Mitt Romney, Ted Nugent, Dana Loesch, the Politics of Hate, and the Fear of the Voting Base
I’m reluctantly wading back in to several topics that I’ve written about in recent weeks (and a theme that has permeated this blog since its inception). Let me start by revisiting, briefly, the remarks made by Democratic pundit and strategist Hillary Rosen last week when she inarticulately suggested that Mitt Romney’s wife Ann had not “worked a day in her life” (when, what Rosen was really talking about, was work outside of the home). As I pointed out in my post Insults, Apologies, and the False Equivalency in the War of Words, within hours after making her statement, David Axelrod (President Obama’s chief political strategist) and Jim Messina (President Obama’s campaign chair) both expressed outrage at Rosen’s comment. And within twenty-four hours, President Obama personally took issue with Rosen’s comment and spoke at some length about the issue.
And, before I go further, please remember that Rosen’s statement, though inarticulate, was actually addressed at a substantive issue.
Now let’s compare how Mitt Romney and his campaign respond to outrageous comments. First, again as I related in Insults, Apologies, and False Equivalency in the War of Words, when Rush Limbaugh went on his three day orgy or rage against a student who was concerned with access to birth control for healthcare reasons, calling her a “slut” and “prostitute”, suggesting that she began having sex in middle school, alleging that she had so much sex she couldn’t afford birth control, and requesting that she send him videotapes of her sexual encounters, what did Mitt Romney have to say?
I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used.
Um, gee, Mitt. What language would you have used? Note that Romney doesn’t take issue with the substance of Limbaugh’s attacks on Sandra Fluke. He doesn’t say, “Gee, Rush, you were lying because Ms. Fluke never discussed her sex life,” or “Rush, a personal attack against a woman testifying about healthcare needs is inappropriate.” Nope. Romney just said Rush’s attack was “not the language I would have used.” Would Romney have substituted “tramp” for “slut” or maybe “harlot” for “prostitute”? Would he have asked for a DVD instead of a video? Would he have claimed that Fluke began having sex in junior high instead of middle school?
Why didn’t Romney issue a harsher condemnation of Limbaugh’s attacks? Could it be that Romney, like many others on the right, are afraid of Limbaugh? Could it be that Romney is afraid that, should he criticize Limbaugh too much, he’ll wind up alienating the Republican base that he needs come November? Could it be that he recognizes that many of those whose votes he is relying on believe the sorts of things that Rush said and that to call out those comments would suggest to his voting base that they are wrong?
And, before I go further, ask yourself the degree to which Rosen’s one-time comment about Ann Romney and work is comparable to Limbaugh’s three day diatribe about Fluke being a slut, prostitute, etc. I think that Rosen’s one comment is not even in the same proverbial ballpark of offensiveness. Does anyone disagree?
Which brings me to this past weekend and the comments from ’70s era rock star Ted Nugent who is known for some of his highly inflammatory rhetoric. But before diving into what Nugent said, let’s first remember this: Nugent publicly endorsed Mitt Romney after the two spoke on the phone for a while and discussed issues that were important to Nugent. In my mind, that makes Nugent more than just a run-of-the-mill celebrity endorser; after all, how many people are able to get Romney to spend time discussing issues with them on the phone? And the Romney camp (which now claims that they didn’t “seek” Nugent’s endorsement) was certainly thrilled when they got it, as evidenced by the gleeful tweet from Tagg Romney on March 2, 2012: “Ted Nugent endorsed my Dad today. Ted Nugent? How cool is that?! He joins Kid Rock as great Detroit musicians on team Mitt! (the tweet has now been deleted from Twitter … hmm, I wonder why?). Romney’s own comments about the endorsement? On a radio interview shortly afterward, Romney said, “it’s been fun getting to know Ted”.
Of course, one might wonder about why the Romney campaign would welcome Nugent’s endorsement in the first place (or why Romney would want to get to know him), given some of Nugent’s prior “colorful” commentary such as:
- About Hillary Clinton: “You probably can’t use the term ‘toxic cunt’ in your magazine, but that’s what she is. Her very existence insults the spirit of individualism in this country. This bitch is nothing but a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro.”
- During an August 21, 2007, concert, while brandishing what appeared to be two assault rifles, Nugent said, “hey Obama, you might want to suck on one of these, you punk,” adding, “hey Obama, he’s a piece of shit, I told him to suck on my machine gun.” He went on to say that while he was in New York, “I said, ‘hey Hillary [Clinton], you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.’” He also said that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) “might want to suck on my machine gun,” adding of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), “ride one of these you worthless whore.”
- In 1990, Nugent conducted an interview with the Detroit Free Press Magazine and stated, “Apartheid isn't that cut and dry. All men are not created equal. The preponderance of South Africa is a different breed of man… They still put bones in their noses, they still walk around naked, they wipe their butts with their hands… These are different people. You give 'em toothpaste, they fucking eat it.”
Those are but three of many, many, many examples.*
But Nugent did endorse Romney and the Romney campaign welcomed that endorsement. So how does the Romney campaign respond to Nugent’s most recent outrageous comments at last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention (watch the video or read the transcript below; I’ve highlighted my “favorite” parts):
We've got people from every walk of life here. These people are NRA members because they know that we left the slave lands of tyranny, and we came to a new land, and our founding fathers wrote down self-evident truths.
But each and every person in here, I hope they grasp that their current membership and their activism is only good. And if you were a good bass player, you couldn't be in my band. 'Cause where I come from, good sucks. You gotta be one stone-cold hell-raisin' bad mofo to hang out with Uncle Ted.
And in order to be one stone-cold, hell-raisin' bad mofo, each and every one of you — if you can't get a couple of hundred people each, each of you — some of you, I bet you can get a couple thousand. Your goal should be to be able to get a couple of thousand people, per person who's here, to vote for Mitt Romney in November.
Because if you don't galvanize people who really understand an experiment in self-government, and understand the U.S. Constitution — there are flag-draped coffins coming home right now of heroes in the military, who took a vow, a pledge to defend and uphold the U.S. Constitution.* If that dead Marine isn't worth it to you to demand that the enemies in the White House are ousted, then you probably ought to just move to France. It's that serious.
If you don't know that our government is wiping its ass with the Constitution, you're living under a rock someplace. And that there's a dead soldier, an airman, a Marine, a seaman, a hero of the military that just got his legs blown off for the U.S. Constitution, and we've got a president and attorney general who doesn't even like the Constitution. We’ve got four Supreme Court justices who don’t believe in the Constitution.
Does everybody know here that four of the Supreme Court justices not only determined you don’t have the right to keep and bear arms, four Supreme Court justices signed their name to a declaration that Americans have no fundamental right to self-defense. That sounds like a stoned hippie. That doesn’t sound like a Supreme Court anything. It sounds like a supremely intellectually vacuous punk. To think that a human could think that humans don't have a basic right to self-defense is so bizarre to me — as to — my brain can't accept the information. And if you want more of those kinds of evil, anti-American people on the Supreme Court, then don't get involved, and let Obama take office again.
Because I'll tell you this right now: If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. Why are you laughing? Do you think that's funny? That's not funny at all. I'm serious as a heart attack.
So, being at the NRA event, God bless you, good indicator, but if you can't go home and get everybody in your lives to clean house in this vile, evil, America-hating administration, I don't even know what you're made out of. And if you're taking offense at that, tough. I see warriors amongst us. I see people who get it. You made a lot of sacrifices to be here at NRA. It was a long trip for a lot of you. You're giving up valuable time to make a statement for freedom. If you can't galvanize and promote and recruit people to vote for Mitt Romney, we're done. We'll be a suburb of Indonesia next year.
Our president, attorney general, our vice president, Hillary Clinton, they're criminals. They're criminals. That guy on the radio the other day said, 'Well, name the crimes.' About 10 minutes later, I said, "Have you had enough?" I mean, who doesn't know the crimes our government is committing?
