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Bob Franken: Subhuman rhetoric

Posted: February 25, 2014 - 3:32pm

Let’s be honest. Can we agree that some apologies should be flat-out rejected? Certainly the halfhearted ones. That brings us to that mean guitar player and really nasty right-wing extremist Ted Nugent. His latest foray into hate speech is his characterization of President Barack Obama as a “subhuman mongrel.” And before anyone says he was taken out of context, here, in an interview with guns.com, was the context: “I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America.” That doesn’t change a thing, does it? It’s vile.

Those are some of the exact words the Nazis used to describe Jews, and they are similar to those routinely employed by North Korea to describe someone out of favor. They were so over the top that they even gave pause to some Texas illuminaries like Ted Cruz, Rick Perry and gubernatorial candidate Gregg Abbott, although it took some prodding before they decided that their boy Ted Nugent maybe had gone too far.

Even Nugent, who regularly foams at the mouth, was persuaded that he needed to hold back on his verbal excrement, just a little. But let’s judge how much he meant it when, after his buddies started bailing on him, he told a Dallas talk-radio host that he regretted using “the streetfighter terminology of ‘subhuman mongrel’” instead of just calling the president a “violator of his oath to the Constitution” or “the liar that he is.” Let’s give a cheer. Civil discourse has carried the day, or what passes for it. It wasn’t too long ago, 2009 to be exact, that South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama’s State of the Union speech to holler “You lie!” So this is becoming a habit ... that’s getting worse. It’s worth noting that Wilson has been re-elected twice since he covered himself with that glory, so the people in his district certainly have a respect for his way with words and his grasp of nuance.

In fairness, Newt Gingrich made an arguable point while condemning Ted Nugent’s language during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Suggesting, as he so often does, that there is a liberal bias among journalists, he complained about “selective media outrage” over Nugent. He went on to say that Democrats often have used harsh insults to describe figures on the right. I might be raising a few family feathers when I suggest that maybe he was thinking about Al Franken (we think we might be distant cousins, but this is Washington, where water is thicker than blood). In the 1990s, Al wrote the book “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot,” which showed no mercy to Gingrich, among others. Conservatives probably considered that a tad disparaging. As we know, he now has become Sen. Franken and has gotten really serious. Personally, I hate that, because his old days of insults are replaced by the fuddy-duddy language of friendship that smoothes over the Senate’s cutthroat politics. He’s up for re-election in Minnesota, so we’ll see if he does as well as Wilson did in South Carolina.

And here’s a scary thought: Maybe Nugent can run for the Texas Senate seat that Ted Cruz vacates when he becomes president.

What have I just said? President Ted Cruz? That probably tops any craziness that Nugent could concoct. But is it? The sad truth is that measured rhetoric is obsolete. I like to quote the expression “Cheer up, it could be worse. So I did, and sure enough, it was.” But before we point fingers at the politicians and their groupies as they display the crude dumbing down of our politics, let’s remember we’re all to blame for allowing that to happen.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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