It's difficult to assign psychological motive when it comes to political tactics, but based upon the collective behavior of far-right conservative Republicans, we can only deduce that a considerable number of them are bullies and ought to be treated as such.
What other conclusion can we draw when they regularly attack children and ordinary citizens who aren't involved in the day-to-day political discourse? I'm not talking about low-level drones who lurk in blog comment sections and various other dark corners of the Internet -- disguised behind cowardly pseudonyms. I'm talking about the top-shelf players. Fox News hosts, AM radio talkers and various Internet commentators.
Naturally there are exceptions to every rule, but nearly every time there's a news story involving a child or group of children, the far-right erupts into a shameless frontal assault against the kids. In fact, there are almost too many examples to list here.
Trayvon Martin is the latest in a long roster of conservative targets. This week, various conservative media sources have made specious accusations about the character and motives of an unarmed kid who was shot dead. Arguably the easiest target in America is a dead black teenager: unable to posthumously defend himself and whose race makes him a lightning rod for all sorts of slack-jawed character assumptions, racial stereotypes, backhanded "unintentional" racism and white resentment.
So the far-right has naturally taken the path of least resistance here and is thumbing through Trayvon's tweets and photos -- and even his menswear -- to determine whether he had it coming.
Geraldo Rivera thought Trayvon's clothing might have invited the shooting. Rush Limbaugh and others have tried in earnest to connect Trayvon to the Black Panthers via, strangely enough, President Obama. Drudge posted sensationalistic headlines about Trayvon's past while illustrating the links with a "grills" photo of Trayvon which was obviously meant to feed anti-black "gangsta" stereotypes. Tucker Carlson's The Daily Caller released what are purported to be Trayvon's tweets. Glenn Beck's The Blaze posted an entire list of infractions Trayvon might have committed at his high school. The list includes homicide, sexual harassment and armed robbery.
The absurd notion that somehow Trayvon's unsubstantiated "record" might somehow justify George Zimmerman's actions are totally indicative of the kind of bullying and racial dog-whistles we've observed from these people on countless occasions. And, by the way, it's this kind of behavior that's dooming the far-right to the margins of reasonable debate while fracturing the Republican Party.
As I wrote earlier, this isn't the first time a child has been targeted by the right. There's a long history of far-right aggression against both children and adult "noncombatants."
Sandra Fluke, whose reputation was assassinated in the right-wing media, is an ordinary citizen who simply delivered some brief remarks to members of Congress. For her obvious crime the right-wing media, and most notably Rush Limbaugh, declared war on a woman who hadn't ever appeared on cable news or talk radio or even maintained a blog. Easy, then, for the far-right to draw blood by means of overwhelming the so-called enemy with the full force of right-wing radio and television. How can anyone new to the scene, irrespective of age, race or gender, expect to fight back against a trained and monied right-wing attack machine? Limbaugh and others know this, so, to them, it's an easily winnable fight.
In addition to his infamous rants against the late Dr. George Tiller, Bill O'Reilly and his brigade of stalking underlings have made a career out of lurking in parking lots awaiting everyone from school principals to low-level nobodies. Here are some of his noncombatant victims:
Homeless Veterans, 1/31/08: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts the group outside of Fox News headquarters as they try to deliver a petition to O'Reilly.
Helen Jones-Kelley, Director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, 11/6/08: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters follows Jones-Kelley -- after she refused to talk to him -- to a fire station, where a police chief intervenes to stop the harassment.
Jenna Kern, Member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, 8/21/08: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts Kern in her driveway outside of her home.
Rev. Michael Pfleger, Catholic Priest, 4/3/08: O'Reilly producer Porter Berry confronts Pfleger outside of his church.
Dr. George Garcia, Boulder High School Superintendent, 5/29/07: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts Garcia on a wooded road away from his school.
Bud Jenkins, Boulder High School Principal, 5/29/07: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts Jenkins in the parking lot of his school.
Dr. Helayne Jones, Boulder High School Board Member, 5/29/07: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts Jones inside of her garage as she tries to enter her home.
Pedro Irigonegaray, Attorney for Dr. George Tiller, 11/7/06: O'Reilly producer Jesse Watters confronts Irigonegaray outside of his law office.
Speaking of Beck, he once outed an Islamic private school in Northern Virginia when the school's sole newsworthy trespass was that an application to expand its campus was approved by the local zoning board. But Beck went on an extended googly-eyed, sarcasmo rant (lots of "maybe it's just me but... ") about the school being a de facto training camp for would-be terrorists, and even invoked September 11th imagery -- collapsed buildings and the like -- in the process. It's a grade school where large groups of children go for seven hours a day. Really smart. Outting a school for "terrorists" on the ultra-conservative Fox News Channel on a show that was viewed by loyal conspiracy wackaloons during a time when anti-terrorist fear-mongering and militant anti-Muslim hatred is at an all-time high. Worse, the school is full of children who then became potential targets. All because the school's zoning application was approved.
Rewind to 2009 during the health care reform debate when an 11-year-old girl asked President Obama a question during a town hall meeting about the "mean things" she observed on various protest signs outside. Michelle Malkin and other conservatives swooped into action, investigating and exposing the girl and her parents for being "Obamabots."
For whatever reason, this discussion always circles back to Malkin. The far-right blogger wasn't the first to stalk and attack children, but she certainly popularized it during the Bush era debate over expanding the SCHIP program. You might recall how Malkin famously stalked a 12-year-old accident survivor named Graeme Frost after he appeared in a commercial supporting SCHIP, the children's health insurance program.
The list goes on and on. World Net Daily attacked a high school play. Anti-choice activists targeted the child of a landlord who rents space to a women's clinic. Limbaugh, once again, attacked a 13-year-old boy and called him a "Nazi stormtrooper." The entire right-wing media Kraken was released on 11-year-old Marcelas Owens after he attended the Affordable Care Act signing ceremony. I won't even get into the jokes about Chelsea Clinton during the 1990s.
And they engage in these tactics without shame or apology.
You will not find this kind of bullying from high profile talkers with this degree of frequency anywhere else in the American political discourse. Why? In the absence of integrity, intelligence or empirical arguments, the last resort of a mindless posse is to target children and defenseless bystanders. It's because their policy positions and bumper sticker sloganeering is increasingly thin and indefensible, so they attack those who are unable to fight back. The alternative is to take on capable and experienced opponents who can potentially disprove and debunk their crapola ideas. But they're too cowardly for that.
Sadly, as the far-right becomes increasingly self-satirical and marginalized, this will get worse -- but only as long as it sells. The far-right knows its audience and the mob loves it. Think about that. Children are fair game and it's good for ratings. The sooner these unserious thugs and bullies are called out for their disgraceful tactics and banished from any and all debates of consequence, the sooner the rest of us can get on with thoughtful and reasonably passionate arguments about the future of the nation.
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