So, God bless you for being here. I feel a positive energy. But turn up the heat. Take this energy and this belief in freedom home with you, and get everybody you know to get involved and engaged. Because it isn't the enemy that ruined America. It's good people who bent over and let the enemy in. If the coyote's in your living room, pissing on your couch, it's not the coyote's fault. It's your fault for not shooting him.
So, it's an important time. So, you're talking about exhibits, you're talking about hardware and ammo and everyone's fondling sporting goods and everybody's got a big old sexy grin on their face 'cause they're surrounded by ballistic celebration — that's cool. But what I feel in this room, is I feel this: I'm not taking this crap anymore. I've about had it. Leave my damned paycheck alone. Unless you can be accountable, you get nothing. And if you take that adamant, we-the-people defiance — remember, we're Americans because we defied the king. We didn't negotiate and compromise with the king. We defied the emperors. We are patriots. We are Braveheart. We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November. Any questions?
(Transcript via Politifact.)
Note that these comments were so outrageous, so over-the-top, that the Secret Service interviewed Nugent yesterday. Apparently the Secret Service isn’t terribly keen on obviously violent rhetoric directed at the President. And while no charges were filed, it’s not everybody who gets a visit from the Secret Service (well, other than Colombian hookers).
So, did Mitt Romney step up to a podium and castigate Nugent for his comments? Did he reject the endorsement? (Remember in 2008 when Sen. John McCain rejected the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee after news broke of Hagee’s claim that the Holocaust was caused by G-d and his reference to the Catholic church as the “great whore”?) When faced with Nugent’s outrageous comments, did Romney follow Sen. McCain’s example or have a Bill Clinton “Sister Souljah” moment? Did Romney say “gee, I really want people to vote for me, but I don’t welcome people who express support for me through hate speech”? Did pigs fly beside the Space Shuttle as it landed in Washington earlier this week? No. Here’s what Mitt Romney had to say (speaking through a spokesperson and not on his own) about Nugent’s comments. I hope you’re braced for this harsh condemnation:
Divisive language is offensive no matter what side of the political aisle it comes from,” said Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul. “Mitt Romney believes everyone needs to be civil.”
Wow! The leadership that Romney exhibits in situations like this is just stunning isn’t it? Of course, I bet that we are expected to believe that Romney will be much more forceful in dealing with Vladimir Putin or Mahmoud Achmedinajad, right? How about a big campaign contributor that wants something from President Romney? I mean, think about it for a minute. First, Romney didn’t address the comments; his spokesperson did. And even then, she couldn’t just condemn Nugent’s comments or even try to distance the Romney campaign from Nugent. Nope. All that she could do was talk about divisive language from both sides. Um, when the Romney campaign was firing at the Democrats for Hillary Rosen’s comments, did they talk about what Rosen said and the attack on Ann Romney (ignoring all sorts of right-wing attacks on Michelle Obama, for example) or did they talk about “divisive language” from both sides? Exactly.
Romney is too scared of alienating those who latch onto comments like Nugent’s. If he pushes away those voters who love hearing people talking about killing President Obama (even if metaphorically) or calling he and the others in his administration “evil” or “criminals” or “anti-American”, then who exactly will be left to vote for Romney? I just hope that independent voters understand how damaging this kind of speech and response (or lack thereof) is to our system of government and the civil discourse upon which it is based.
But there’s another point that I want to make, too. In the wake of the criticism that has been directed at him over his weekend comments, Nugent decided to appear on the radio program of Dana Loesch. You remember Loesch, don’t you? She’s the Tea Party leader, radio personality, and CNN paid contributor that I wrote about last month in CNN Provides a Platform for a Vile Voice of the Tea Party. Loesch was fresh off an appearance at a Tea Party rally in which she claimed said, “What did women receive for supporting the left? You’ve seen it here with your Occupy movement, haven’t you? They get raped.” She hosted Nugent for a discussion. Hmm. How did that conversation go (listen if you dare; text below)?
