All the Rage

THIS WEEKEND’ WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENTS DINNER DEBASED OUR POLITICAL DISCOURSE IN A WAY NOT EVEN THE LEFT HAD NOT PREVIOUSLY SUCCEEDED, but Wanda Sykes’ death wish was not the cause in itself. The Left has made bloodlust for its political opponents de rigueur. The moment that desecrated one of our national institutions affected a more fundamental aspect of character.

Another Leftist Death Wish: Ho-Hum

The media have focused on the “controversy” surrounding Saturday’s Syke-o statements about Rush Limbaugh. Citing Rush’s hope that “socialism fails,” Wanda claimed: “He’s not saying anything different than what Osama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this, sir, [addressing the president] because I think maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker, but he was so strung out on Oxycontin, he missed his flight.” After asking if she went too far, she barreled on: “Rush Limbaugh! ‘I hope the country fails’? I hope his kidneys fail!”

Disgusting as the statements were, they were sadly unremarkable for their illogic, hypocrisy, or murderous rage. Forget that Barack Obama has written book blurbs for more terrorists than Rush Limbaugh has ever met. Forget that when the media reported one person at a John McCain presidential rally yelled “kill him” about Obama – a charge which Secret Service in crowd called unfounded – Frank Rich of the New York Times treated McCain-Palin like the second coming of Robert DePugh and accused them of “inciting vigilantism.” Even the comment’s most striking feature – wishing for someone to die because he disagrees with you – is all-too-common on the Left and, indeed, was greeted with gales of laughter from the D.C. press corps and the commander-in-chief.

Perhaps the line got so much applause because so many in the “mainstream” media have expressed similar sentiments about conservatives. NPR’s Nina Totenberg, who covers politics at taxpayer expense, wished Sen. Jesse Helms would contract AIDS. (He instead suffered from vascular dementia.) Totenberg later publicly hoped Gen. Jerry Boykin would find he “is not long for this world.” Columnist Julianne Malveaux proposed this nutrition plan for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas: “I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter, and he dies early, like many black men do, of heart disease.”

The closest thing the Left has produced to Rush Limbaugh is Air America’s Randi Rhodes – which is rather like saying the closest thing a budding sculptor has produced to Michelangelo’s David is a snowball. Nonetheless, Ms. Rhodes repeatedly “joked” about doing in President Bush. In May 2004, Rhodes referenced President Obama’s favorite film, The Godfather:“Like Fredo, somebody ought to take him out fishing and [sound of gunfire].” A few years later, she chuckled as an AA spot again threatened to assassinate her president. (Between those bits, the network fumed Donald Rumsfeld “ought to be tortured.” Those kidders!)

Even the foreign press longed for Bush’s death. In October 2004, UK Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker declared Bush should be “tarred, feathered and kicked in the nuts” and asked, “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. – where are you now that we need you?” Not content with idle speculation, a foreign leftist produced the film “Death of a President” to bring this vision to life.

Some Americans interested in the living arts attended FEAR UP: Stories from Baghdad and Guantanamo, a play funded by tax-exempt, “charitable” funds administered by Teresa Heinz and personally praised by Sen. John Kerry. One of its plot twists involves “suggesting a new reality television show that places 14 Bush supporters in Faluja” [sic.] Yes, one need not be a public figure to deserve death in the Left’s eyes.

Disgraced comedic writer and Huffington Post blogger Tony Hendra greeted Dick Cheney’s heart troubles by composing “A Thanksgiving Prayer for Dick Cheney’s Heart – and a Few Other Favorite Things” – a blasphemous oration that called Cheney earth’s “Number One Human Tumor.”

Others rejoiced over actual tumors. When former White House spokesman Tony Snow revealed his cancer had returned, a DailyKos diarist asked, “Should I Care That Tony Snow Has Cancer?” Fellow Kos-ters called Snow’s illness “karmic.” Months later, among the many entries mocking Snow’s death, were two DK diaries asking, “Should we mourn Tony Snow?” The New York Press pre-emptively danced at Pope John Paul II’s wake. The leftist rag published a cover story in March 2005 entitled, “The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope,” which included such knee-slappers as, “In his last days, the Pope was in tremendous pain”; “Beetles eating Pope’s dead brains”; and “Pope pisses himself just before the end; gets all over nurse.” Maybe they’re writing Wanda Sykes’ gag lines?

