It doesn't seem plausible that there are Americans who, no matter how angry, think it's a good idea to compare President Obama to Adolf Hitler. Americans, you may recall, who elected President Obama. Der Fuhrer ruled Germany as a dictator and leader of the Nazi party which -- in case anyone could possibly forget -- systematically killed 17 million people including six million Jews.
I dredge up this history because North Iowa Tea Partiers erected a billboard last week in Mason City linking the philosophies of these three disparate leaders. Outcries from both parties forced Tea Partiers to paper over it.
While the political message has been physically erased from view, the lingering controversy is far from finished. The NAACP fired back with an historic resolution blasting the Tea Party on racist grounds.
No matter what your politics, you have to admit this salvo was an attack of gigantic proportions - a particularly vivid example of the politics of hate in America. It's a far cry from what our kindergarten teachers taught us: Be kind, respect others, no bullying, play nicely in the sandbox.
Sadly, the drumbeat of mean-spiritedness is in the province of no single political party. Months following the 9-11 attacks, the internet spilled over with posts comparing President George W. Bush to Hitler and the Third Reich. Outraged Democrats likened military prison Guantanamo Bay to Nazi concentration camps and the President's sweeping claims of executive power - including torture of terror suspects and wiretapping policies - to Hitler's power grab.
Earlier this month, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who has made a career demonizing those with whom he disagrees, proclaimed, "If Obama weren't black he'd be a tour guide in Honolulu."
And in one of the most polarizing debates in recent political history, a handful of Democratic congressmen said angry Tea Party protesters shouted racial slurs at them. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) claimed someone spat on him. Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay congressman, said he was the target of anti-gay epithets. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez of Texas said he was called a "wetback".
Not just on Capitol Hill does hatred manifest itself. A recent rant by civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson's likened Cleveland Cavaliers basketball owner Daniel Gilbert to an "angry slave owner". Jackson was reacting to an open letter from Gilbert calling former Cavaliers star LeBron James a "coward and a quitter" for leaving the team and accepting a $100 million contract to play for the Miami Heat. Some slave.
This outburst happened on the same day Limbaugh had this to say about the death of legendary New York Yankee's owner George Steinbrenner: He was a "cracker who made a lot of African-American millionaires...He fired a bunch of white guys as managers left and right." The comments prompted civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton to lash out calling Limbaugh's comments "repugnant and offensive whether they were intended to be facetious or tongue and cheek."
And in Hollywood another example of out of control rage erupted this week as megastar actor and director Mel Gibson was caught on tape shouting racist, hate-fueled epithets to former girlfriend and mother of his child, Oksana Grigorieva. Gibson threatened to kill her and admitted to breaking her teeth. His agency, William Morris Endeavor, dropped him.
Mel Gibson's antics may be simply those of a star gone wild, but his behavior and that of Gilbert and Limbaugh underscore the hatred run amok in our nation.
All hatred is unacceptable, but political hate messages in particular have a far greater impact on the health of the country and the processes that are the core of our democracy. We know politics is always about the next vote, the next election. But this mentality to win control at all costs is having a profound and detrimental impact on the next generation of voters.
The problem is hatred sells. Cable plastered the Iowa billboard all over its shows. Left, right and center debated the Tea Party and their influence in American politics. On Campbell Brown's CNN show last night, guests debating the topic of racism and the Tea Party could barely be heard while yelling over each other. Brown herself is quitting, unable to compete with the more aggressively ideological Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann.
What's needed to break away from the politics of hate is more constructive, respectful and intelligent conversation from both sides. Leaders with contradictory views need to at least view opponents as worthy partners in government. We need to make governing attractive to the next generation of leaders and above all, we need to remember that our kindergarten teachers were right.