05/25/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Murder by Metaphor

[Warning: This column contains language and images that many people will find deeply offensive. Many people, but not enough.]

Just so we're clear: The word is "Nigger."

That's the word that was launched last weekend at fellow human beings -- and, incidentally, members of the United States Congress -- as the voting neared on reforming the nation's health-care system.

The same word that's been shouted, whispered, hissed and hurled for generations -- a word that dehumanizes and intimidates. A word that's intended to dehumanize and intimidate. A word as vile, as hate-filled, as any the English language has excreted over the many centuries.

And still, somehow, alive and well in ours.

I mention the actual word, the word itself, because the current substitute doesn't come near to capturing the noxiousness of the original. "The N-word" -- that's how we in polite society are expected to refer to it, when we're obliged to refer to it.

"He said 'the N-word,'" we're supposed to say. "He called him 'the N-word'!"

Not good enough. Which is to say, not bad enough. Not nearly bad enough. It makes the word sound childlike, like something from a schoolyard. Poopy-head. Stinky-pants.

"Mustn't say 'the N-word,' boys and girls."

But the poison's been extracted. The word has been cute-ified.

Not good enough. Not when we need to see the haters for who and what they are.

The haters, and those willing to whip the haters into an ever-greater frenzy. The radio ranters. The thugs in expensive suits, sitting in expensive suites. The hate-for-profit crowd. The hate-for-power crowd. They'll have blood on their hands, too.

Already there have been bricks thrown through windows, and pictures of nooses. Already the authorities have had to increase security for certain government officials whose votes, whose beliefs, have displeased the ranters and the thugs and the rest of them.

And when the bricks become bullets, as they surely could, and the death threats turn into conscious acts, just watch the ranters and the thugs pull back in horror, or some half-baked simulation of it.

"We never dreamed...!" they'll say.

"We had no idea...!" they'll insist.

That will be a lie.

You can't spend your days loudly equating the president of the United States with Adolf Hitler, with Josef Stalin, and not expect somebody to want to do something about that. We fought a war against Hitler; we sacrificed thousands upon thousands of American lives to put a stop to him. Stalin's Russia was this country's sworn enemy for decades; we looked into the man's ice-cold eyes and saw, for the first time ever, the prospect of our own annihilation.

These are the people the president of the United States is said to resemble. Is said to be. A fascist. A communist. An enemy of the people. An enemy of the nation. (And, by the way, one of those dark-skinned ones.)

Whether the ranters and the thugs actually believe this nonsense -- actually believe a single word they spew hour after hour, day after day -- is largely beside the point. What matters is that they peddle the terrifying images for others to see and hear and believe.

They'll draw the terrifying outlines, and let others fill in the blanks. They'll let others take the "necessary action." And when that time comes, when the thought and the word at last become the deed, they will have committed murder by metaphor.

Their own consciences, they'll surely tell you when that time comes, are clear.

That will also be a lie.

They lost any shred of conscience long ago.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at