National Rifle Association board member and Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent refused to back down from his recent inflammatory comments about the Obama administration in a radio interview with CNN contributor Dana Loesch on The Dana Show. Nugent told Loesch that “I will stand by my speech” and said that he was being attacked with the “Saul Alinsky Rules for Radicals playbook.”
Nugent insisted to Loesch that his message had been “100 percent positive,” and Loesch agreed that he was being used as a “scapegoat” by the Obama administration.
Later in the interview, Nugent added more derogatory comments about Democrats. He described Democratic chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as a “brain-dead, soulless, heartless idiot,” and said House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi was a “sub-human scoundrel.”
Asked about a request from the Democrats that Mitt Romney (who sought and received Nugent's endorsement) distance himself from Nugent's comments, Nugent claimed that “Mitt Romney knows what I'm saying is true. He puts it into words for him, I put it into words for me.”
“Sub-human”? Seriously? That’s the anglicized word for what the Nazis called untermensch. Here’s a nice, brief article on Nazi propaganda and the depiction of Jews (and others) as sub-humans (published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). Do I really need to discuss the results of describing and denigrating others as being “sub-human”? And note that of two women at whom Nugent was directing his anger (Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, now head of the DNC), one of them is Jewish. Nugent also told Loesch that he was a “black Jew at a Nazi-Klan rally” (real black Jew and blogger Adam Serwer responded on Twitter, “Actual black Jew says you’re not”).
So I’m sure you can imagine the horror that Dana Loesch expressed when Nugent used that term, right? Um, but guess what? She didn’t express horror. She didn’t say, “Gee, Ted, that sort of inflammatory rhetoric really crosses some lines that shouldn’t be crossed” or “Wow, Ted, I know that you don’t like those women, I don’t either, but don’t you think that calling them ‘sub-human’ is going just a tiny bit too far?” Nope. Instead, Loesch when Nugent finished that portion of his rant, said “Yep.” She found the denigration of others as subhuman to be A-OK.
You know, on second thought, perhaps you should go back and listen to that interview. It’s got a little bit of virtually every right-wing conspiracy claim and baseless allegation after baseless allegation that gives fire to much of the right’s hatred of President Obama. And by listening to Nugent and Loesch and hearing the absolute hate and vitriol in their voices, you may gain a further understanding of the current thinking from much of the
Perhaps someone can explain to me why Loesch is still employed by CNN. For that matter, why would any radio station continue to give her airtime? And why would any political organization want to be associated with someone who so clearly demonstrates that they have no standards of simple human decency?
And this is what the November 2012 elections will, in large part, be about. No, I don’t mean we’ll be voting on whether we think this kind of rhetoric is acceptable or whether someone is or is not a sub-human. Rather, far, far too many people will be making up their minds on who to vote for on the basis of this sort of inflammatory, derogatory, denigrating hate speech and the kind of “facts be damned” conspiracy-minded arguments offered by people like Nugent and Loesch. Tax policy, the future of Medicare, energy policies, all of these are complicated. But whether someone is a sub-human, whether the person is an American citizen, whether someone deserves to be killed for their beliefs? Now those are subjects that it is easy for people to wrap their brains (and Confederate flags) around.
*It’s also worth remembering that Ted Nugent is a draft dodger. He has said that he neither showered nor changed clothes for 30 days prior to his draft hearing and, for the last few days, defecated and urinated in his clothes, so that he would be rejected. And then he lied about being in school in order to get a deferment. So pardon me if I don’t take his discussions about the bravery of American soldiers at full face value. Oh, and did I forget to mention the time that Nugent had the parents of his underage lover sign her over to him as her guardian (he was 30…) so that they could continue to have sex? For a fun little expose on Nugent written by someone on the right, please take a look at Ted Nugent Shoulda Been “In Jail or Dead” Long Before Obama: Draft-Dodging Multi-Baby Daddy Child Predator by Debbie Schlussel. And if that doesn’t turn your stomach enough, you can read some more of Nugent’s “thoughts” on on this page dedicated to helping people learn about the leadership of the National Rifle Association. Reader beware.