Inured to Wild Political Rhetoric

To become inured is to become accustomed–but accustomed to something undesirable, as several online dictionaries point out.

Thesis: It is probable that we (we Americans, we modern folk) have become inured to wilder and wilder rhetoric. Thesis 2: At the moment, the rhetoric of many Republicans seems much wilder than that of most Democrats, although I acknowledge that, for example, some Democrats/progressives toss around the other f-word, fascist, imprecisely.

Regarding thesis 2: Rick Perry suggested that Ben Bernanke may be a traitor for allowing the “Fed” to print money. Numerous current and former elected GOPers and their mouthpieces have suggested that President Obama doesn’t like America, isn’t a native of the U.S., is a socialist, is a Muslim, and so on. Of course, embedded in the charge that he is a Muslim is the assumption that to be a Muslim is a bad thing, not just that Obama lies when he asserts that his religious beliefs are Christian. The same goes for “socialist,” which must be a) bad and b) go undefined.

Of course, plenty of Democrats have used wild rhetoric in the past, but I believe a disinterested examination of the current rhetorical climate would show that Democrats tend to rely on less wild, more typical political rheto-trickery: not answering questions directly, using euphemisms (President Obama referred to “modifications” of “entitlements,” the former word being a euphemism, the latter–arguably–simply inaccurate), and so on.

In order to disagree with political opponents and their policies, or to try to prevail in elections or debates, the current GOP appears to get wilder and wilder in their rhetoric, so that the opponent “must” be un-American, not from here, abnormal, anti-American, traitorous, or evil.

So what? A fair question. One may simply stop taking this or that GOPer seriously, or “consider source,” or write off the rhetoric as “politics as usual.” But when what used to be the unusual–wild attacks–becomes the usual, we become inured, and perhaps we learn not miss more reasonable if not entirely untainted public and political discourse. We take hateful propaganda for granted, think of it as normative.

Another way of phrasing “So what?” is to ask, “What is or will be the cost of becoming inured?” Answer: I don’t know. But there must be some cost, and it may be more than simply considerable. I long for a day when a moderate Republican speaks out against prominent members of his or her own Party for their use of wild rhetoric. I recall when George Bush I criticized the head of the American Rifle Association for characterizing federal officials as “jack-booted” thugs, although “thugs” is probably a paraphrase. (Bush also withdrew his membership of the organization.) I thought at the time that it was a “stand-up” moment, and I suspected that part of Bush’s impulse was generational: he’d fought in a war against a nation truly “governed” by jack-booted thugs, so he may have taken the wild rhetoric personally.

Of course, it’s important for Democrats to criticize their own, too–for someone to say or to write that the use of a term like “modifications” is slippery, for example. However: slippery isn’t wild and hateful.

Michelle Bachmann professes to want to “take our country back.” She means take it back from President Obama, I assume, not take it back to some atavistic time. I rather wish some moderate Republicans would help to set a new rhetorical course for the Party, to take the Party back to more or less reasonable discourse. But how many moderate Republicans with some measure of power remain? This is not a rhetorical question.


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