Public discourse taking violent turn, conservative talkers to blame


The coarse and trivial complexion of public discourse in this country is as destructive to domestic tranquility as it is distasteful to the better angels of our nature.

The caustic ravings of cable news commentators, the scathing screeds of blogosphere boneheads, and the cacophonous shrieking of talk radio shock jocks, envelopes national discussion on issues large and small.

Far too often this paradigm morphs the minuscule into topics of great moment that distract us from the pressing challenges we face in an ever-changing global economy. And increasingly, it seems these tirades on matters inconsequential are fueling a dangerous undercurrent of outrage that threatens to erupt in violence.

There is nothing new about vicious rhetoric in American politics.

The trash-talking and mud-slinging of the 21st century doesn’t even come close to the bitter, ad hominem attacks that abounded in the early Republic. Reference the presidential elections of 1800 and 1828 for the most salient examples of this.

The character assassinations — that sometimes resulted in actual assassinations — of our country’s infancy make today’s political squabbles look cordial by comparison.

But recent events seem to suggest that we may be inching closer to the literal duels and armed insurrections of the past than one would think proper — let alone possible — for a highly developed democracy.

While there are certainly progressive pugilists in print and on the airwaves who inveigh against conservatives with seething antipathy, I would submit that the vast majority of hateful invective is coming from the Right side of the dial.

Bill Sparkman, a single father, cancer survivor, teacher and part-time Census Bureau worker, was found bound, gagged and hanged in the woods of Eastern Kentucky last week. Sparkman was found naked with the word “Fed” written on his chest and his Census Bureau identification card taped to his neck.

Authorities have yet to rule the incident a homicide, but all indications seem to point in that direction.

This comes on the heels of a campaign by conservative conspiracy theorists to discredit the Census by claiming that the Obama administration has nefarious plans for the use of Census data.

Chief conspiracy-monger Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., has made wild and factually impaired claims that Census data could be used to set up internment camps.

Talk radio host Neal Boortz recently compared Census workers to “looters” whose purpose in gathering information was “to help the government steal from you.”

This is the environment of paranoia the right-wing noise machine creates.

President Barack Obama receives 30 death threats per day, an increase of 400 percent from the previous administration, according to a former Secret Service agent.

Side-show clown Glenn Beck has yet to call for Obama to be killed, but he did joke about poisoning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Hilarious.

Writing recently about Beck’s affect on the impressionable in the population, Financial Times columnist Jurek Martin had this to say, “I find that Mr. Beck, deliberately or not, sometimes walks close to what I would regard as a form of incitement to insurrection, no light matter in a country with so many susceptible people who happen to possess guns.”

The last time I wrote in this space I argued that the far-right with its proclivities for paranoia, hackneyed professions of patriotism and plain, unvarnished hatred, has taken over the Republican Party. It was an admittedly incendiary and sardonic diatribe. It was not, however, a disproportionate response to the vitriol displayed by the “double sufferers” who carried disgusting placards juxtaposing President Obama with Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.

One reader has pegged me a hypocrite for railing vociferously against these actions and has accused me of engaging in rhetoric of the same kind I denounced. But there is a difference between naked hatred and righteous indignation.

It is my firm belief that when individuals are willfully dishonest, disingenuous or simply delusional, they must be exposed, humiliated and subjected to scorn and ridicule. This is by no means the same thing as threatening bodily harm or tacitly advocating violence, as the right-wing noise-makers have achieved with surgical precision.

Incitement to violence whether by implication or explicit declaration has no place in our political discussions. It would be of great benefit to our nation if those in the conservative media could converse on matters of national import without throwing a tantrum and calling for revolutionary bloodletting.