchers must be part of some plot "to desensitive society over the killing of babies." In other words, these scientists must be some of the most despicable monsters imaginable, deserving of whatever awful fate one would deal them.
This sort of hate talk is what gets some unstable person to take out a gun and start shooting, as we have seen tragically in the United States in recent years. Of course, the practitioners of hate speech are never responsible. Who could have imagined that someone would act on these incitements to hate?
And, Gingrich's use of such language is not just a slip of the tongue by an over-eager candidate. It is a calculated strategy, honed over decades, to attach grotesque language to an opponent, marking the person as someone unworthy of living or at least living inside "normal" society. Gingrich talk also has become the common language of right-wing talk radio and Fox News.
Yet, ironically, Gingrich and other practitioners of this dark art form are extremely thin-skinned if anyone tries to paint them with their own brush. Gingrich has spent much of the early Republican primaries whining about how unfair it's been that rival Mitt Romney has pointed out negative moments in Gingrich's checkered career.
More broadly, right-wing talkers, who regularly question the Americanism of President Barack Obama and political "lib-rhuls," cry foul when anyone mentions how the Right's policies have harmed the Great American Middle Class by shifting society's benefits almost exclusively to the upper one percent. That's "class warfare" and so wrong!
But it's entirely okay for Gingrich and his allies to say whatever ugly thing comes into their minds about their opponents. Indeed, ugly words are part of the strategy, as was explained in a pamphlet entitled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control," produced by GOPAC, Gingrich's political action arm.
In 1990, GOPAC was teaching Republicans to "speak like Newt" by describing Democrats with words like sick, pathetic, lie, destructive, self-serving, welfare, bizarre, decay, traitors, radical, destroy, pathetic, corrupt, steal and shame. Demonizing Democrats was a key factor in Gingrich's political rise.
Destroying Jim Wright
Gingrich also mastered the art of exaggerating an opponent's smallest ethical misstep into the most extreme crime. He targeted House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, over a minor book deal that involved some supporters buying the book in bulk. Though the "scandal" was tiny compared to the kinds of lucrative influence-peddling that Gingrich and many other pols have engaged in, the intensity of the attacks on Wright essentially destroyed his political career.
(Wright's real offense as far as many Republicans were concerned was his work negotiating peace accords in Central America, thus undercutting President Ronald Reagan's beloved Nicaraguan Contras and other violent right-wing political movements.)
But running Wright out of office and hyping minor flaps like the congressional "banking scandal" for partisan gain served "the larger good" of tearing down the longstanding working relationships that had allowed for compromise on Capitol Hill. Gingrich saw burning down congressional bipartisanship as the way for the Republicans (and himself) to gain power, even if that meant governing over the ashes.
In a 1988 speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation, Gingrich declared that the assault on Wright was just the start of a "civil war" with liberals. "This war has to be fought with a scale and a duration and a savagery that is only true of civil wars," Gingrich said, adding that "the hard left" consisted of people who "will try by chameleon-like actions to destroy our country."