Related: Civil & Human Rights, Politics, Religion, Social Issues

My Opponent, My Enemy



Washington Post Columnist Colbert King is right on when he says in today’s column that so much of the current political discourse has crossed the line between disagreeing with a political opponent to attacking the opponent as the enemy.   This is, in the words of his headline, “A Dangerous Kind of Hate” that can lead to the kind of violence perpetrated not by groups but by isolated individuals motivated by incoherent feelings of rage.

A story on today illustrates this problem through interviews with people on board the “TEA Party Express” who say things like, “We’ve got some domestic enemies in the White House” and refer to President Obama as “a communist in the White House.”   A nearby photograph shows an protester holding up a sign on which Obama’s name is festooned with a swastika inside the “O” suggesting he is a Nazi — in stories just today about demonstrations in Washington I’ve read the words “Nazi,” “Hitler,” “Communist,” “Socialist,” “Czar” and other such labels associated with President Obama.   A Washington Post photograph of a protester wearing a shirt apparently made from the U.S. Flag (time was when that would have been illegal!) carrying a placard with a large photograph of Nancy Pelosi over which the word “NAZI” appears.   (I’m itching to enroll them in a Political Theory course so that we can discuss the difference between Nazis and Communists and Fascists and Socialists and Russians and Republicans and Democrats, but I digress…)

Yes, it’s true that raucous, nasty, mean-spirited, highly personal political attacks and defamatory tactics are as American as…. well, the Boston Tea Party.   True, the party in power always complains about the tactics of the opposition, and “dirty tricks” are a hallowed form of political mud-slinging.   Just watch Frost/Nixon to recall the good old days when the president kept an enemies list and third-rate burglars on his party payroll.

I did my share of protesting ‘back in the day’ like the time a few classmates and I joined others in the Student Movement chasing Nixon’s motorcade down Pennsylvania Avenue after his second inauguration.   We probably shouted out a few things that I might not reprint on this blog today.   Protest is surely a great symbol of this or any democracy, and it’s often more mud-slinging than formal Debate Style.

And yet, and yet…. as King points out in his column today, and as pundits and others have ruminated all week, there’s something especially worrisome about the current state of American political discourse.   It’s not just Congressman Joe Wilson’s pathetic shout out (“You Lie!”) during President Obama’s address to Congress.  Disrespect in public discourse is, unfortunately, normative these days — just check the “comments” section on most news stories.

But the rage, the undifferentiated anger, the underlying climate of threat, the brandishing of weapons at presidential events, the hair-trigger responses to any difference of opinion — all of these are symptoms of sickness in the body politic.   Colbert King worries today that these expressions of hostility will spill over into tragedy.   Even short of that, the nation that is still the most powerful, wealthiest and most well-educated place on earth should be able to carry on robust public disagreements without demonization.   Comparing President Obama to Hitler because he wanted to talk to school children about the importance of doing their homework is beyond hysterical, it’s offensive to America’s fundamental values of respect and integrity.   Surely, we can go jaw-to-jaw with competing facts & figures over health care reform without accusing the opposition of wanting to kill grandma.   And most certainly, people who claim to be acting in the name of religion and the defense of life should treat everyone with the respect and dignity they say they are working to uphold.

Surely, we can debate our opponents without demonizing them as our enemies.

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6 Responses to My Opponent, My Enemy

  1. Your website looks really good. Being a blog writer myself, I really appreciate the time you took in writing this article.

  2. Kyle says:

    A very well written article. Actually it’s amazing how much better written it is than all the other articles you link to.

    The degree to which free speech has come under attack in recent years is more than a little disturbing. Not under attack from the government but under attack from citizenry and the media. Anyone that espouses an ideology different than the group that can shout the loudest, at that moment, is immediately silenced.

    The idea that we shouldn’t talk about religion or politics because they are too volatile. Is the wrong tack to take. We need to focus on teaching people to debate on issues they are passionate about without letting their passion cloud their reason.

  3. Morgan says:

    Voltaire once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” That line holds merit to this day. We might not like certain people in office or politics that differ drastically from our own…but that dislike should never go so far as personal and tactless assualts. All Americans have the right to voice their opinions in protest. But it should be on an intellectual level, not a personal one. We must respect the rights of all people in this democracy.

  4. pal says:

    Americans have completely lost their little minds. The US is still the most powerful nation on the planet but it ranks 37 worldwide in education and 40M Americans do not have health care. Something’s wrong. It’s the mindless greed that’s destroying America. Lincoln himself said that America would wind up destroying itself.

  5. ShirleyJ says:

    Unfortunately, the strategy of “attack and demonize your opponent” began, in recent times, with George Bush (41) and continued with George Bush, fils (43). Using lies and other invectives have been successful. When candidate John Kerry was “swift-boated” out of the White House, for example, it became clear that one could succeed by prevaricating and dissembling. The Karl Rove strategy works. The ends justified the means. Now, with the most recent campaign and the health care debate, anything goes as long as one achieves the result. In this case, the Republican/corporate goal is defeating the bill and the president. There is no morality in politics and no honor anymore.
    Of more concern, as I read the definition of “sedition” i.e., “rebellion or incitement: actions or words intended to provoke or incite rebellion against government authority, or actual rebellion against government authority” (Encarta Dictionary), Fox News and the rabid right are engaging in seditious acts against the government. While I strongly defend the First Amendment, I believe it is time to begin to look into such acts in order to protect the president and our constitutional form of government (and it pains me to say this). Those who oppose this president should wait four years to vote him out of office, not foment insurrection or brandish arms at health care town halls. There are limits to these protests and to the extent to which Fox News (et al.) can spread lies and incite violence to achieve corporate interests.

  6. Ann Donaldson says:

    Having just finished Jeff Sharlet’s The Family, the chaotic mix of Hitler and Communism finally makes sense – it’s terrifying, but it all fits into place. I urge to read The Family if you haven’t already.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
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