The irony is inescapable.
Today, the President and First Lady are using their bully pulpit to host a special White House conference on bullying—specifically the bullying of youths, in school and in cyberspace. It is a worthy effort. Bullying is an evil that etches deep emotional scars in the souls and psyches of young people. In some cases it has led to suicide.
But adults can be bullies too, of course. And some of them are state governors. In the Midwest (for now) Scott Walker and other Republicans are using strong arm tactics and fear-mongering rhetoric to commandeer American democracy, curb individual rights and turn middle class Americans against each other, while giving tax cuts to the wealthy, giving corporations a pass—and giving the Koch Brothers the first erections they’ve experienced in years.
Walker’s shifty power play in Wisconsin is undoing decades of civil rights, taking the state with arguably the most Progressive legacy in America, and transforming it into a right-wing corporate utopia.
In Michigan, Rick Snyder is assuming bogus, unilateral emergency powers that would enable him to
1) disincorporate entire municipal governments,
2) dismiss elected officials with no replacement election to follow,
3) seize control of local civil services,
4) hand taxpayer money, services and powers to private, for-profit firms.
And they call Obama a dictator. But of course, that’s classic Rovian politics—accuse your enemy of the very thing you’re guilty of.
Meanwhile, down the street from the anti-bullying conference at 1600 Penssy. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is hosting Congressional Hearings on the threat of homegrown Islamic radicalization. This is the same Peter King who opposed the 9/11 Commission and justified IRA terrorism in its fight against—are you listening Dinesh D’Souza and Mike Huckabee—British imperialism.
I live in NYC, I breathed the smoky death-filled air that choked the city in the days after Sept. 11, 2001. I was lucky—I didn’t lose any family member, friend or casual acquaintance in the terrorist attack. But I was on fire with rage.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, with the pain still raw, I wondered how many of the people who castigated FDR for the Japanese-American internment camps –liberal and conservative alike– would, at this moment, be perfectly okay with rounding up every Muslim of Mideast heritage.
To be sure, it would be childishly naïve to ignore the fact that Muslim extremism is a grave threat to this country—precisely the kind of naivete that has, in some quarters, given liberalism a bad name. Whether the reasons are political, religious, cultural or all of the above, the Islamic radicals hate us, and the worst among them will gladly wreak death on our innocent citizens.
I am also of the opinion that many moderate Muslims, the ones who say constantly that Islam is a “peaceful religion,” haven’t been loud enough in their condemnation of their faith’s fanatical fringe.
But in his rhetoric and actions, Peter King is a fear-mongerer. A bully. He’s singling out and stigmatizing an entire religion—some of whose believers died in 9/11. By conducting a public pageant, he’s fanning the flames of Islamophobia, playing to his conservative base—and perhaps stirring up more anti-American passion.
It’s ironic indeed that while King saves America from Muslim terror, an alleged white supremacist—and Army veteran—named Kevin William Harpham has been charged in a foiled bombing attempt along a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade route in Spokane, Wash. He is charged with one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of knowingly possessing an improvised explosive device.
That device, a backpack bomb, could have killed scores of innocent men women and children— one official said of it, “They haven’t seen anything like this in this country. This was the worst device, and most intentional device, I’ve ever seen.”
Harpham’s alleged bombing attempt is a classic example of homegrown terror—only an alert public and skilled law enforcement prevented another Oklahoma City. Consciously or not, however, Americans don’t always associate these acts—and others, like the murder of abortion providers—with terrorism. In 21st century America, Terrorism = Muslim. And that meme is reinforced constantly on talk radio, the internet and Fox News.
And in the halls of Congress, where Peter King’s grandstanding will serve no practical purpose.
Except one. Like everything else the GOP does, King’s hearings are all about defeating President Obama in 2012. A shocking percentage of the Republican electorate believes that the President is either a foreigner or a Muslim or both. Keeping the words “Muslim,” “Islam” and “terrorist” in the national zeitgeist is as essential to the GOP effort as busting unions, driving up gasoline prices, and sabotaging our economic recovery.
So while Barack Obama makes a worthy stand against child and adolescent bullies, he’d best keep one eye on the grownups.