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Krugman: Climate of Hate


When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?

Put me in the latter category. I’ve had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since the final stages of the 2008 campaign.

So begins Nobel Laureate Economist Paul Krugman in his op ed this morning, Climate of Hate

Why mention his award? Because as an economist he is used to examining the data and seeing the patterns. And on this the patterns are crystal clear.

Read his column.  It is as well written as usual, which makes it hard to excerpt.

I will explore aspects of it, and offer thoughts of my own.

Krugman reminds us that we saw an upsurge domestic hate after the election of Bill Clinton, culminating in Oklahoma City. I remember as well:  some on the right were viscerally angry at Clinton because he had been able to use some themes about family, because he was a Southern Baptist comfortable with the language of religion, because he was a Southern White man who did not ascribe to their values.

We saw some of it during that campaign.  We saw far more of it after he was elected, when there was a deliberate attempt to destroy him, in part funded by wealth on the right, in particular by Richard Melleon Scaife, as we would later learn from David Brock.

I think we should bear that in mind, remembering the right-wing funding by oil money of the inappropriately-named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth by Robert Perry and what we have seen since Obama became a candidate and then President from the like of the Koch brothers.

Krugman reminds of ugly incidents in the Obama campaign, the early 2009 report by the Department of Homeland Security on hate groups (that was begun during the Bush Administration) and the Conservative rejection of the report, and the rising tide of threats to officials including both Judge Roll and Representative Giffords.   He then puts is simply and starkly:

It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

Krugman references a Politico report of a 300% increase in threats against Members of Congress.  He notes that it is not just a surge in mental illness causing mentally disturbed people to act out.  He quotes the powerful words of Sheriff Clarence Dubnik.  While the vast majority hearing such rhetoric may stop short of violent action, some will cross the line.

Krugman provides a proper frame:

It’s important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It’s not a general lack of “civility,” the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there’s a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren’t the same as incitement.

and follows by aiming a pointed statement:  

And it’s the saturation of our political discourse – and especially our airwaves – with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.

directly where it belongs, noting

Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right.

He pointedly notes that one does not find the fanning of the flames of such rhetoric from the likes of Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, but does from Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly (and he might add Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and so many others).

Let me step away from Krugman for a moment.  The focal point is clearly Beck.  That is why a new term in entering the lexicon of political discourse – “becking” – yesterday a powerful post went up titled The “Becking” Of America: How Right-Wing Media and Politicians Incite Violence in which one finds the following:

Becking” (verb)To use violent metaphors or make thinly-veiled suggestions of violence against opponents, while maintaining plausible deniability against charges of incitement”

 The post and twitter references to it used a new hashtag – #becking – with which this diary will also be tagged when I tweet it.  

Beck’s show is clearly losing money, given how much News Corp and Fox are paying him.  It is another example of hate being subsidized by the wealth on the right.

The rhetoric on the right MAY sell – which is why media organizations continue to put on such vile personalities.  First Clinton and now Obama seemed to provide a ready market to peddle and promote such hate.  

Krugman is blunt on this as well:  

But even if hate is what many want to hear, that doesn’t excuse those who pander to that desire. They should be shunned by all decent people.

all decent people – Keith Olbermann made that point in a special comment written on relatively short notice.  Multiple diaries here have explored that point, including some of mine before the tragic events of Tucson, and in the diary I offered yesterday  

Krugman wonders if the events in Tucson will make a difference in our discourse, and puts the burden for that squarely where it belongs:  on the shoulders of GOP leaders, who he wonders if they will merely denounce it as the actions of a deranged individual and go on as before.

We are already hearing such rhetoric from the right, coupled with the false claims that the shooter was a liberal.  We expect that.

What we should expect is that the media will be more responsible, stop insisting on false equivalence, and lay bare for all to see how one side of the debate is fanning the flames of hatred and now the nation has been badly burned.

Major figures on the right have been willing in the past to denounce extremists who benefited them, most notably William F. Buckley in a famous piece titled “In Search of Anti-Semitism” in which he could not definitely pin that label on Pat Buchanan but noted that nasty man’s tendency to cooperate with and advance the interests of anti-Semites.  But about a senior figure at his own publication, National Review, Joseph Sobran, there was no doubt and Buckley properly affixed the label to him and his writings and ended his participation at the publication.

We can go back further, to the fulminations of Senator Joseph McCarthy, which sowed fear and distrust and destroyed lives and careers.  The first of his fellow Senators to denounce him was Republican Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, and among those soon to join her was Prescott Bush of Connecticut.  We should remember that that 1950s collection of nutcases around McCarthy also attacked Republican President Dwight Eisenhower as soft on communism.

We will always have haters.  We do not need to glorify them, we do not need to give them media oxygen except to expose them for what they really are.

It is for the Republicans to take the lead and bear the responsibility.  They should denounce, and they should urge the media to expose this for what it is – hatred, unacceptable rhetoric, a dangerous threat to our system of government.

Otherwise, I feel that once again Krugman will prove to be prescient, as he clearly shows in in his final two sentences:

If Arizona promotes some real soul-searching, it could prove a turning point. If it doesn’t, Saturday’s atrocity will be just the beginning.



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