We don't expect to agree with everyone. What we expect -- at heart -- is that when disagreeing, people are fair, decent, accurate.
Unfortunately, there is a growing trend that has been pushing itself towards demagoguery. More often, this has come from those whose hatred of All Things Obama, whose fear of differences, whose anger at losing the White House has caused them to knowingly say whatever it takes to make others as angry, scared and hate-filled as they are.
To be very clear: I'm not referring to people who state things you don't like. I mean saying things so reprehensible and thoughtless as would cause any fair, decent and accurate person to cringe in shame.
People whose intent is not reasoned discussion, but solely to inflame. To terrify and anger people so much that they won't stop to think.
It's what brings us a Michele Bachmann trying to irresponsibly frighten people about Barack Obama, "I'm very concerned that he has anti-American views." Or suggest that all liberals in Congress are unpatriotic. Or rail that the president's recent trip to India cost $200 million a day.
But demagoguery, being baseless, cannot be supported. So, when challenged by BBC reporter Emily Maitlis recently about how President Obama was "anti-American," the best Ms. Bachmann could offer was that some policies "are not familiar" to the people. And when asked whether even she believed her own widely-ridiculed charge about the president's trip... she refused to answer.
"I didn't say if I believe it or not. What I said was I was quoting a newspaper."
It's the mantra of demagogues. Throw out any smear, quote any damning lie, whether or not you believe it. Just make sure you can get others to believe it. And then hide behind the lie.
It's the same attitude that brings us a Glenn Beck, who while slamming financier George Soros amid dancing puppets, could declare with a straight face:
"I could not say these things about the most powerful man on planet earth and stay on the air if they were not true."
Of course he could. Fox News has built an entire network based on this concept. A network that claimed 1.7 million people attended its promoted-Tea Party rally and showed a picture of the crowd -- except that the photo was taken more than five years earlier.
That Glenn Beck insists he couldn't tell a lie or he'd be off the air is itself a lie. Two will have to suffice --
In an attempt to smear Barack Obama as an illegitimate president and Godless, Mr. Beck assured his viewers on January 22, 2009. "I checked. We have never had a president sworn into office without a Bible." He checked! It must be true. Except, of course, it isn't. John Quincy Adams, Franklin Piece, Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson all became president without swearing on Bibles. Hey, you can check it yourself -- but it'll take about 30 seconds.
On March 9 of this year, Glenn Beck's guest for the full hour was Rep. Eric Massa. To make sure his viewers were angry, hate-filled and scared enough beforehand, he prepared them -- "The Democratic Party is out to destroy this man." And "The future of the republic is at stake." Of course, after the republic was whipped into its frenzy, nothing that Mr. Beck had said was true. Mr. Massa left a laughingstock. Mr. Beck remained on the air.
First, the demagoguery brings us the lying quotes, and then the next demagogue quotes them as proof.
All to create fear and hatred and mistrust. It's what brings us a Sarah Palin who has tried to paint Barack Obama as a threat to America, a near enemy agent saboteur who "pals around with terrorists." Her sort of demagoguery tries to scare the public about the president's politics by backhandedly attacking his family members. Slamming the First Lady for speaking against, of all things, childhood obesity: "What she is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children." (In fact, what Mrs. Obama is telling us is that a third of all children are already obese, and most of those will develop diabetes.) Worse, there is Sarah Palin continuing to snipe about Mr. Obama through his wife even more maliciously, "I think she has got a different worldview."
Know that "a different worldview" is to remind you that Michelle Obama is black, and that her experience as a black woman means she can't be trusted.
Of course, this "different view" buzzword is important to demagogues. It was repeated by Roger Ailes, president of Fox News, who divisively told the Daily Beast last week that President Obama "has a different belief system than most Americans."
Never mind that most Americans voted him president of the United States. He's different. He's black.
Of course, Fox News tries to convince the same public that it is "fair and balanced." Yet here is its head calling the American president a far left "socialist," describing NPR executives as "of course Nazis," and declaring that Jon Stewart was "crazy."
It's demagoguery. Pure, simple, vile demagoguery.
It's what brings us a Rand Paul, a man who himself argues to justify discrimination yet paints President Obama as a second coming of Adolf Hitler. "And it's happened before," Mr. Paul said last year. "... and out of that chaos came Hitler who promised that these awful people were the ones doing this to you and we need to round them up and put them in camps. And the liberties just went out the window. But people actually democratically voted in a Hitler."
Never mind, that the liberties went out the window when Mr. Obama's predecessor George Bush pushed through warrantless wiretaps, searching private email, and Gitmo prisoners rounded up without habeas corpus. Not a peep from Mr. Paul then about lost liberties. But that's secondary. It's literally comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, death camps and Nazism that is spectacular demagoguery.
Again, we're not talking about criticism, even blistering criticism. Because criticism at its harshest is still attempting to be fair, decent and accurate, open to honest discussion.
But the intent of a demagogue is to be divisive, spreading hate, anger and fear, with no concern for the facts or fair-minded debate. Rather it is a platform of smear, lie and false innuendo. And it's growing in a segment of leadership within the Republican Party.
And it has no place in America.
Follow Robert J. Elisberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobertElisberg