Politics of anger leads to violence

opinions

April 19, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Reflecting on the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995, former President Bill Clinton warned that the anti-government tone struck by the so-called militias of that day reminds him of the angry words being used against government today by reckless critics.
Angry words can stir violent actions, he said.
Kansans saw proof of that last May 31 when Scott Roeder murdered Dr. George Tiller in a Wichita church. Only a tiny handful of those who march against abortion and scream “baby killer!” at their political opponents ever turn their violent words into violent action. But who can doubt that the angry hate that they spread lights fires in the unstable minds of fanatics who subsequently murder physicians and burn down clinics.
Someone said accurately that “murder is pro-crazy, not pro-life.” Likewise, Timothy McVeigh’s deadly destruction of the federal building in Oklahoma City didn’t make a political point, but only demonstrated how much destruction a couple of anger-driven fanatics could wreak on their imaginary “enemies.”
Clinton called McVeigh “profoundly alienated” and said he had “bought into this militant anti-government line.” He then cited remarks made Thursday by Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican, at a tea party rally in Washington, D.C. She characterized the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress as “the gangster government.”
“They’re not gangsters,” Mr. Clinton said. “They were elected. They are not doing anything they were not elected to do.”
We must assume that Rep. Bachmann got carried away. She probably doesn’t truly believe that the president and the Congressional Democrats are criminals who belong in jail. But she and others who use incendiary rhetoric in attacking their political opponents are truly playing with fire. They have no way of knowing whether their hate-filled words will send the next Scott Roeder or the next Timothy McVeigh off on a murderous mission.

VIGOROUS political debate is part and parcel of our system. Mutual respect, decency and, yes, good manners, should also be hallmarks of representative government if it is to function at its best. As the old bromide puts it, it is important to disagree without being disagreeable.
To see how far removed these virtues are from the current political scene, one needs only to listen to Fox News and talk radio on the right and MSNBC on the left. If any rantings from either of these so-called news stations ever approaches objectivity it is totally by accident.
It is bad enough that the information they provide is so biased that it is actually misinformation. That crime against their listeners’ understanding of the world is compounded by the raw anger and calumny that drips from their every word.
Mr. Clinton is dead on. Actions have consequences. Spewing anger and hatred and calling it politics will reap a horrible harvest unless it is brought to a stop. It will stop if more of the nation’s leaders and thought-provokers follow Clinton’s lead and call for civility, mutual respect and fact-based discussion, as President Barack Obama does at every opportunity.
It will stop even faster if the public wakes up tomorrow morning, decides it has had enough fire, brimstone and outright lies and turns it off. What good would that do? Well, Fox News’s Glenn Beck made $22 million last year — only because his fulminations attracted enough listeners to bring in advertisers by the battalion. Turn him off; he’ll go away. Guaranteed.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.

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