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More hate speech from the left

Two months ago, as Houston voters were considering a proposal to end racial preferences, opponents of the measure aired a radio spot. It began with the familiar cadences of Martin Luther King's ``I Have a Dream'' speech. Then a gunshot sounded. Sirens wailed. And the narrator spoke: ``Just when our community starts to move ahead, some people try to turn back the clock. Sometimes they do it with bullets. Sometimes they do it with laws.''


Clear enough? If you favor colorblind laws, you are no better than Dr. King's murderer.

If a conservative group aired a radio spot likening its liberal foes to Lee Harvey Oswald, it would be inundated, and rightly, by a wave of denunciation from sea to shining sea. But when liberals spew such venom on conservatives, comparing them to assassins, fascists, and mass murderers, there is barely a trickle of indignation.

At the end of each year I take a look at how this glaring double standard played out in the 12 months gone by. And in 1997, I am sorry to report, little changed. Hate speech was usually ignored when it came from the left. But when it came from the right, it was deemed intolerable. Even mild insults flung by conservatives were pounced on. When Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader, said on television last June that President Clinton ``acts like a spoiled brat,'' network news shows jumped to scold him. When the Rev. Jerry Falwell referred to Ellen DeGeneres, the came-out-as-lesbian TV star, as ``Ellen Degenerate,'' he was excoriated even by right-wing radio hosts.

But there was no objection when Senator Jesse Helms was compared to ``Old South . . . slave owners'' by CNN pundit William Schneider and called ``a terrorist'' by Clinton's close friend George Stephanopoulos. Ugly name-calling is OK when you're mocking a conservative.

Left-wing journalist Robert Scheer was not chided for describing Republicans as coldhearted creatures who ``would rather kill people than raise taxes.'' Nor was ABC's Sam Donaldson when he analogized Newt Gingrich to the bloody Soviet dictator Lenin: ``They both made a revolution by shooting people.'' Nor Jesse Jackson for suggesting that California Governor Pete Wilson is a hardened racist: ``Just as Wallace once blocked school doors, now Wilson blocks school doors.''

Compare your political opponents to Nazis? No problem -- if you're a liberal. In 1997:

- Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, invoked Auschwitz in denouncing warning labels on violent or obscene records. They ``would one day serve,'' he wrote, ``as a tattooed number on the forearm of the artistic community.''

- TV and movie director Michael Moore (``Roger and Me,'' ``TV Nation'') urged liberals to read The Wall Street Journal, a paper put out by ``the enemy . . . every day to tell you what they are up to. That's incredible. Imagine the Nazis doing that every day, sending out a sheet that says, `Here's what we're up to.' ''

- Christopher Edley, a law professor at Harvard and a Clinton adviser, pronounced Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom guilty of ``a crime against humanity'' -- like the Nuremberg defendants? -- for having published ``American in Black and White,'' an important new book that is skeptical of racial quotas and preferences.

- Tim Fleck, a Houston Press columnist, warned readers that Gary Polland, the conservative Republican chairman of Harris County, Texas, had probably been ``reading too much `Mein Kampf' for his own good.'' Why the Hitler comparison? Because Polland had rated candidates for local office based on their answers to a questionnaire. Fleck's piece was titled, ``Look Out for the GOPstapo!''

Of course, it is important to distinguish hate speech from speech that is merely harsh. When Vice President Al Gore denounced a GOP welfare proposal as ``un-American, simply un-American,'' that was simply an example of the vigorous, often obnoxious rhetoric that is part and parcel of democratic politics. But not Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's charge that critics of the administration's global warming policies are murderers of small children. To heed the skeptics who call for a go-slow approach, said Babbitt, ``is to leave children and grandchildren locked in a car on a hot day with the windows sealed tight.'' That wasn't vigorous, it was vile. But nobody called him on it.

At a rally for the National Endowment for the Arts, the prominent far-left playwright Tony Kushner wished for ``Bob Dole, Newt, and Trent Lott [to] join hands and jump off the top of the Washington monument.'' Then he called NEA opponents ``neo-barbarians,'' ``certifiable madmen,'' ``bigots, racists, and homophobic.'' A notable conservative who said such things would be abominated. Kushner was applauded.

Liberal hate speech went on and on, but columns must end. So let us close with the poisonous comments of US Representative Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, who lashed out at independent counsel Don Smaltz (the one prosecuting former agriculture secretary Mike Espy). When Smaltz didn't mention at a committee hearing that he is registered Republican, Lantos hissed: ``You remind me of . . . Kurt Waldheim, who also had a lapse in memory. He conveniently forgot several years when he was a Nazi.''

The independent counsel was stunned. The chairman of the Republican National Committee demanded an apology. But Lantos serenely insisted that his horrid comparison was ``totally proper and correct,'' adding: ``If you overlook your involvement in the KKK or the Nazi Party or the Republican Party, you are lying. You are deceitful.''

Perhaps the media and public opinion will mobilize against Lantos's disgusting remarks. But he's a liberal, so don't hold your breath.

Read Jeff Jacoby's previous columns on liberal hate speech
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