I was shocked to learn that President Obama and others said they were shocked that Dr. George Tiller was murdered in cold-blood while serving as an usher in his Kansas church. If you believe that you reap what you sow then the murder of Dr. Tiller is not shocking at all.
What we are seeing could be the harvest of the seeds of the vile and unrestrained anger and hatred that have been planted, spread and nurtured by the sleazemeisters of the Right Wing--self-described media stars and politicians who claim to be true conservatives, real Republicans, and patriotic Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.
George Tiller was one of the few doctors in the U.S. who continued to perform controversial late term abortions. For years he has been literally (he had been shot before) and figuratively in the cross hairs of pro-life groups who oppose abortion in general and late term abortions in particular. He was a frequent target of Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly who, referred to the doctor as "Tiller the Baby Killer" and characterized him for the last four years as a "Nazi-like" criminal with "blood on his hands."
The Tiller murder comes just weeks after a man who said he was concerned that "Obama wanted to take away his guns" went on a rampage that left three police officers dead in Pittsburgh. The words the killer used to characterize his concerns were an almost verbatim recitation of a rant aired by Fox News commentator Glenn Beck just a few days earlier. Beck has referred to Obama as a man who wants to destroy America and the capitalist system. Beck once delivered an ominous warning about the president's agenda with Nazi soldiers marching on a screen behind him and ominous martial music playing in the background.
I'm certain that O'Reilly will insist, as Beck did, that it would be both wrong and unfair to link the inflammatory rhetoric and the vicious language of his repeated attacks against Dr. Tiller to the fact that a passionate true believer may have taken him seriously and decided to rid the world of this murderous Nazi abortionist.
But the venom spewers can't have it both ways. In their zeal to make headlines and establish themselves as true leaders of a movement and a party that has become consumed by anger and hate, these "celebrities" have chosen to abandon their civility, reason, and sense of responsibility. They either mean what they say -- in which case those who rid the world of murderers, Nazis, and other liberal villains should be hailed as heroes -- or they don't in which case they are simply cowardly liars committing libel in the name of the First Amendment as they discredit their once-proud movement and/or party.
They have made a bargain with the devil in exchange for ratings and their 15 minutes of fame. Now we are all paying the price.
This gutterization of discourse hit full stride during the presidential campaign last year when Obama was characterized repeatedly as a friend of terrorists, a secret Muslim, and a person who wanted to destroy America, slit the throat of Israel, and desecrate values that all true patriots hold dear.
Since he became president, the attacks have actually picked up in volume, intensity and scariness. I have seen President Obama portrayed as a Nazi, a socialist, a communist, an enemy of Israel, the destroyer of capitalism, and a racist. And that's in the self-described "mainstream" media.
When you troll with the true bottom dwellers (Limbaugh, Hannity, Liddy, O'Reilly, Savage, Beck, Gingrich, Cheney. Levin, and such) it gets really ugly. Each of these scumbags claims to speak for the Republican party. While none holds any elective position, the party leadership treats them with deference and respect. Is it any wonder that fewer people identify themselves as Republicans today than at any time in a generation and the number continues to drop on a daily basis? Anger and hate apparently just aren't in vogue this season.
Reasonable people can and will disagree about whether the deaths of Dr. Tiller, the Pittsburgh policemen, and other recent victims of violent outbursts can be attributed in part to the increasingly vile and vicious attacks coming from the Right.
But there is absolutely no doubt that we are suffering mightily as a society from the spread of hatespeech and the decline of civility in our public discourse. The truly racist, bigoted, and inaccurate attacks against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotamayor have taken the level of discourse to a new low--not just because of the outrageous and ugly rants themselves but even more so due to the way they have been legitimized and spread by the true mainstream media.
This has nothing to do with the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. People are free to express their opinions--that's what makes America great. But people do not have a constitutional right to viciously attack and slander people with lies at hateful comments on our commercial airwaves. The decision to provide these vermin with an electronic soapbox is a commercial decision that is made daily by owners of radio and TV stations who are putting their desire for profits ahead of the public good.
We are paying a huge price as a society for our unwillingness to marginalize these evil people and the media outlets that provide them with airtime and credibility. Unless and until we start making better choices and acting more responsibly, we will continue to reap the bitter harvest that will continue to sprout from the toxic seeds being sown in our midst.
Edmund Burke is credited with telling us that "all that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." We can all start by changing the channel when these egomaniacal zealots are posturing or are being quoted by others and inform the station management that we are V-chipping them until they start acting responsibly.
It is not necessary or even good if all of us agree about the issues. But we cannot afford the luxury of tolerating those who are angry and hateful and want us to be the same. The one value we can all stand for is the importance of civility.
We can't honestly call ourselves civilized until we learn to disagree like grownups.