Following Obama's recent address in Cairo, Rich writes, "It was a prominent former Reagan defense official, Frank Gaffney, not some fringe crackpot, who...claimed that the President---a lifelong Christian--- 'may still be' a Muslim and is aligned with 'the dangerous global movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood.' Gaffney linked Obama by innuendo with Islamic 'charities' that 'have been convicted of providing material support for terrorism.'"
What's so disturbing about Gaffney's remarks is that, as Rich points out, he's not "some fringe crackpot." But, like some other GOP leaders---and practically every commentator on Fox News, particularly Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and those silly twits on the network's morning show, "Fox and Friends"---he might as well be. Not only are these prominent people and their ilk giving "aid and comfort" to America's lunatic fringe, they're fanning the flames of hatred.
None of this is news to anyone with access to a radio, TV or the Internet. What is news, however, is the unchecked level of rancor, and the seeming lack of interest in how this wave of hate-speech may well contribute to more tragedies like the recent shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
After all, a case could be made that Bill O'Reilly's relentless attacks on Dr. George Tiller contributed to the atmosphere that spawned his unrepentent assassin. As Rich reminds us, O'Reilly called the doctor "Tiller the baby-killer...likening him to Nazis, on 29 of his shows before the doctor was murdered at his church in Kansas."
No wonder there's a growing concern among responsible citizens that the similar, increasingly acrid commentary and criticism leveled at the Obama administration might very well put the president in mortal danger.
As a therapist, I see daily the fear and frustration caused by uncertainty about the future and the changes it may bring---socially, culturally and financially. However, my patients---indeed, the vast majority of people---work hard to address their concerns with a healthy perspective, and to develop the kind of flexibility necessary to be a viable part of that future. They adapt, change and grow. That's what being an American has always been about. It's one of our nation's greatest strengths.
But a strident handful of Americans don't see it that way. As Rich goes on to write, these people "are irrationally fearful of the fast-moving generational, cultural and racial turnover Obama embodies---indeed, of the 21st century itself."
As research has demonstrated time and again, when people feel threatened by change they don't comprehend, they retreat to the dubious comfort of simple, demonizing slogans and reactive beliefs. They nurse imaginary grievances, give rein to paranoia, and blame all their unhappiness on "the other," on those who are different than themselves.
One likes to imagine these people living in relative isolation, without exposure or access to the larger society. The unsettling reality is that now they have their own shows on right-wing talk radio, or on cable news programs, or in myriad blogs. They're noted people who guest on Meet the Press, give interviews to national newspapers, and hold leadership positions in major political parties.
In other words, like other pandemics, the rhetoric of hate is spreading from the fringes to the mainstream. And, to give Frank Rich the last word, "it is getting louder each day of the Obama presidency. No one, not even Fox News viewers, can say they weren't warned."