In Rage

The Right’s Dangerous Rhetoric: Obama as an ‘Enemy Combatant’

Ronald Reagan signed more executive orders than today’s president, but that fact won’t get in the way of conservative hatred.

02.10.14 10:45 AM ET

“Obama is not President, as far as I’m concerned. He should be executed as an enemy combatant.”

Was this statement made: A.  During a Klan meeting; B. At a Neo Nazi rally: or C. In front of Republican member of Congress who didn’t even object to the comment?

The correct answer is C. This statement was made to Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine at a recent town hall meeting.  What’s even more disturbing was Bridenstine’s response to this outrageous remark. He didn’t object to it. Instead, he simply laughed and then told the person: “Look, everybody knows the lawlessness of this president. He picks and chooses which laws he’s going to enforce or not enforce. He does it by decree…”

On Thursday, Bridenstine responded that he “did not condone” the comments calling for Obama to be executed. He then offered the spineless excuse that, “A public figure cannot control what people say in open meetings.” 

True, but John McCain showed us that there are times elected officials must have a backbone and publicly counter the words of even your own supporters if they cross the line into dangerous demonization. McCain did just that during the 2008 presidential campaign when a supporter in essence alleged that Obama was a threat to our nation. McCain immediately disagreed with the statement and firmly made the point that Obama was indeed, “a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States.” 

But to be honest, the comments by Bridenstine’s constituent labeling Obama an “enemy combatant” and calling for his execution aren’t shocking if you have been listening to the hate being spewed by some on the right.  I was “treated” to an unhealthy dose of this last week as while listening to conservative talk radio shows as I drove through the South and Midwest on my way to appear at colleges.

What did I hear on these shows?  “Lawless,” liar,” “dictator,” and “tyrant” were the most popular words used to describe Obama on station after station. It was as if a set of talking points had been distributed to these radio hosts so that they could broadcast a coordinated message.

Although some radio hosts did veer from the script and add Nazi references, throwing in a random “Sieg heil” when speaking of the Obama and asserting that his administration was acting like the “Gestapo”—an organization that barbarically tortured people and rounded up Jews and others to be sent to death camps

This alarming depiction of Obama isn’t just being spread on right wing radio. No, this rancid bill of goods is also being by peddled by Fox News personalities. Just last week Fox News contributor Dr. Ben Carson warned that Obama administration was “acting like the Gestapo.”   Andrew Napolitano penned an opinion article for Fox last month titled, “Executive order tyranny.”  Napolitano concluded the article with the ominous question about Obama’s use of executive orders: ”Will this deliver us to tyranny?” 

Of course, a former judge like Napolitano is no doubt aware that Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any modern-day president—including Ronald Reagan. But facts don’t seem to matter when the right is playing to its base.

Lets be honest: The anger we see directed against Obama is not the type associated with people having a disagreement about public policy.  Rather, it’s more akin to the tone you would employ when speaking of a person you deeply despise—an enemy. So obviously, “enemy combatant” is the next logical step.

For those who don’t get it, let me make it plain: Words matter. They can inspire you to engage in good, bad and even deadly actions. Bill Clinton made that very point at the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing in 2010.  He spoke of the need for a healthy debate on political issues but he counseled that we be cognizant of the difference between “disagreement and demonization,” with the latter leading to an increase in threats of violence

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There’s no doubt that the vitriol being directed against Obama is contributing to the hyperpartisan, dysfunctional political system we see in Washington.  If you are constantly told that the president is "lawless" and a "tyrant", of course you don’t want your elected officials to ever compromise with a person like that.

But politics aside, our elected officials-regardless of political party-have a moral obligation to immediately counter rhetoric when it moves into the area of threats.  It must be made absolutely clear that there’s no place for violent imagery when debating policy issues or discussing those in politics.

And to those on the right who I heard call into numerous talk radio shows, I get that you’re angry. It could because of Obamacare, marriage equality, the changing demographics of our country, or simply because you lost in 2012.

Whatever the reason, you have a chance in 2014 midterm election and the 2016 presidential election to change the political landscape via the ballot the box.  There’s no need to ratchet up the demonization of Obama to the point of viewing him as an enemy of the state. So why not make the upcoming elections about the issues – not how much you despise Obama.  That is a much more effective political platform than simply hate.