But this notion of
liberal bullies picking on conservative victims doesn’t appear to have
much basis in reality. Indeed, the opposite dynamic far more often seems
to hold sway.
Not only do liberal
organizations tend to tiptoe around the personal beliefs of
conservatives, for fear of being accused of insensitivity, but
conservative leaders often show no comparable restraint when heaping
disdain and ridicule on liberals for their spiritual, moral and
In the 1980s, for
instance, phrases like “secular humanist” or the word “liberal” itself
were turned into epithets. As novelist Gore Vidal wryly noted in
a recent interview, “liberal” was redefined to mean “a commie who’s
also a pedophile.”
Many conservatives won’t
even use the word “Democratic” as an adjective. It’s often replaced by
the insulting substitute “Democrat,” as in Bob Dole’s famous formulation
about “Democrat wars.”
More recently, Richard
Cizik, a leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, explained
why he disdains the word “environmentalism” in favor of what he calls
“Environmentalists have a
bad reputation among evangelical Christians,” Cizik said. “They
[environmentalists] keep kooky religious company. … Some
environmentalists are pantheists who believe creation itself is holy,
not the Creator.” [New York Times Magazine, April 3, 2005]
If a leader of a major
environmental organization had used similar language about “kooky”
evangelicals, there would be, metaphorically speaking, hell to pay.
But in today’s political
context, it isn’t even eyebrow-raising when a conservative leader
belittles environmentalists for keeping “kooky religious company” or
mocking liberal Americans who hold non-traditional religious views. It’s
as if the liberals are expected to serve as the nation’s political
whipping boys without complaint.
Another example of
anti-environmentalist disdain came from Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.,
chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who last
January lashed out at environmentalists for seeking U.S. government
action on global warming.
In a Senate floor speech,
Inhofe called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the
American people” and denounced environmentalists as “extremists,”
“elitists” and “radical far-left alarmists.”
grassroots activists and online bloggers throw around the phrase
“eco-terrorists” against mainstream environmentalists, broadly
associating members of large national environmental advocacy groups like
the Sierra Club with small, fringe environmental groups with histories
of property destruction and civil disobedience.
Though these attacks
about “eco-terrorists” are inflammatory and could be construed as
intimidating in today’s tense political climate, they pass virtually
unnoticed. By contrast, it’s hard to imagine a leader of any national
environmental organization feeling free to label polluting industries as
“murderers,” even though health experts estimate that air pollution in
America kills between 50,000 and 100,000 people every year.
One of the reasons for
this is that many environmental groups have strict messaging rules about
how to present their arguments, restrictions that anyone who has worked
for one of these groups knows by heart. “Don’t be shrill.” “Discuss the
policy, not the person.” “Don’t attack motives.”
candidates seem to operate under these same messaging guidelines. For
instance, in preparation for the third presidential debate last fall,
political adviser Bob Shrum nixed a response that John Kerry planned to
deliver to an expected attack from George W. Bush. Shrum felt that the
comeback, which referred to the president by his first name, wasn’t
respectful enough, according to another Kerry adviser.
While Kerry mostly took
the high road in Campaign 2004, the Bush team, led by political adviser
Karl Rove, chose the low road as a far more direct route to victory.
For instance, Bush’s
political allies spread the silly – but effective – notion that Kerry
looked French. Meanwhile, the pro-Bush attack group, Swift Boat Veterans
for Truth, made false and misleading accusations about Kerry’s Vietnam
War record. Bush delegates at the Republican convention even distributed
Purple Heart band-aids to mock Kerry's war wounds. [For details, see
Play the Traitor Card” and “Reality
on the Ballot.”]
So, while Democrats,
environmentalists and many other groups on the political Left discipline
themselves to stick politely to the issues, Republicans and
conservatives score political victory after political victory with sharp
Judges are another group
that has been demonized by the Right. Dating back to the days of
court-ordered desegregation in the 1950s, conservatives have complained
about “liberal activist judges” reinterpreting the Constitution.
This tarring of the
judiciary has escalated in the past several weeks after both federal and
state courts refused to force a Florida hospice to reinsert a feeding
tube for Terri Shiavo, a brain-damaged woman who had survived 15 years
in what doctors termed a “persistent vegetative state.”
leaders including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senator John
Cornyn – both Texas Republicans – have suggested that judges are
inviting retribution from people who resent rulings, such as the ones
that let Schiavo die. “The time will come for the men responsible for
this to answer for their behavior,” DeLay said.
In a Senate speech on
April 4, Cornyn went even further, linking what he called “raw political
or ideological decisions” to recent violent attacks on judges.
“I don’t know if there is
a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of
courthouse violence in this country,” Cornyn said. “I wonder whether
there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on
some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are
unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds
up to the point where some people engage in, engage in violence.”
By contrast to these
incendiary comments, Al Gore and leading Democrats urged restraint by
Gore voters in December 2000 after Bush got five conservative
Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court to take the unprecedented action
of stopping the vote count in Florida, thus ensuring Bush’s victory.
Democrats accepted that
Supreme Court ruling although it would be difficult to identify any
court decision in U.S. history that was more “raw political” than the
Bush v. Gore case. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “W’s
Coup d’Etat” and “So
Bush Did Steal the White House.”]
To find comments
comparable to Cornyn’s on the political Left, one would have to wander
to the ideological fringes, to the likes of University of Colorado
professor Ward Churchill, who wrote an essay suggesting the Sept. 11
victims were not innocent victims.
Or the search could lead
to the world of fiction and to novelist Nicholas Baker, whose book
Checkpoint presents a two-person dialogue in which one character
wants to assassinate Bush and the other objects.
