Shameful wars, words, wars of words, wars because of words

Gobsmacked. Astonished, even. How can people who claim to be educated not understand a simple concept: What you say carries weight? It matters.

Words can be used to inspire, uplift, discourage, denigrate. They affect markets and moods. Not saying or responding is as powerful as shaking your fist at someone, but ultimately it takes words to create culture wars, wars between nations, wars between people, misunderstandings and missed connections. (This isn’t news to anyone. I just felt the need to say it. Again.)

This week brought a stunning array of some of the most irresponsible use of words I’ve seen in a very long time.

Let’s begin with Rick Santelli over at CNBC. I have long held the opinion that CNBC wields far too much power with regard to how it reports financial news and how that news is received. Watch this week’s Frontline on the financial crisis. CNBC’s participation in the way it happened and the way it was shaped for the viewing public is striking. I don’t think anyone can come away from that report without understanding that part of what ails financial markets can be laid at the feet of CNBC. They are an out of control freight train with no competition to stop them. They need some. Desperately.

Which brings me to Santelli’s rant last Wednesday. Before President Obama had even outlined his plan for people facing foreclosure, Santelli, and other CNBC “hosts” were talking it down. Keep in mind, these are the same people who talked UP the bailout for banks and Wall Street back in October, assuring the public that only a Federal bailout of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and IDG would save us all from ruin.

Here is Santelli in all of his glory:

Do we all feel righteous now, after watching that? Wanna go get some tea and toss it in Boston Harbor? Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t, courtesy of Twitter friend roadkillrefugee. (Hint: Santelli forgot a few key facts and protocols…)

  1. Santelli/CNBC never mentions that GE was recipient of $139 B from taxpayers to bailout out its own incompetent management.
  2. Santelli/CNBC not outraged GE’s CEO was offered bonus after horrible stewardship of GE. Yes, he declined, but can’t decline w/o an offer…
  3. What was GE’s Board/Comp Comm thinking when it decided to give Immelt a bonus with taxpayer dollars?
  4. CNBC is following FNC (Fox News) model of adopting an ideological editorial identity. To compete with FBC, it’s feigning Joe Stock Trader populism
  5. CNBC uncritically enables the poor governance practices, deregulation and corruption that have fed Wall Street insiders
  6. Right now, CNBC is not reporting on Wall Street, it’s cheerleading for Wall Street

In case it didn’t quite sink in, I’m going to repeat it. CNBC’s parent company, GE, was the beneficiary of $139 BILLION in the first bailout, and Rick Santelli has the NERVE — the GALL — to complain about a total foreclosure package of $75 Billion, putting the dog whistle for the reactionaries with the term “moral hazard“.

And finally, this: Santelli was proclaiming the health and soundness of the economy right alongside John McCain last September.

Words in September and February, carelessly used, amplified by the studio hosts and magnified. They do harm.

While there’s no question that we’re in a crisis right now, the most immediate crisis is one of trust and confidence. Period. So when the most powerful voices dog whistle the right-wing reactionaries with loaded words like “moral hazard” and oblique references to communism, what they say matters to people poised to receive those messages.

Like Rush Limbaugh. And Alan Keyes.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t quote them, much less mention them. But what they are doing is so dangerous, so utterly immoral, that I can’t let it pass.

Since President Obama’s inauguration, Limbaugh has repeatedly expressed the hope that his presidency will fail, a repugnant and unpatriotic hope that would mean we all will fail. But last week, he put this call out: “They” must be STOPPED. And this, in the context of telling a listener that understanding a Democrat is like trying to understand a murderer or rapist.

And that pushes the Republicans one step closer to the slime bucket, poised at the edge so Alan Keyes can push them the rest of the way in. Alan Keyes’ commentary was so incredibly loaded with vitriol and hate it was nearly impossible to sit through the whole thing. But be aware: what Keyes said on Friday hovers dangerously close to shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater.

In the span of about five minutes, Keyes says our President is an “abomination”, that “we have to stop him” or the US will cease to exist. He dredges up the old canard (proven false over and over and over) that President Obama was not born in the US, and suggests that the military not obey his commands because he is not a legitimate President.

