The self-destructive politics of hate

Back when I called the National Capital Region home, I attended only one White House Correspondents’ Association dinner but decided to forgo future ones because I found them boring and hypocritical.

Such dinners display a blatant hypocrisy when the media cozies up for an evening with the President – any President – of the United States and acts buddy-buddy with an elected official we’re supposed to be monitoring with a skeptical – and critical – eye.

Too often, the association brings in some big-name comedian, commentator or talk show host to emcee the event and that big-name attraction only uses the occasion to embarrass himself, the press and anyone else involved.

Aging radio shock-jock Don Imus fell flat with humorless remarks about Bill Clinton and girls in the back of pickup trucks. But few have flamed out like Stephen Colbert at this year’s event.

Like too many regulars on the falsely-advertised “Comedy Channel,” Colbert is neither funny nor topical. Good political comedians are hard to find these days (Jon Stewart is a rare exception) and Colbert ain’t one of them.

But those who dared to say what needed to be said about Colbert’s dismal performance have, themselves, come under harsh attack by the haters and screamers who make up too much of the so-called “blogosphere” out on the Internet.

Richard Cohen of The Washington Post found out the hard way. When he wrote a well-reasoned column about Colbert’s unfunny performance, the hatemongers who dominate the blogging world went into a feeding frenzy, demanding that their loyal readers bombard Cohen with hate email. He got nearly 3500 angry, and diatribe-filled emails in four days.

“The Colbert messages began with Patrick Manley (“You wouldn’t know funny if it slapped you in the face”) and ended with Ron (“Colbert ROCKS, you MURDER”) who was so proud of his thought that he copied countless others,” Cohen says.

Many of the emails accused Cohen of being a supporter of Bush and Republicans – a laugh to anyone who knows Cohen or reads his stuff but then research has never been a strong point of too many partisan bloggers and the mindless ones who accept their ravings as gospel.

But Cohen found something else in the cyber-attack that realistically threatens political discourse and any real chance of changing the status quo in our politically-driven society.

He found hate, lots of hate; far too much hate.

Writes Cohen:

What to make of all this? First, it’s not about Colbert. His show has an audience of about 1 million — not exactly “American Idol” numbers. Second, it marks the end of a silly pretense about interactive media: We give you our e-mail addresses and then, in theory, we have this nice chat. Forget about it. Not only is e-mail too often a kind of epistolary spitball, but there’s no way I can even read the 3,506 e-mails now backed up in my queue — seven more since I started writing this column.

But the message in this case truly is the medium. The e-mails pulse in my queue, emanating raw hatred. This spells trouble — not for Bush or, in 2008, the next GOP presidential candidate, but for Democrats. The anger festering on the Democratic left will be taken out on the Democratic middle. (Watch out, Hillary!) I have seen this anger before — back in the Vietnam War era. That’s when the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon. In this way, they managed to prolong the very war they so hated.

The hatred is back. I know it’s only words now appearing on my computer screen, but the words are so angry, so roiled with rage, that they are the functional equivalent of rocks once so furiously hurled during antiwar demonstrations. I can appreciate some of it. Institution after institution failed America — the presidency, Congress and the press. They all endorsed a war to rid Iraq of what it did not have. Now, though, that gullibility is being matched by war critics who are so hyped on their own sanctimony that they will obliterate distinctions, punishing their friends for apostasy and, by so doing, aiding their enemies. If that’s going to be the case, then Iraq is a war its critics will lose twice — once because they couldn’t stop it and once more at the polls.

There is a big, big difference between anger and hate. Anger, when properly directed, can sway elections and bring about real, needed reform in our nation.

Hate solves nothing. It festers, it infects and it destroys.  Even worse it allows despots to succeed.  Those who replace anger with hate only aid those who use such hate for political advantage.