(Michelle Malkin has many more examples of unhinged leftist behavior toward those who dare disagree with them)

Unfortunately, leftist hatred does not end at the grave. Cartoonist Ted Rall has made a career of slurring the dead. Shortly after President Ronald Reagan’s death, Rall told a reporter Reagan was in Hell “turning crispy brown right about now.” Rall called Pat Tillman, the NFL star who enlisted after 9/11 and was killed in Afghanistan, an “idiot.” He berated the victims of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and their families as Nazis, and portrayed the grieving wives left behind after 9/11 as money-grubbing media hounds in his cartoon “Terror Widows.”

When the Rev. Jerry Falwell died,  former John Edwards presidential campaign employee Amanda Marcotte immediately blogged: “The gates of hell swing open and Satan welcomes his beloved son. Jerry Falwell’s dead. Guess god [sic.] — notice the small ‘g’ — liked the ACLU better after all.” The DailyKos seethed when the scholarly, low-key Presbyterian minister Dr. D. James Kennedy died: “Another Hate Merchant Meets His Maker.”

After Charlton Heston succumbed to a long bout with Alzheimer’s Disease, the loving Left at Democratic Underground wrote: “glad to hear some good news for a change. – I hope that spreader of misery spends all his glory days around the eternal flames of hell with ol’ Raygun talkin’ ’bout how they really fucked this country – oh they probably won’t even remember, lol.”

The tragedy is not that Wanda’s whimpers pulled our national discourse down to the level of a chat room comment. By herself, she does not have that power. Nor is it even that the Left’s demonization of its opponents has led to acts of violence against conservative speakers like David Horowitz, William Kristol, Ann Coulter, and Pat Buchanan. (Indeed, an Indymedia observe wrote, “If Kristol had got what he deserved, it would not have been a pie.”) Such rhetoric and its resultant violence is inevitable as long as the Left clings to a secular demonology. Socialist Utopians (sorry, “Progressives”) cannot “love the sinner and hate the sin,” because their Kingdom of Heaven must be built on earth. Their opponents are not merely terrorists but devils.  

Living in Debasement

The real and unprecedented debasement of our national dialogue came from President Obama’s Carteresque smile and titters of laughter as Sykes mused about his rival’s death. The visuals – and Obama’s own rhetorical history – prove Wanda was right about one thing: the president was laughing, inside and out. Given the opportunity to apologize at a Monday press conference, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs regretted only her comparing Limbaugh to the 9/11 hijackers, and then only with the now-standard dodge that others should determine whether such a comparison were valid. Gibbs said, “there are a lot of topics that are better left for serious reflection, rather than comedy – I think there’s no doubt that 9/11 is part of that.”

And kidney failure, Mr. Gibbs?

Obama’s cackling while Wanda Sykes wishes his opponents dead is debasing, not merely in a personal, but in an institutional sense. The White House Correspondents Dinner is an annual convocation the last several presidents have observed, regardless of their opinion of its practitioners or their craft – that is, rather like the National Day of Prayer every year before this. It is an annual observance at which, it is understood, the sitting president will be in attendance. In this and other ceremonial events, the president acts not in the personal but in the regal capacity.

Laughing at a joke, even a vicious one, is not a major personal flaw. Cooling his heels in Rev. Wright’s church for 20 years; associating with an unrepentant terrorist; making jokes about an ailing Nancy Reagan performing a séance in the White House (she didn’t; Hillary Clinton did); giving his primary and general election opponents the middle finger; crafting endless straw man arguments; and appointing a chief of staff who proclaimed his opponents “Dead! Dead! Dead!” all speak worse of Obama as a man. And undoubtedly, other presidents have made worse statements about their opponents in private. But at Saturday’s dinner, something unprecedented happened: the man who happens to occupy the presidency on behalf of the American people chortled in public while contemplating the death of one of his citizens.

As with his pre-inaugural comments about Nancy Reagan, his campaign trail focus on Sean Hannity, his own recent attacks on Rush Limbaugh, and his snippy attack on Dick Cheney at the dinner, Obama has fused a thin-skinned obsession with his critics to his role as president, obviously giving little thought to how pursuing his private vendettas during official functions diminishes the reputation of the office itself. For someone so concerned about America’s image abroad, it seems a curious oversight. The presidency has been held by men of lower character, but on Obama’s watch, the honor of the presidency itself is shrinking.

This article originally appeared as the lead story on Wednesday, May 13, 2009, on FrontPage Magazine.