THE MORE THINGS CHANGE…. Following a spate of violence from right-wing extremists, a prominent Democratic leader took a stand: “If [purveyors of hatred and division, with the promoters of paranoia] insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties. When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it.”
It sounds like the kind of thing we might hear this week, but the remarks came from Bill Clinton 14 years ago, about a week after Timothy McVeigh destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At the time, the president added:
“[W]e hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable.”
Kyle at Right Wing Watch reminds me today of this report (pdf) that People for the American Way issued on May 1, 1995, highlighting the “climate of intolerance” generated by prominent far-right voices of the day.
Language that attributes heinous motives and goals to individuals and organizations — such as accusations that liberals are out to destroy Christianity or that advocates for civil rights for gays and lesbians want to molest young children — destroys any recognition of common interest and any hope of finding common ground among political opponents. That is a terribly dangerous situation in a democratic society.
It’s striking how little has changed. The issues are sometimes slightly different, and some (but not all) of the demagogues have been replaced with younger versions, but the unbridled rage is eerily similar.