Even though Keyes is a nutjob, he’s not alone. What’s most chilling about his words is the violence they contain. Keyes and Limbaugh are spouting a to-do list, using their public figure status as a bully pulpit to put out a call within the sound of their voice to do, feel, and act violently. They offer the reassurance that there is some sort of entitlement to this, because they are being violated by the nasty Democrats in power.

It’s pure bullshit. Any rational thinker knows that. But the problem is, they have a wide-ranging amplifier, and in the case of CNBC, that amplifier is partially funded by taxpayer bailout funds. They are using their voices and their words to summon the troops to violence.

This is a disturbing trend. It is one thing to have legitimate political and policy disagreements, and entirely another to lie to people with the sole intention of fomenting unrest and violence.

God help us all if they succeed. That would be an abomination.

We teach our children to use their words, and to use them wisely. Yet, these men are proving that some people don’t listen to their mothers. Or learn the most basic lessons of fruitful and adequate discourse. They should learn. Or have their amplifiers turned off.

I didn’t mention the New York Post cartoon…but it all falls into what I view as a concerted effort to push racism, hate and violence into the public dialogue.

(Thanks again, @roadkillrefugee, for the inspiration. Visit his blog)

Also, if you needed any evidence that whackos will behave violently when spurred by hate speech, read this.

Rick Warren: An Open Letter to Progressives

Progressives, you’re missing the point and the boat. Didn’t you hear anything Barack Obama said during his campaign?

In the Bush years, all was dogma, rigid, unbending (among other things). Barack Obama spent 11 months telling us that change is coming, change we can believe in, change we NEED.

Change isn’t something that happens with the stroke of a pen. It emerges out of need, dialogue, and consensus.

I understand the anger over Rick Warren’s selection to give the invocation at the inaugural. But what you aren’t getting is that Warren represents a large chunk of our country — evangelical Christians who believe that the Bible prohibits gay marriage.

I disagree with them. You disagree with them. I wrote extensively about how hurt I was to see the hateful speech coming from them during the Proposition 8 campaign. That hurt hasn’t gone anywhere, but it seems unproductive and useless to shout Warren down, call for him to be disinvited, and in the process, alienate that segment of the population YOU all need to move the agenda forward.

I want you to consider Lee Stranahan’s viewpoint here. It’s worth thinking about.

Rick Warren has laid out arguments and views that you may not agree with but they are actually shared by millions of people. The majority of people, really. They’ve been quoted all over the place and that’s part of the gift.

There are weeks to listen to his arguments and not just quote them but actually refute them in an organized way. You could try out your counter-arguements on people who disagree with you, rather than just nodding in agreement at the people who you already agree with. You can try to answer the arguments with civil discourse and without the use of any broad generalizations meant to obscure the other side’s position. You could answer without insults. I mean – without a single one.

It’s harder, no doubt. It’s easy to wave your own team’s flag while sitting comfortably in your own team’s bleachers. But Barack Obama has been argued for doing the easy thing. The challenge is to do the right thing and that means actually trying to win by fighting well and fairly in the marketplace of ideas.

Barack Obama is handing the country the gift of civil discourse on difficult and emotional subjects. Happy holidays.

If you want change, start by changing the tone of discourse. I agree with Lee. We’re not used to it, but Barack Obama is offering an opportunity for an exchange of ideas in a civil tone. We don’t have to shout at each other anymore. That’s a hallmark of the past. We don’t have to suffer rallies shouting down opposing views, but can come together and try to get a clear understanding of what exactly the issues are.

It takes one voice in a room. Are we going to use that voice to try to persuade, or alienate?

As an aside, I have met Rick Warren and talked with him. He is not a raving homophobe nor is he a dogmatic type who has to be right. He is thoughtful, bases his beliefs on what he understands the Bible to say, but is open to discussion and debate. Further, he is a man with heart for all people, gay, straight, rich, poor, and otherwise. He is not a hellfire and brimstone preacher and has angered the diehards on the side of the Religious Right far more than he has you.

The man is saying a prayer. He is not shaping policy, nor is he running for office. Let him pray. And listen. And talk. But do it with the goal of persuasion and openness, not exclusion and anger. Please. Let’s be the change we believe in and voted for.