How the right is demonized
Alas, rude words were spoken in 1995. It was, as always, a year filled with hot rhetoric, cold insults and ugly slurs. And again this year, much of that bile came from the left, as the ongoing campaign to demonize conservatives and conservative ideas rolled on.
When some prominent Republican utters a nasty epithet, the condemnation is swift, certain and severe. House Majority Leader Dick Armey was buried beneath an avalanche of censure when he blurtingly referred to the gay congressman
from the Boston suburbs as "Barney Fag." A National Rifle Association fund- raising letter that dubbed federal police agents "jackbooted thugs" was denounced in all quarters; former President Bush even resigned his NRA membership in protest.
But left-wing vitriol rarely seems to have that effect. Nobody hissed with disapproval when Jesse Jackson, miffed at a Supreme Court decision, declared that the justices were "paving the way back toward slavery." Few editorial pages erupted over the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's mailing -- sent after the bombing in Oklahoma City -- that said House Speaker Newt Gingrich "promotes the policies of a terrorist."
Each December, I round up some of the most egregious libels hurled by liberals in the year gone by. These aren't the ravings of kooks on the fringe. They are the rhetorical brutalities of mainstream politicians and journalists. Almost any one of these smears, if made by a conservative, would trigger calls for his crucifixion. Why is there no reaction when they're made about a conservative?
The arrival of the first Republican Congress since 1954 set off a tidal wave of slander, as liberals repeatedly asserted that the GOP's goal was dead children.
"What they want to do," said Bill Clinton in February, "is make war on the kids of this country."
"What they're trying to do," said Clinton's chief of staff, Leon Panetta, ''is literally take away meals from kids . . . run over kids."
In an ad, the Child Welfare League of America warned: "More children will be killed. More children will be raped."
And once the kids were dead -- to hear the Democrats tell it -- Republicans would go to work on the adults.
"They'd like to see the Medicare program just die and go away," White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry told reporters on Oct. 26. "You know, that's probably what they'd like to see happen to seniors, too, if you think about it."
Robert Scheer wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the Republicans espouse ''a social Darwinism that holds that only the strong deserve to live." In the Washington Post, Judith Havemann likened GOP efforts to curb Medicaid costs to "the battle of Manila . . . a fight that . . . killed up to 100,000 Filipino civilians."
Vice President Al Gore prophesied that if Republicans succeeded in easing federal regulations, "our drinking water would be dirtier, make more people sick and would kill more people. Our air would be dirtier, make more people sick and kill more people."
When they weren't killing children and poisoning the water supply, Republicans were busy plotting other atrocities. "Trickle-down terrorists," House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt called them. Conservative talk-show hosts, explained Philip Martin on National Public Radio, were the equivalent of genocidal "right-wing Hutu militiamen" in Rwanda. To liberal columnist Carl Rowan, the Oklahoma City slaughter was the GOP's fault. "Unless Gingrich and Dole and the Republicans say, 'Am I inflaming a bunch of nuts?' " he declared in April, "you know we're going to have some more events" like the bombing of the Murrah federal office building.
No slur is more popular in the hate lexicon of the left than "racist." Except possibly "Nazi." When characterizing conservatives and Republicans, liberals reach for both. Some illustrations:
- "Hitler had a minister of propaganda that said tell a lie, tell a big lie. . . . Republicans are telling the biggest lie in the world. . . . What's next, castration?" (US Rep. Bill Clay, attacking GOP welfare proposals.)
- "Just like under Hitler . . ." (US Rep. Charles Rangel, describing a House Ways and Means Committee vote that closed a tax loophole.)
- "Republican storm troopers." (Mario Cuomo.)
- " 'Apollo 13' . . . celebrates the paradisiacal America invoked by Ronald Reagan and Pat Buchanan -- an America where men were men, women were subservient and people of color kept out of the damn way." (John Powers, reviewing the movie "Apollo 13" in the Washington Post.)
- "You go to the back of the bus." (Radio spots aired by Mississippi Democrats, warning black voters what would happen if GOP Gov. Kirk Fordice were reelected.)
In 1995, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had to endure particularly vicious abuse. At the NAACP convention in Minneapolis, he was repeatedly called "pimp" and "traitor." A scurrilous Time magazine article about him was headlined "Uncle Tom Justice." Former federal judge Leon Higginbotham, who has made assassinating Thomas' character his life's mission, bashed the court's lone black justice for his "record of hostility to human rights."
The defamation was endless. This column, unfortunately, isn't. And so, to stand for all the others there isn't room for, here is one final example of the liberal hate speech that was so common -- and so unchallenged -- in 1995:
"I think he ought to be worried about what's going on in the good Lord's mind," NPR's Nina Totenberg said of Sen. Jesse Helms in July. "Because if there is retributive justice, he'll get AIDS from a transfusion. Or one of his grandchildren will get it."
Imagine if Helms had said that about her. Or about one of her grandchildren.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.