Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When Words Should Terrify

Edmund Burke believed words are the most powerful force on earth. History supports Burke: revolutions begin with words, men are stirred to battle by words, demagogues destroy with words.
Americans, however, seem confused about words. We bounce between political correctness and anything goes; we struggle with proportionality, offering up false equivalencies when we should offer stinging condemnation. We insist on zero tolerance in kindergarten but our politicians, journalists and shock jocks can denigrate with glee.
I’ve studied Nazis, the Klan, Fr. Coughlin (the 1930’s “Radio Priest”), as well as the excesses of ideologues in politics. I’ve listened to Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, O’Reilly, Palin and others. I’ve heard the rants of Christofascists and watched the carnival we call a primary, with its race-baiting and attacks on women, the poor, minorities, and homosexuals. Hate, hate and more hate.
America’s tolerance for hate can appear insatiable so the backlash against Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on Sandra Fluke is certainly encouraging. The Sultan of Slime has spewed hate for decades and his attacks aren’t narrowly restricted: Rush is an equal-opportunity-slimer. To be fair, he’s not the first to denigrate a young woman who’s a private citizen; that odious honor probably belongs to John Derbyshire, a National Review columnist.
In February 2001 Derbyshire wrote an article that may have no equal in U.S. history, at least not in mainline journalism. What’s striking about his article is how it mirrors the words of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, using the language of eugenics and social Darwinism. Derbyshire doesn’t advocate for the extermination of a group; instead he discusses the alleged merits of exterminating one person: Chelsea Clinton. After a deranged rant against her parents, he states, “I hate Chelsea Clinton.” Admitting it’s not “easy to justify” his loathing he nonetheless finds his justification in her genes: “Chelsea is a Clinton. She bears the taint…”
Channeling Hitler, Derbyshire malevolently perverts history, saying “All the great despotisms of the past… recognized that the families of objectionable citizens were a continuing threat. In Stalin's penal code it was a crime to be the wife or child of an ‘enemy of the people.’ The Nazis used the same principle, which they called Sippenhaft, ‘clan liability.’ In Imperial China, enemies of the state were punished ‘to the ninth degree’: that is, everyone in the offender's own generation would be killed and everyone related via four generations up, to the great-great-grandparents, and four generations down, to the great-great-grandchildren, would also be killed.” (“Be Very Afraid” Feb 15, 2001)
At the time this insanity was published Chelsea was not quite twenty-one. Derbyshire was fifty-six.
Limbaugh and Derbyshire defended themselves in similar fashion. Limbaugh said he uses “humor” to make his point; Derbyshire defended his writing as “satire” and blamed “liberals” for “missing the joke.” Like Rush, Derbyshire said he was trying to make a point.  Really?  There’s a legitimate point in calling Chelsea Clinton “tainted” and “vile” and disingenuously extolling how her genetic line would be exterminated in other societies?
The National Review identifies itself as “America's most widely read and influential magazine and web site for conservative commentary and opinion” and that is true. Limbaugh is the de facto voice of the Republican Party and he’s so powerful no Republican politician will take him on. Unlike Rush, there are no non-politicians acting as the head of the Democratic Party. The very thought is absurd.
These are good points to remember when people claim the “other side does it too.” No, they don’t; certainly not with any equivalency. I’ve reviewed thousands of pages of material and never read anything comparable to Derbyshire’s rant in any mainline source on the political left. As to Limbaugh, the closest comparison may be David Letterman’s joke about Sarah Palin’s daughter which was absolutely deplorable. However, the joke was less than 20 words, the girl’s name was not mentioned, and the entire quip lasted seconds. Further, Letterman offered a 7-minute on-air apology. In contrast, Rush attacked Ms. Fluke 53 times over three days and after offering a preposterously hollow apology pushed back and began attacking Ms. Fluke’s motives. And need I explain how Letterman’s bad joke is not the moral equivalent of Derbyshire’s 1850+ word article about exterminating a human being?
Derbyshire titled his article “Be Very Afraid.” How ironic. I wrote about him and his kind a year ago and asked what it means when creeps like Derbyshire discuss eradicating a family’s gene pool in a mainstream magazine. The question was this: if the child of two of the most powerful people on earth isn’t safe from a guy like Derbyshire, how safe are any of us? How safe are any of our children?  
A year later Rush delivered the answer.

This article was posted today in the York County Journal Tribune where I am now a featured weekly OpEd columnist. My work is published there on Wednesdays; I'll reprint here on my blog each Weds but feel free to read the article and others online here: Maureen Gill OpEd


  1. Rush is saying exactly what the Republicans are thinking and getting away with it. We sd not tolerate him but no one will come out and say it and have it published. If it were me, and I was in Congress, God forbid, I would go on every channel and cuss him out with a string of expletives that would make Satan blush.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Shep. Couldn't agree more. He's out of control and has been for years.