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Slipping Into Darkness

Sometimes we are able to realize that we are witnessing history at the very moment that the historic event is occurring. Usually we have to use 20/20 hindsight to achieve such insight, but there are rare moments when our intuition tells us that something noteworthy is occurring.
Historians may one day point to February 19, 2010 as an historic date, but not for a good reason. It was on that date that a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination stood before the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) and gave the clarion call for the violent dismantling of the federal government – or “big government” as some zealots would have it. And lest that you think that you are reading an alarmist and hypersensitive interpretation of robust political discourse, consider the facts.
On that Friday, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, throwing red meat to the frothing masses, declared that America could learn a lesson from the tawdry Tiger Woods contretemps (because after all, aren’t the tabloid pages the first place that we should look to for solutions to the challenges facing this country?). And the lesson to be learned?
Just like Mrs. Tiger Woods took a nine-iron and smashed the windshield of Mr. Woods’ vehicle (a set of facts that Mr. Woods vehemently denies, by the way), Governor Pawlenty says that we (whoever “we” might be) should take a nine-iron and start smashing away at the windows of big government. A metaphorical call to arms that, while clumsy, is certainly unique.
However, at the time that Governor Pawlenty made this outrageous call for violent action against the federal government, however metaphorical his intent, fire fighters and first responders were still sorting through the smoldering wreckage in Austin, Texas. Wreckage that was the result of an angry American who, instead of using a nine-iron, used an airplane filled to the brim with fuel oil in order to demolish the IRS office building in that city, presumably intending to smash many windows in the process.
We know from the voluminous e-mail notes that this benighted knight errant wrote before his suicide mission, that there was a clear intent to demolish this symbol of “big government” and to kill and maim as many employees of “big government” (presumably it is acceptable o.k. to kill American citizens if they work for “big government”). One would hope that upon realizing that his rhetoric had gone too far, particularly in light of the deaths and injuries and destruction that resulted from too real efforts of someone trying to “smash the windows of big government”), that Governor Pawlenty might issue some statement of contrition. Clearly recognition that his comments had galloped over the boundaries of good taste and decency escaped him.
Interestingly, Governor Pawlenty was rewarded with one of the best seats in the house two days later when he attended the Governor’s Ball at the White House and found himself seated at the same table with First Lady Michelle Obama. One wonders if the seating arrangements for the evening reflected the Christian act of cheek turning or did everyone in the White House miss the Minnesota governor’s florid and overheated rhetoric.
Because, in the process of calling for some inchoate violence in place of reasonable political discourse, the good governor tried the Rush Limbaugh-inspired routine of attempting to slime President Obama with the Tiger Woods scandal. Of all the metaphors, of all the similes, of all the symbolic rhetoric that could be employed in directing scathing criticism at the President (fair enough), Governor Pawlenty could not help himself and had to wade into the amoral sewer that Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck call home.
For it was over two months ago that Rush Limbaugh pronounced that the Tiger Woods self-inflicted catastrophe presented the American people with some analogue in commenting upon Barack Obama. And now Governor Pawlenty has chosen to step into the swamp of ugly rhetoric that is not even passably subtle in its use of racism and a call for anarchy.
It remains to be seen whether other Republicans will pick up these well-worn cudgels and use them to club and clobber the body politic. We should all remember that pseudo-populist beige-shirted ex-governor Sarah Pailin campaigned and claimed that she did not hear her supporters yell “kill him” in reference to Barack Obama. All she did was wink. And the threats and epithets continued.
Regardless of party affiliation, none of us can afford to turn a blind eye to this dangerous trend in rhetoric, rhetoric that can result in dangerous action. The First Amendment calls for freedom of speech. But it is axiomatic in the law that freedom of speech does not grant the freedom to yell “fire” in a crowded theater.
We should all be concerned that the Pawlentys and the Pailins and Limbaughs and the Becks of this country are treading on a slimy, slippery path towards a darkness that would be a consequence of the light of liberty being extinguished. And so February 19, 2010 may be the day that we awakened and refused to turn a blind eye towards this madness. Or it could be the day that we just winked, in which case we will most certainly rue the day.

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