Point of View Columns

Shameful and Shameless

It is pretty clear that when the discussion turns to modern political discourse and contemporary commentary in the United States there is no bottom. From blathering “birthers” to fallacious claims of “death panels” to the prospect of “terror babies” as the latest cavil to be hurled at immigrants along with calls for Koran burning sessions, nothing is too stupid, too revolting or too ridiculous to get a place in the media sun, however momentary.

With that thought in mind, no one can be too shocked at the depraved, mindless and morally impoverished disgrace perpetrated by Glenn Beck and his Tea Party cohorts this past weekend. To hold a rally at the Lincoln Monument (thankfully sans nooses and burning torches) on the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington for the purpose of exhorting Americans to “take back America” was obscene in its intentional desecration of the memory of a moment in time when it seemed that all things right were possible and there was no need to “take back” this country. Rather it seemed that it was time for everyone to share in this country.

I was blessed and favored to have actually attended the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 as a 13-year old kid from New Jersey who would be starting high school in a few weeks. I had never seen so many people in one place at one time for a single purpose except for when I sat on my father’s shoulders to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a little guy. That the purpose was the elimination of injustice and racism and the promotion of equality and justice was uplifting and inspiring. Anger and rage were not the emotions of the day, but the demand for justice was clear and unequivocal and anyone who was on the mall that day will remember that moment for the rest of their lives.

I have to wonder what will the attendees of the Glenn Beck – Sarah Palin self-love fest remember for the rest of their lives? That they came to Washington to “take back America”? Take back America from whom? Will they recall that they raised their voices in a chorus to “reclaim America”? Having already exercised his freedom of speech to mindlessly insult President Obama as a “racist” with “a deep-seated hatred of white people” (which presumably would include the President’s white mother), Glenn Beck now proclaims that the President does not practice the “right type” of Christianity, while we should presume that he and his followers are steadfast in adhering to the true path that Jesus trod.

As noted, there is no bottom to this pit of madness and sadness. It is madness that, in the midst of this very real and sustained economic crisis there are millions of Americans who perceive the first black President of the United States to be complicit in some plot to “take” American away from them. It is a cause for sadness that too many of our fellow citizens believe, truly believe, that Barack Obama and his purported fascist/socialist/atheist/Muslim/subversive agenda will result in the final demise of this country when in fact it is their mobocratic tendencies that are sending us careening towards the brink of something very ugly.

And, at this stage of national debate, it must be clear to even the most partisan observer that the blackness of this president is not irrelevant to the outrage and bile and vitriol that have flowed into the national bloodstream. It is more than political disagreement that has 20 per cent of the population believing that he was not born in the United States, voicing an unspoken wish that some undeniable bolt of disqualification will make Barack Obama just go away almost two years after his election.

Every President of the United States, from George Washington to George W. Bush has been insulted and reviled. It is a part of the political process and the limitless freedom of speech that has been a truly exceptional aspect of this country for over two centuries. And certainly freedom of speech allows Tea Party yahoos to burn Barack Obama in effigy and to Photoshop his head onto the body of a half naked bushman.

We know that Abraham Lincoln was portrayed by his opponents as a baboon and George W. Bush was certainly burned in effigy more than a few times during his term in office. But the very special hatred that is directed towards Barack Obama is coming from something more than philosophical disagreement. There is a visceral need on the party of the Becks and the Palins and the Limbaughs and the right wing of the right wing and the Tea Party yahoos to “take back America” because this country has, in their minds, been besmirched and defaced by the dark presence that now occupies the White House.

The world premiere of “Birth of a Nation” was held at the White House at the invitation of President Woodrow Wilson. That racist screed on film directed by D.W. Griffith had at its core a message that it was time to “take back America”.

Now, instead of a cinematic monstrosity that upon its release inspired the lynching of black Americans throughout the country, we have Beck and Palin and the Tea Party yahoos cavorting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, proclaiming that they will “take back America” again.

Wilson and Griffith would be proud. This country should be ashamed.

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