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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Republican CA-46

Here's a link to a must-read diary by Mardish where GOP Representative Dana Rohrabacher (CA-46) tells a panel of representatives from the European Parliament:

"Well, I hope it's your families, I hope it's your families that suffer the consequences [of a terrorist attack]."

Once again we have a Republican using terrorism, in this case a bus bombing, as a rhetorical device to wish ill will upon his political opponents, on people with whom he simply disagrees. (See my note on remarks by Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia for another example.)

This is simply inexcusable.There is no justification for this kind of speech in the course of official House business. Representative Rohrabacher should be brought before the House Ethics Committee for this remark.

That being said, there are two things to note here. First, there is so much wrong with Congressman Rohrabacher's entire statement.

Representative Rohrabacher made this comment in the context of a long harangue in which he was advocating abducting and torturing suspected terrorists and fully accepting that innocent bystanders will get caught up in this process and be abducted and tortured as well. Representative Rohrabacher falsely concludes that the torture of enemies and innocents alike is "just the price we have to pay" to ensure our safety. But that's not all. Representative Rohrabacher also makes the nonsensical and grotesque analogy that if we had had the ability to abduct and torture Adolf Eichmann we might have saved "a million" lives in the Holocaust. That's a hyperbolic trifecta: making a Nazi analogy to representatives of the European Parliament, minimizing the number killed in Nazi concentration camps ("a million"), and implying, with zero logic, that capturing and torturing Adolf Eichmann could have in any way prevented the Holocaust.

I don't often use the term "wingnuttery" but that is wingnuttery of the highest order. I don't see how anyone can make a historical case for how this "abduction and torture" of Eichmann would have worked. Perhaps in a la-la land of Dana Rohrabacher's imagination, but not with any regards to history or reality-based thinking. In fact, the much more likely reason Representative Rohrabacher made the Eichmann analogy was to bully, intimidate and demean the representatives of the European Parliament sitting before him and to confuse the debate about "torture and rendition" that was the matter at hand.

Congressman Rohrabacher's extended comments were of a piece with what followed...where the congressman, caught up in his own flight of wingnuttery and channelling Senator Joseph McCarthy, actually wishes that the families of these representatives from Europe (and we assume their sympathizers in the hearing room) would get caught up in an Al Qaeda bus bombing.

Let me address that.

In the space of two weeks we have had two Republican Representatives, Jack Kingston and Dana Rohrabacher, use the rhetoric of terrorism to wish ill will on their political opponents, on people with whom they simply disagree. Whether it is an "IED" symbolically exploding the Democrats in Congress, or a bus bomb taking the lives of representatives of the Eurpean Parliament, this is a grotesque rhetorical trend. It also speaks to a deep pathology in the right-wing Republican mindset.

In the 2002, 2004, and 2006 campaigns the Republican Party attempted to associate the image of terrorism and terrorists intent on harming America with Democrats. That characterization, most frequently used by Vice President Dick Cheney, of Democrats "helping" or "aiding" the enemy or of "al Qaeda types" taking encouragement from Democratic victories is, in and of itself a reprehensible and extremely dangerous rhetorical ploy. It creates a world in which an ever present external enemy is reflected (against logic and reality) in an associated domestic political opponent. It vilifies those with whom one simply has a political disagreement by branding them with the image of a "foreign enemy." Finally, it hinders our ability to cooperate in the very real international struggle against terrorism by dividing us needlessly at home.

The US news media has uncritically allowed the Vice President, among many others, to use this rhetoric. That is not simply wrong; it is dangerous.

Branding one's domestic political opponents with the identity of a foreign enemy is an extremely irresponsible and dangerous rhetorical ploy. History is replete with examples of where that type of rhetoric leads. And, yes, in this case, whether it is the Gulag or, domestically, the internment camps or the McCarthy-era blacklist, it is not overblown to point up the historical record in this regard. Domestic political opponents, or in the case of the Japanese internment...innocent American citizens...are not "the enemy," not in a society that lives under the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution. It should simply have been enough to point out that this mindset is un-American..that this is not how we aspire to practice politics under our Constitution and Bill of Rights. But that kind of accountability hasn't been much available in the United States of late.

What to make, then, of this further rhetorical device used by Representatives Rohrabacher and Kingston?

There is something gruesome here...almost like these GOP Representatives are showing too much of their inner psychology, too much of their hand. What does it say about a political party that claims to oppose terrorism in all its forms that some of its members wish acts of terrorism upon their political opponents? IEDs on Democrats? Bus bombings on the families of representatives of the EU...spoken boldly from a Capitol hearing room? Where are the Republicans condemning these remarks? (Where were the Republicans when Max Cleland was smeared with images of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in Georgia in 2002?)

This is a rhetorical game that has gone too far. We should all be able to agree on that.

Are these far-right Congressman that unselfaware? Yes. Of course.

But something else is going on here. The right wing in America has been emboldened by two decades of unchecked hate and venom embodied in right-wing hate radio and now supported by the Executive Branch. Whether it was slurs like "Macaca" or jokes like "Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran" right-wing advocates have simply not been held accountable...until now. In the aftermath of the 2006 elections, there is a different political reality in the United States. Enough voters from the center moved to support the Democrats that the GOP is now forced to share power and deal with a Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress, a majority that we all know benefitted mightily from millions of independent votes.

Some in the Republican Party have realized this and moved to the middle. Others have bunkered down and sought to extend the dangerous rhetorical game they were already playing. The Vice President has already cast his lot with the far-right and returned to the Rush Limbaugh show to repeat his mischaracterizations and demonization of Democrats. Representatives Kingston and Rohrabacher, as outlined above, have gone futher down a path that leads only to madness and divisive tragedies like that visited upon this nation with the Oklahoma City bombing.

Our job, in the face of this, is simple and clear.

We must call on the media and all fair-minded Americans (Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike) to join us in lamenting these comments and holding these Congressmen accountable. It's a new day in Washington. Some things are not "okay;" in fact, they never were.

And we must counter this inflammatory rhetoric and language in every instance with forthright, yet responsible, rhetoric of our own...both the mischaracterizations of Democrats as somehow "emboldening" terror and these gruesome fantasies of inflicting terror upon those with whom one disagrees. In every instance we must remind our fellow Americans that this is a nation of laws founded on the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. All Americans understand the concept of e pluribus unum; we are one.

That should be obvious after 9/11. In 2007, however, Congressman like Rohrabacher and Kingston follow the lead of our Vice President, and the media lets them get away with it. That's a shame.

We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. We must reach out to all Americans. In the face of Rohrabacher's venom, we must not back down.


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