The Politics of Hate

On a recent summer evening, with the scent of lavender in the air from a nearby neighbor’s farm, a dinner party was held at a West Linn country home for the wife of the Vice President of the United States. Oregon was at its summer-weather best, and the evening should have epitomized Western hospitality and political and intellectual enthusiasm.

Instead neighbors across the long driveway held their own dinner party, if that’s the appropriate term. Which is questionable, because the sole reason for that get-together was to irritate and offend the wife of the Vice President of the United States, and the other neighbors who came to meet her.

Banner signs posted along the driveway ranted anti-Bush slogans, including comments that Bush’s family values were not their family values.

Offended by the ugly behavior, neighbors on all sides were caught in the middle of a nasty neighborhood fight. Feelings were hurt and permanent damage done to once-cordial neighborhood relations. Oh, and later there was also a smaller sign posted under the nasty banner along the driveway. It commented on the “values” of people who purposely attack their neighbors and disrespect the wife of our nation’s vice president.

In-your-face politics, particularly negative politics, have reached a crescendo this year with the Democrats’ anti-Bush rantings. What can only be described as hatred of the president is epidemic—so much so that party strategists have begun urgent inside efforts to tone down the ugly tone of party faithful. It’s working only moderately at the national level, and not well at all here in Oregon, where the irrational politics of hatred have whipped the left into a frenzy.

It’s difficult to drive down Northwest streets without facing the butt-end of a left-leaning automobile with an unpleasant hate-Bush slogan. The drivers of the cars, who no doubt fancy themselves to be enlightened, caring, tolerant liberals, nonetheless find obvious delight in spreading messages of hate, disrespect and intolerance of their neighbors on the road.

But the left’s political tactics in this election have turned personal, taking on a quasi-religious fanaticism in tone. And as the tone becomes more personal, politics invades our personal spaces.

Movie stars who once entertained us in hushed theaters now harangue us with their personal political opinions whenever they get a microphone. Who can relax and enjoy a movie when Alec Baldwin’s sneering face on the screen calls up reminders of his offensive rants? TV stars we used to laugh with in the privacy of our living rooms now spout scripts with bitter partisan dialogue and left-wing policy speeches.

Now come reports of golfers with political stickers affixed to their golf bags. Is nothing sacred? Or there’s the case of the bicycle group with dueling stickers on their fenders, turning a recreational outing into a personal political battle. Car bumpers, once reserved for positive campaign stickers, now routinely display vulgar, negative political messages.

And this season brought the mother of all negative political ads, Michael Moore’s anti-Bush propaganda film. The media, usually hypercritical of negative attacks, gave a pass to this one. After criticizing Bush for using 9/11 images in a positive ad, the media was silent about Moore’s use of 9/11 images and titles in his feature film-length negative ad.

Here in Oregon the mean-spirited, petty personal jabs take many forms. Cong. Greg Walden recalls when the City of Portland (Mayor Vera Katz) tried to bill him for having the Speaker of the U.S. House here for an event. “It really sends an interesting message about the welcome mat … you think there is a trap door under it. This was just over the edge.

“Those things are the cheap shot political jabs that get a days worth of press and rile up the base but really make it difficult to get meaningful work done.”

In the ’60s and ’70s public dissent was conducted in the same way the nation saw itself, through large gestures: huge protests against the Vietnam War or segregation were dramatic demonstrations, not petty personal invective. Though vehement, even violent, protests aimed outward at government, and were usually carried out in public squares or government buildings. Our presidents during that turbulent time, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, may not have been great leaders, but the nation itself was “big” in spirit. Neighbor to neighbor, tolerance and civility were practiced.

What happened to the flower children of the ’60s? That same generation is nearly unrecognizable in today’s adults. Whatever happened to peace, love and brotherhood?

Even if it best serves their own campaign, we can all hope that Democrats’ recent pleas to their constituents to tone down the hate speech are heeded. For everyone’s sake, liberals need to chill out.

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