07/09/2009 09:41 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hatespeech or Dignity - Republicans at the Crossroads

I want to make something perfectly clear. I have supported many Republicans in recent years including my current senators John Kyl and John McCain. I have held fundraisers in my home for Tommy Thompson when he was the Republican governor of Wisconsin. I have supported Democrats as well. I am a true independent.

Many of my good Republican friends have come away with a much different impression based on recent articles I have written that are critical of the thinly-veiled racism and vicious attacks that seem to be emanating more and more from the very top circles of the GOP.

Several of those friends complain that I am applying a double standard here citing the numerous criticisms of President Bush and, more recently Sarah Palin that have filled the blogosphere and the mainstream media for some time.

In fact we are talking about an apples to oranges comparison on a number of levels. Many people, myself included, were outraged by the arrogance, incompetence, and deception that became the hallmark of the Bush administration over a number of years. I am truly sad that he turned out to be such a terrible president but that is not hate speech.

Sarah Palin is much more of a victim than a villain. I was strongly critical of John McCain for selecting her to be his running mate because she was completely unqualified for the job. That lapse in judgment more than anything caused an election that would have been a narrow victory for Obama to become a landslide.

She is Eliza Doolittle saying yes to Henry Higgins. For whatever reason, he made her an offer she couldn't refuse. She is what she is. Just as Palin was unable to resist the opportunity to run for national office, the media has been unable to resist the temptation of ridiculing her. It is a sad for everyone involved.

She has been called greedy, ignorant, overly ambitious, unethical, self-centered and a lot of other nasty things. She is now in a death spiral of self-destruction where she goes out of her way to put herself and her family in the public eye and then gets whiny when the coverage doesn't go her way. She is the subject of predictable ridicule from a media that can't seem to help itself either. But none of that is hate speech.

Hate speech is different. It's when you accuse the President of the United States of being a socialist, a terrorist, a Muslim, an anti-Semite, or a traitor based on lies and distortions. And it becomes particularly meaningful when the venom comes not from the radical fringe -- as it often does from the Left -- but from the heart of the party leadership -- as it often does from the Right.

This weekend, the Young Republicans will meet to elect their national chair. Audra Shay, a 38 year old military veteran and mother from Louisiana is considered one of the front-runners for the job. A few days ago, she moderated a session on her Facebook page where a participant called Obama "a commie and a mad coon." Shay's response to the young man was to urge him on. "You tell em Eric," she said.

When a number of participants criticized her for not condemning the racist statement, Shay responded by "defriending" all of those who were critical which blocked them from further participation in the conversation. That is hate speech being endorsed from the highest levels of the party.

It is eerily reminiscent of Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman sending a CD including the cute song "Barack the Magic Negro" as a Christmas gift to the members of the Republican National Committee last year. That clever song had been played repeatedly by Rush Limbaugh for much of the prior year. Limbaugh was picked in a recent Gallup Poll of Republicans as the person who best represents the party -- a title he also claims for himself.

At the time, Saltsman was a front-runner in the race for Chairman of the Republican National Committee -- grownup version. He was edged out by Michael Steele at the end but this is another example of stupidity, racism and hate speech coming from the top.

Just today, I heard my Senator John Kyl tell Bill Bennett that Obama is more interested in cutting an arms reduction deal with the Russians that he is in protecting the country. That is accusing the President of the United States of being a traitor with no facts at all to back it up. That is hate speech.

Some of my favorite people are Republicans. I got to spend some time with New York Times columnist David Brooks here in Aspen last week. He is a great writer and a solid Republican who is critical of several of the decisions that the president has made and is supportive of others. But, at the end of the day, he seems to be more worried about what is happening to the dignity of his party. Be sure to check this column written by a solid dignified Republican.

There is nothing wrong with criticizing people in power. It is essential in a democracy and our ability to do so has helped make our country great. But there are ways to do it hatefully and ways to do it with dignity. It is the hatred and anger that seem to ooze so effortlessly from the leaders of the Republican Party that are so disconcerting.

It is up to all of us who believe that our country needs a dignified and credible Conservative voice to seize control back from the slimers. If we can't, then the Libertarians should be viewed as the credible alternative to Liberal Democrats. They actually believe in small government and fiscal responsibility.

Republican leaders used to carry that banner before they got so caught up in issues surrounding gender, reproductive choice, and race that they lost their way. Hopefully they can regain the high ground and again become a productive part of the political dialogue.