Though Baker’s novel was
certainly no mega-bestseller (ranking 198,366 in Amazon book sales),
Washington Post writer Richard Cohen seized on the anti-Bush anger of
the fictional would-be assassin as the lead argument for a column
condemning “Bush haters.” Cohen asserted that “Bush haters” must have
egged the novelist on.
“Lots of people must have
told Baker he had a capital idea,” Cohen wrote, without citing any
evidence that this speculation – which effectively accused liberals of
advocating the assassination of a president – had any basis in fact.
[Washington Post, Sept. 16, 2004] Cohen seemed to understand that when
it comes to hanging heinous charges around the necks of liberals, no
evidence is needed.
complained that some anti-war protesters have uttered harsh anti-Bush
slogans, such as “no blood for oil” or “Bush lied, who died?”
But the far more striking
fact about the anti-war protests, dating back to fall 2002, is how
generally peaceful they have been, especially in the face of Bush’s
decision to invade Iraq without a genuine threat against U.S. national
security and without authorization from the United Nations Security
Plus, if harsh rhetoric
were measured on a one-to-ten scale, Republican leaders and conservative
pundits would have topped even the anti-war slogans with their
denunciations of Americans who opposed Bush’s policies.
For instance, when Al
Gore questioned Bush’s preemptive-war strategy, Republican spokesman Jim
Dyke called Gore “a political hack.” The former vice president also was
raked over the coals on the TV chat shows and in newspaper columns. When
former arms inspector Scott Ritter questioned the “group think” about
Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, he was portrayed as a traitor. [See
of Preemption” and “Bush
& Democracy Hypocrisy.”]
Bush himself got into the
act. On the campaign trail in 2002, Bush slammed the Democratic-led
Senate as “not interested in the security of the American people”
because the Democrats favored a slightly different version of the
Homeland Security bill.
Even after the U.S.-led
invasion failed to turn up Iraq’s alleged WMD stockpiles, Bush
supporters continued to attack war critics. After former Ambassador
Joseph Wilson penned a New York Times Op-Ed challenging a
nuclear-weapons-related claim in Bush’s State of the Union speech, the
White House leaked the fact that Wilson’s wife was an undercover agent
for the CIA.
Attack messaging against
“liberals” also extends beyond government.
conducted a half-century-long campaign – also dating back to the civil
rights struggles – to discredit professional journalists as “liberal”
and unfair to conservative causes. [For details, see Robert Parry’s
Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]
The “liberal media”
epithet continues to be hurled at reporters even as media outlets have
veered so far to the right that it’s hard to distinguish between Fox
News and its supposedly less conservative rivals, CNN and MSNBC.
Hollywood is another
target of right-wing complaints about liberal bias.
While many actors,
directors and producers are self-avowed liberals who support progressive
causes, the overriding truth about their industry is that most
big-studio movies don’t have a political slant. Their goal is to make
If anything, the major
movie studios shy away from political controversy. Remember, for
instance, that Disney refused to distribute Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit
9/11” out of fear that pro-Bush customers would boycott other Disney
Mostly, the movie
industry produces fast-paced action thrillers with car chases and
explosions. There’s also a smattering of movies that celebrate war or
glorify the American soldier. Others tell warm-hearted spiritual stories
about average people overcoming adversity.
But this reality about
the apolitical nature of most movies never tamps down the fire of
conservative attacks on “liberal” Hollywood.
Before this year’s
Academy Awards, conservative pundits vied over how much they hated the
show. Neoconservative commentator Charles Krauthammer predicted on the
day of the awards that the most liberal movie would win because the most
liberal movie always wins.
observation was largely mythical. Over the last quarter century, only a
handful of Best Picture winners could reasonably be deemed “liberal”
movies: “Ghandi” in 1982, “Platoon” in 1986, and “Dances with Wolves” in
1990. Yet even those movies, while touching on “liberal” themes, told
stories that transcended a right-left political dichotomy.
The other Best Picture
winners since 1980 either lacked a political bent or might even have
been considered conservative for putting aristocratic lifestyles in a
favorable light, such as “The Last Emperor” in 1987 and “Shakespeare in
Love” in 1998.
In this year’s Oscar
competition, the nominating committee even snubbed Moore’s bid to have
considered in the Best Picture category.
Of the five movies that
were nominated, none was particularly “liberal” or even that
“political.” The winner, Clint Eastwood's
had a euthanasia scene that offended some social conservatives, but the
movie also presented harsh portrayals of welfare recipients.
Perhaps the most
political of the five was “The Aviator,” a movie about the life of
eccentric conservative billionaire Howard Hughes which included a
sympathetic account of his battles against Washington corruption.
Attacks Go On
But the conservative
attacks on “liberal” Hollywood continue, as do the attacks on “liberal
activist” judges, the “liberal” news media, “socialist” academics, and
Despite the conservative
dominance of all three branches of the U.S. government – not to mention
the Right’s own powerful and influential news media – the complaints
also continue about how conservatives are the victims of some diffused
but all-powerful liberal conspiracy.
That conspiracy now seems
to have spread to include even judicial appointees of Ronald Reagan,
such as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. On April 8, right-wing
leaders sponsored a conference on “Remedies to Judicial Tyranny,” which
included calls for impeaching judges who don’t comply with conservative
One of these supposedly
tyrannical judges deserving impeachment – in part for his ruling against
execution of juveniles – was Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion
that installed George W. Bush as president.
Though some observers
might conclude that seeking Justice Kennedy’s impeachment indicates how
radical the conservative movement has become, the endless repetition of
the conservative “victimization” theme still feeds the fury of the
Some Americans may yearn
for a more civil time in U.S. politics, but that won’t happen as long as
the Right finds political profit in these strategies of “victimization”
and revenge. Until then, civility will remain a well-intentioned
objective found only in dusty old high school civics books.