Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hate Speech

Gringo sent along the recent speech by Senator Whitehouse, wondering after my comments. Text and video here. Here are the key lines, for my purposes. I have inserted what the words refer to in parentheses. Tumbrels… (The French Revolution, when the revolution killed thousands, and the mob resorted to rule by guillotine.) Strange fruit…(lynching of blacks across the south); broken glass… (Kristellnacht); tailgunner …(Joe McCarthy).

This is hate speech. When we hear the phrase “Hate Speech” in current usage, we have been trained to think of something quite different than a US Senator complaining about his opponents. But this qualifies far more. This does not rely on subtlety or suggestion – it is a declaration: The people against Obama are murderers. They have it in them and they are moving that way. If we do not stop them they will murder people.

This is the rhetoric countries use leading up to a war. They pitchfork babies. They attacked a woman just walking down the street with a little girl. That way the leaders can claim to have clean hands. The gentle people do not have to be involved. They just incite the others. “Why, we never advocated violence against anyone. But these people have to understand, if they keep poisoning children, they shouldn’t be surprised at the consequences. We’re not the haters. It’s them.”

Because, after all, if we’re murderers, what should be done with us?

The objection will be raised that Sen. Whitehouse did not actually say “will lead” but “can lead.” No, look at the rest of the text. This is not a matter of context or interpretation, this is a direct connection. He is not exempting his colleagues. He is not exempting responsible opposition. Whitehouse slips free of the definite statement in that one place, but connects it back in everywhere else. Nifty. The reason it gets a pass is because a fair number of people think it’s true. They are quite sure, despite the absence of lynchings, that we could restart at any time – we conservatives can turn on you like a wild dog, doncha know. No violence in the streets – not from the conservatives, anyway; there’s still a fair bit by various groups of Democrats – but they see the shadows of the guillotine anyway. Senator Whitehouse quotes a raft of liberals who think so. I guess that’s good enough for some. Note also that the word “lie” drops easily from his lips.

If you are one who believes I exaggerate and overinterpret what the Senator is saying – that he is actually just engaging in a bit of political rhetoric, and is really a quite reasonable person who would never take up arms, I have three questions: Are all his hearers that reasonable? Does he know this? Have there been abettors of the great tyrannies who did no violence themselves? (That would be No, Yes, Yes, for you scoring at home.) What argument remains?

But couldn’t, really, Sen. Whitehouse just mean that some of Obama’s opponents are dangerous, with no number or percentage identified? Well, I don’t know what he means, I’m not a mind-reader like he is. But I do know what he said. If he meant to limit his accusation in any way, he didn’t actually do so. The context in which liberals read this – and here I am venturing a guess based on my own history as a liberal, plus my reading of current rhetoric – could very well be “OK, not all opponents of Obama are like this, that’s a generalization. But there are more of them than you’d think. And they are violent and dangerous just below the surface, but people don’t appreciate that. Mobs can get out of hand quickly.”

Yes, yes they can. And when they do, there are always powerful people willing to make excuses for them, blaming their victims for inciting them to violence. It’s already happening, in Copenhagen, in Seattle, in Nashville, in St. Louis, in Derry and Portsmouth NH (irony alert),

This is not a blogger or commenter at HuffPo making these incendiary statements. This is a United States Senator calling those who disagree with him potential murderers. It is far more a hate speech than anything said by Limbaugh or Hannity or Coulter – and they are, you may remember, pretty dramatic.

This is hate speech. It is only accepted because liberals will not perform the simple exercise of reversing these comments to see how they might sound. Why would they refuse this simple exercise? That train left the station years ago. They can no longer afford to even pretend to be evenhanded.


Retriever said...

Very good post. I had just been pissed off by the language, without really analyzing why...

Have a very Merry Christmas! I am not going to think AT ALL about politics for a couple of days, and try not to be gloomy about recent events

David Foster said...

I will remember Whitehouse, and his opponent will be getting a substantial contribution from me.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Whitehouse replaced Lincoln Chafee, an oft-complained of RINO. It's a good illustration of the dilemna: if you don't elect the Chafee's, you get the Whitehouse's. But then you never push the issues out fully into the open. I think there is something to be said for either approach.

Gringo said...

Thanks for the posting , AVI. You articulated it better than I did. Interesting that of all the words that Sheldon Whitehouse spoke, we both focused on the same part. Probaby because that was the part that was hardest to swallow.

I spent much of my NE childhood playing sports with Whitehouses who were salt of the earth Yankees, not sneering Brahmins like Sheldon Whitehouse.

When Sheldon talks of “the malignant and vindictive passions that have descended on the Senate,” he is not just talking of some small subset of “fanatics” or “right wing militias” among our population, he is so labeling his Republican colleagues in the Senate, who by definition are mainstream. Else how could they have been elected?

I wonder if Sheldon would also cite “a Nobel prize-winning economist” when that Nobel prize-winning economist mistakenly assumed that most Canadians in the audience were pleased with Canadian health care, which the Nobel prize winning economist admitted was a bad move on my part."

While Sheldon labels Republicans as “an aggrieved minority,” he bypasses the polls that show that 40% of voters nationwide favor the bill and 55% are opposed. When 60 out of 100 Senators pass what only 40% of the populace support, that rather contorts the notion of “aggrieved minority.”

By saying " can lead," Sheldon can plausibly deny that he called hie opponents racists, Nazis, etc. I am reminded of LBJ's joke about the candidate for county sheriff who accused his opponent of doing unmentionable things with hogs. "Why'd you say that? You KNOW he doesn't @@## hogs?" "But I love to hear him deny it."