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Commentary: The Rhetoric of Hate

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On Saturday, Glenn Beck said, "This is a day that we can start the heart of America again ... it has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with God ... turning our face back to the values and the principles that made us great." Political blogger Field Negro responded: "Back to the values that made us great? You mean like the ones that said it's cool to enslave people because they weren't really people? Those values? Sorry, I think I will pass. Whenever I hear certain folks talk about going 'back' to the good ole days, it makes me a little nervous. I will just keep it pushing forward if you don't mind..." I'm with the Field. On Saturday, several thousand Tea Party supporters turned out to hear Glenn Beck and keynote speaker Sarah Palin spout their dangerous rhetoric in the shadow of Lincoln and Martin. Not coincidentally, they stood on the Washington Mall on the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Their stated goal was to "take back civil rights" and inspire a return to "the principles of the founding fathers," which hits my ears as code for the return to a time when rich White men ran everything and Black people were fractionalized by law as "two-fifths a man." Ironically, this return to the principles of the founding fathers doesn't square with the opposition to the Islamic Center near New York City's Ground Zero, because didn't the founding fathers hold up freedom of religion as a sacred principle? Beck and his followers are spouting some scary stuff, people. I have the persistent and uneasy sense that this is what Germany in the mid 1930s sounded like, felt like. It's all about fanning the flames of hatred, of us versus them, of enshrining White legitimacy and the vilification of "the other" -- Blacks, gays, Muslims, Hispanics, immigrants. Case in point: Last week in New York, a White male passenger asked a cab driver if he was a Muslim. When the cabbie replied that he was, the passenger lunged at him, screaming, "This is check point! I'm taking you down!" while stabbing him repeatedly in the throat, neck and face. Fortunately the cabbie, a naturalized American since 1973, survived. But this is what Glenn Beck is inciting. This is what Sarah Palin with her "Reload!" mantra, is calling forth. This morning, New York Times columnist Charles Blow described the Tea Party agenda as "the rhetorical assassination of a good man." He was talking about President Obama, but he might as well have been talking about every single person who sees what Beck and company are doing and fails to register an objection. We have to make our voices heard at the polls this fall, within our social networks, in our churches and our neighborhoods. We have a Black president, and we may or may not agree with what he does, but the fact is, the purveyors of hate are whipping up a frenzy of frightening proportions and using him as their poster child. It's on the rest of us to meet the voices of hate and take back Martin's Dream. Oh yes, we can.
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