Point of View Columns

Silence of the Lambs and the Donkeys and the Elephants

I thought that a mildly interesting research project might entail finding the origins of using animals as the symbols for political parties in the United States. It turns out that the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant as party symbols can be traced to the work of the 19th century cartoonist Thomas Nast.

There were no focus groups, no branding sessions, and no strategic plan. Nast thought it was amusing to cast the Democrats and Republicans in this anthropomorphic light and the labels stuck.

These days we refer to “Red” states and “Blue” states and the right wing of the right wing conservatives and liberals. But sometimes it’s a good idea to go back to the zoo and the barnyard, and this just may be one of those times.

Sound bites and megabytes have been consumed by the billions in the commentary over the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan. It is not a mosque even though CNN, the New York Times and many other mainstream outlets refer to it in such an erroneous fashion. Which begs the question, so what if it were a mosque? But I digress.

Although this center has been in the planning for over a year, during the past month the attacks against its construction have gone from nattering and chattering to white hot incendiary rhetoric. Battle lines have been drawn although it is not clear who is the enemy.

To listen to Newt Gingrich, The Man Who Would Be President proclaiming that the Islamic center being built near the site of the World Trade Center is akin to building a Nazi memorial near a Jewish concentration camp. It should be noted that such foul and hateful language by the pseudo-intellectual Gingrich is permitted by the First Amendment to the Constitution, the same First Amendment that grants freedom of religion.

However, although one can freely speak, the First Amendment does not confer immunity from criticism. So I wonder at the relative silence of the Republican elephants as they listen to one of their leaders invoke such hateful imagery, stoking the already smoldering fires of prejudice and discrimination with barely disguised glowing embers of rage already in every corner and every precinct of this country.

Where are the Republican elephants with a voice of reason? Where are the Republicans with a sense of decency and respect for this country who are willing to tell Newt Gingrich to stop surfing in the sewers of indecent and disgusting public discourse?

And rather than demonstrating the leadership that ostensibly is a part of the job description of Democratic Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid proclaimed that he would prefer that the “mosque” be built somewhere other than in such proximity to the World Trade Center because its presence offends the sensibilities of some.

Aside from the fact that there are already two mosques near the World Trade Center site, mosques that have been in continuous operation since 9/11, one has to wonder about these mysterious “sensibilities” that must be protected at all costs, even at the cost of denying Constitutional rights to some American citizens.

After all, the screeching, braying and caterwauling crowds that cursed and spat at the black school children who integrated a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas were clearly expressing their offended “sensibilities” to the nearness of black people. While the black students had a “right” to attend that school, one can imagine that it certainly would have been more convenient to observe and respect those “sensibilities”.

And so, rather than demonstrate leadership, the Democratic donkeys have largely been silent or have brayed in favor of the perceived majority. We have heard too many shameful statements affirming the right of Muslims to build the center but questioning the “wisdom” of building the Islamic center at the lawfully selected location of their choice.

Of course, if rights are to be doled out based upon the will of the majority, there will be few of us with many rights at the end of the day. The right of an arrested person to remain silent would never pass a national majority vote today. I don’t think that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would either. One wonders what the Democratic donkeys might bray if these items came to a vote this very day.

Today it is the construction of an Islamic cultural center that is the target of hate and senseless prejudice. Tomorrow it might be gay men and women who wish to marry. And next week it might be you or me. It is axiomatic that hate is insatiable and the more that it consumes the more it will consume.

These days it is not only the lambs that are silent.

Standard