It is quite possible that some of the incidents of hateful speech and harassment allegedly directed by the Left toward the Right, especially toward African-Americans on the Right, have been untrue or exaggerated. It is important, however, to keep in mind the big picture. And the big truth is that the American Left seems rather more willing to go for the jugular more quickly than anyone else these days, and rather more openly and viciously than in some times past.
As Jeff Jacoby noted in his December 28 column,
Nothing brings out racist slurs like an ambitious black man who doesn't know his "place." So when Maryland's lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, announced his candidacy for the US Senate recently, the bigots reared up. On one popular website, The News Blog, Steele's picture was grotesquely doctored, making him look like a minstrel-show caricature. "I's Simple Sambo and I's Running for the Big House," read the insulting headline accompanying the picture.
This wasn't some white supremacist slime from the right-wing fringe. The News Blog is a liberal site, and the reason for its racist attack on Steele, a former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, is that he is a conservative. Specifically, a black conservative. As far as too many liberals are concerned, blacks who reject liberalism deserve to be smeared as Sambos and worse.
"Black Democratic leaders in Maryland say that racially tinged attacks against Lt. Gov. Michael Steele . . . are fair because he is a conservative Republican," The Washington Times reported. "Such attacks . . . include . . . calling him an 'Uncle Tom,' and depicting him as a blackfaced minstrel."
Once upon a time, segregationists excoriated white liberals as "nigger lovers." Today, racist insults in the political arena are more likely to come from the left -- and to target black conservatives. When Harry Belafonte was asked in August about the fact that black Americans hold prominent positions in the Bush administration, his response was to call them "black tyrants" -- and then to make a sickening (and ignorant) comparison: "Hitler had a lot of Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich."
Jacoby is by no means condemning vigorous debate:
By "hate speech," I don't mean the sharp put-downs that are an inevitable part of vigorous public debate. What I have in mind are the disgusting calumnies and malicious demonizations that should have no place in political discourse. Like University of Michigan historian Juan Cole, a frequent TV talking head, asserting falsely that Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes "has fond visions of rounding up Muslim Americans and putting them in concentration camps." Or US Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont accusing the Bush family of planning to "start another war . . . next year, probably in Iran" in order "to get their son" -- Florida Governor Jeb Bush -- "elected president" in the next election.
If this kind of toxic rhetoric came only from crackpots, it would be easy enough to dismiss. When it comes from pundits, celebrities, and politicians -- people whose views tend to get respectful attention -- it does real damage, and should be universally condemned.
Jacoby cites additional cases, and he notes that Republicans who stray beyond the boundaries of reasonable discourse, such as Pat Robertson in his recent comments suggesting the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, are strongly and quickly denounced by both Left and Right. That is the way things should be. Jacoby is certainly correct in observing that the trend is real and that it should indeed be "universally condemned."