Yesterday on his radio show Dan Fagan replayed a speech by Newt Gingrich. Mr. Fagan introduced it by saying this was an example of the type of leadership that we need, that it provided one of life’s “few clarifying moments” in which everything suddenly makes sense, especially the end of the speech.
So what does Mr. Gingrich say? It’s the usual political right baiting its base with social issues and the “liberal-socialist” bogeyman. But that’s not what was notable. Like Mr. Fagan, I too was mostly struck by the end, specifically the line where Gingrich says the time has come to “isolate and crush the secular, socialist left.” After the speech, Mr. Fagan came on again, lest we missed the message and explained: “So, there you go. That’s the key, folks. Isolate and crush the secular left.”
Mr. Fagan: Though a strong believer in the markets, I am a member of the secular left – what does it mean to ‘crush’ me? My two sons were in the car with me while I was listening - how do you recommend I explain to them that the nice man on the radio wishes to have their father crushed?
I tune in to Dan Fagan because I think he’s smart and, usually, reasonable. But this kind of language isn’t about leadership. It’s about partisan demagoguery.
It is, in effect, saying ‘those who do not believe in my God should not have a voice in this society.’ Ironically, that’s a belief shared by Iran’s Ahmadinejad. By Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. By Afghanistan’s Taliban. Though these men are at war against the West, their primary fight is with their own people, against those secularists who fear a state controlled by the high clerics of intolerance. It is a fight against modernity itself.
Mr. Gingrich’s statement reminds me of that famously false choice: “You are either with us or you are against us” favored by George W. Bush after Sept. 11th and by Hutu rebels wishing to incite violence against Rwandan Tutsis. “Crush the cockroaches,” the Hutus were told on the radio the night before the 1994 killings began. “The cockroaches must be crushed.”
In its dangerousness, it also reminds me of Sarah Palin’s oft-repeated comment that “Obama pals around with terrorists,” – a statement which, for some, could not only justify violence against him, but morally demand it.
The words we choose matter. I suspect Sarah Palin knows this. Newt Gingrich certainly does. Dan Fagan does too. And that’s what makes this moment of clarity - that the time has finally come to “isolate and crush” - so scary.
I’d welcome the opportunity to come on Mr. Fagan’s show. Even more, I’d welcome an apology. But I suspect neither will happen. Because for those who see the world as a binary struggle of us versus them, dissent itself cannot be tolerated – and certainly not welcomed on to the show. If he acknowledges this little post at all, my bet is he’ll oversimplify and mislead by saying, “Ready for this folks - the liberals are now comparing me to genocidal killers – what’s next?” And from there he’ll evoke whatever metaphor he needs to ensure his audience stays angry and tuned in.