Since Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, the white gloves have been metaphorically pulled off, and political discourse has largely ceased to be civilized. At this point in the 2012 presidential campaign, the GOP is sputtering badly, but comments and actions by past and present members remain frightening reminders of how easily our civil rights can be tossed away indifferently, and how imperative it is that we stand guard against those who use rhetoric to hide their own racism, sexism, and hatred of progress. Violence is never the answer, but there comes a time when we need to answer inappropriate rhetoric with the truth. Here is a short list of people from the last four years who represent the worst in national politics — and the reasons we need to keep the memory of these painful missteps alive.
1) Joe Wilson - Yes, this was back in 2009, but it shouldn’t be forgotten. Has anyone ever said anything this disrespectful to the President of the United States in a public setting and gotten away with it, let alone demonstrate the audacity to yell this in the middle of a Presidential address to Congress? The only thing that Wilson forgot to add was the word ‘boy’ at the end, but I still heard it, and I still hear it from birthers who hate Obama for one reason and one reason only: Obama has committed the serious crime of PWB: President While Black. As patriots, we need to speak up against this kind of racism each and every time we hear it.
2) Foster Friess - Yes, Rick Santorum is out of the race for the presidential nomination. And yes, I grieve for and with him because of the tragedies in his personal life. But I can’t help thinking that some people grow in compassion when they suffer. Santorum, however, hasn’t seemed to have learned anything about the human condition during his experiences, and neither have his backers. Friess’ comments regarding ‘an aspirin between the knees’ being the only birth control that a woman needs, serve as a frightening reminder that, to some people, women’s issues do not matter. I am outraged that any man feels that he can make this choice for women, and I am outraged that so many people regarded it as a joke.
3) Daryl Issa - While we are discussing birth control, I find it amazing to believe that a forum on the subject was convened without a woman on the panel. Is it religious freedom to deny women health coverage for birth control? Is it political freedom to make the decision about this without input from the people affected by this decision? Or is this a reminder that politicians do not have our best interests at heart? When we vote, we need to remember to look past the rhetoric and to check the voting and organizational records of those seeking our votes — because what they say they would do for us does not always match their actions.
4) Sarah Palin - At the risk of a bad pun, she is a fracking idiot. Yes, I feel pain at the pump, but that doesn’t mean that US energy policy should be decided solely on the basis of what is least financially painful for consumers. I feel a certain responsibility to make sure that my nieces and nephews inherit an earth that isn’t completely ecologically degraded. It’s long past time for the US to investigate alternative energy sources; at the present, some of these need to create less reliance on personal transportation by car. This will take some getting used to. But if the alternative is energy sources that pose potential hazards to the environment, all I can think of is this: haven’t we learned anything from Chernobyl?
5) Allen West - Again, someone remind me what year it is. 1951? Mr. West, please remember that Senator Joe McCarthy was discredited. I remember watching Lillian Hellman speak at the Academy Awards for the first time in many years; this was when I realized that speaking the truth isn’t always safe. Hellman’s career wasn’t ruined solely by McCarthy; it was ruined by people afraid to speak out against witch hunts. I for one refuse to stay silent.
6) Ted Nugent and the Washington Times - Has the political discourse in the United States really come down to calling someone we disagree with a ’two-bit whore’ or a ‘bitch?’ Of course, Hillary Clinton is a woman — and it’s easier to dismiss her as such than to discuss her political record and address her on the issues. Nugent reminds me that ‘ballsy’ is a compliment, but ‘cunt’ is an epithet. Once again, a strong woman will always be attacked in sexual terms when she competes against men on a level playing field. And that’s a sad reminder that, whether you are Hillary Clinton or Condoleezza Rice, you will never be respected by certain members of the religious right if you lack a penis.
7) Joe Arpaio - I’m all for lawmen being tough on crime. But I draw the line at racial profiling and blaming immigrants, legal or not, for the woes of the world. Mr. Arpaio, you seem to have forgotten that this is not 1935, that we do not live in Germany, and that Adolf Hitler was not a role model.
8) Donald Trump - The ‘birther’ movement may have been started by hard-core Hillary Clinton supporters, but it has been extended far past its natural lifetime by people pouring money into keeping the controversy alive. It doesn’t matter how many times Obama shows his birth certificate, because where he was born isn’t the point. The idea that a bi-racial man not from the mainland with a non-Christian sounding name can become President of the United States really seems to piss some people off, and they will do anything to stir up controversy. We have the duty to speak out and remind them that yes, anyone in the US can grow up to become President — and that, frankly, is proof of democracy rather than something of which to be ashamed.