Freedom, Media, Constraint & Law

So compartmentalized is our world that we can hardly tackle any major problem without treading on sacrosanct fields. But I have no credentials and I must speak.

First, what is the freedom that results in displays of arms at Town Halls and the emission of hate speech and hate graphics. It is not the internal freedom that emerges from a spiritual release from one’s burdens. It is not the freedom St. Paul speaks of when he says Christ has set us free. What is it? It appears to be an interpretation of what is permitted by right. Such freedom is necessarily confrontational. No matter how it gets dressed up, a freedom tied to a right, regardless of how preciously it is held, carries with it the statement, I have a right to do this. As such, it is necessarily contextual. It can and does involve an adjudication of rights among potentially conflicting persons and groups.

Second, what is the role of media in spreading hate speech and public displays of hate and threat. Given the “right” to do and say most anything and its extension to anyone with the capacity to publish, online or off, the answer is: it is pervasive. Hate speech and violent threats have been endemic in the U.S.  since the days of Cotton Mather and Shay’s rebellion. But now there are no brakes upon its circulation and display. We delude ourselves if we do not look this fact in the eye and acknowledge that even if we limit our participation, we will always have media that will do what we may regard as inflammatory, despicable or small-minded. The role of media does not exist. Media do what media do and delude themselves talking about their role.

What of constraint? Are there any constraints? Is boredom our ally here? People simply tiring of idiotic posturing and silly display. I would not underestimate that.  Could we hope for a growth of consensus — such as took place when we finally began to abolish smoking? We might gradually concede that the false cry in the theater has wide and obvious application to public behavior that indulges in hate and provocation.  Such constraint might include the behavior of the media. A gradual willingness to stanch the flow of  hateful material.  But here my credulity fades. I do not believe the present crisis will be so easily resolved. The genie that is being unloosed leaves too many questions unanswered.

What is society’s tipping point?

Can a progressive current gradually prevail?

Or is it likely that the back and forth between progress and repression will intensify until even thinking like this becomes impossible?

And what of law?

Shall we increase the perimeter around the President?

Shall we outlaw certain expressions as too inflammatory?

Shall we limit access to certain weapons that have no use beyond the quick killing of a whole bunch of folk in a very short time?

Such questions always suggest the tragedies that give rise to laws of restraint. But notice that these laws have had little success in turning us in a more pacific direction.


My answer will be to support the President and do my best to convince other progressives that the most important task is not to complain loudly about the pace of change. It is to do what is called for every step of the way. Mobilize the grass roots to do the simple things that will win votes and create a body of accomplishment that will eventually convince even wingnuts that their chances of winning by condoning hate and unreason are declining, not increasing.


There was a time when I would have cried loudly for some action from the religious community. But if there is such action today, the media must be ignoring it. If the way the middle goes is the way the nation goes, then this religious community will bear some blame if things go, in a word, south.


The ‘aginners’ and the politics of hate

Below is all QUOTE from the Jerusalem Post column The ‘aginners’ and the politics of hate

MY DAD didn’t vote for Barack Obama, thought he was “trying to be Santy Claus to everyone” with his tax dollars. But he had a great deal of respect for the office and the man, and was deeply troubled by the hatred being stirred up in the country.

That doesn’t mean dad was some soft liberal; he was tough, conservative and not always the poster boy for tolerance. He was repulsed by the Christian fundamentalists who dominated the Republican Party, and didn’t care much for the liberals running the Democratic Party. We disagreed on a lot more than we could agree on when it came to politics. We shared a love for Israel, but he was a hard-line Likudnik – although, to my surprise, he made the transition to the middle with his hero, Sharon, and for most of the same reasons. He never had much sympathy for the Palestinians, and he believed that the Arabs would wipe Israel off the map if given half a chance, but felt that it was in Israel’s interest to separate into two states.

He was an avid student and voracious reader of history – particularly Jewish history and the American Civil War. I think his greatest satisfaction – outside his four children, 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren – dated back over 70 years, to his experience as a yeshiva student in Cleveland.

He remembered the Depression not just for the economic hard times, but also for the outbursts of anti-Semitism that characterized much of the 1930s. To him many of the hate radio voices of today were echoes of one from his youth, Father Charles Coughlin, the rabid anti-Semitic radio preacher who praised Hitler and accused FDR of “leaning toward international socialism” (sound familiar?) and being a tool of the Jews.

Dad didn’t listen to talk radio; it just made him angry, he said, and he thought most of those on it were “stupid.” He said people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and their ilk reminded him of Father Coughlin. He called them “aginners.” They don’t stand for anything, they just want to tear things and people down and tell you what they’re against, he liked to say.

“They’re aginners, not builders,” he explained. “It’s always easier to be an aginner.”

The aginners don’t have to take any responsibility, they don’t have to solve problems. Actually they prefer to create problems for others, he’d say. Often the aginners are haters, racists, elitists. Or they are stirring up rage for purely mercenary reasons.

NO PARTY has a monopoly on aginners, although the conservatives appear intent on cornering the market these days and have the greatest access to the mass media – despite absurd claims about the “liberal media.” Race baiting is a popular focus for hate-talkers like Beck, who has accused the president of hating white people, and Limbaugh, who is alerting the nation to the looming crisis created by two black teens beating up a white kid on a Missouri school bus.

The Jewish community produced our own contingent of aginners in last year’s campaign, accusing Obama of being a Jew-hating, closet Muslim out to destroy Israel.

When it came to politics, my father and I found little in common, but there was one thing we could agree on – the aginners. Dad would have agreed with The New York Times’s resident conservative columnist David Brooks, who said Beck and Limbaugh, with their agenda of fear and hate instead of ideas and policy, aren’t going to take over the country, but they are taking over the Republican Party, and that’s not good for the country.


President Obama’s FDR Problem

President Obama’s FDR Problem

President Obama is the first president in my memory to have the FDR problem. That problem in a word is hate. The reason is the same.

I am old enough to remember the hate on the lips of kids I went to school with in the early 1940s.

Roosevelt was hated by the right because he was transparently oriented to doing for all what the right felt was deserved only by those who embraced their version of a free enterprise system. Roosevelt naturally made a mockery of this logic while achieving high profile movements that looked a lot like just the change conservatives abhorred.

Obama is stoking the flames of this hate as we speak. Those of us who are for his agenda need to batten down and prepare for a battle.

We can say with confidence:

Obama is a centrist, not a socialist — and back it up with facts.

Government has intervened when it needed to under Repubicans and Democrats.

The Obama program of spending is absolutely necessary as the economy morphs into an engine that serves the needs and desires of this century, which have less to do with conspicuous consumption than smarts and survival.

Whatever your viewpoint, stow the hate. It is unbecoming, immature, sadly revealing and not worth the wear and tear on body, mind and soul.

Thank god we are, shakily but in fact, a nation of laws. The law is our best protection when hate flares into active mayhem. We need well trained and nonpartisan law enforcement that does not go off half-cocked, but which recognizes that we are going through a time of change when the same hate that FDR experienced is being loaded onto our President.


The Culture of Berating

I am just as guilty as anyone. As I read today’s afternoon Huffington Post Brief, the very first title was about who do you hate more, Liz or Dick. It was about the Cheney’s, father and daughter. This is the sort of headline that is beginning to turn my stomach and make me turn from blogging, because it seems so associated with what anyone can do best — put people down.

Berating is, I feel, the growing essence of what I do not like, no matter who does it or what it is about. Since I am not immune to the habit, I intend in the future to try to avoid it. And when I see that it is the dominant tendency of places like Huffington Post, I will regretfully conclude that whatever hope I had in them is fast diminishing..