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Fred Phelps is a the salt of the earth …

On the importance of being nice.
 
 
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I once spent a whole day with Fred Phelps, following his inbred, "God Hates Fags" family of followers as they protested against … OK, I don't remember what they were protesting exactly. But I do remember that we chatted about current events and how God hates America and sipped iced tea -- made by his little wife from scratch -- in his Topeka compound.

And, let me tell you, Phelps and his clan are darn nice; the salt of the earth, down home American traditionalists and all that jazz. And while Phelps is admittedly the fringiest of the fringe, niceness is a trait that's common to all the right-wing nuts I've interviewed -- people obsessed with 'porn addiction," fighting the "gay agenda," getting Howard stern off the air, "recovering" virgins, people who wanted to execute abortionists --they all invited me into their homes and gave me cookies and were just so polite to me. And when they spewed their racist, hateful, bigoted bile they couched it in the most reasonable-sounding biblical rationales.

I've been thinking about that as the politics of "niceness" has moved front and center in the past few years. Ken Mehlman says that Hillary Clinton's "too angry," we hear all the time about those mean, hateful liberal bloggers throwing darts at beleagured reporters like the WaPo's Deborah Howell and the blathering class is all-too-happy to reinforce the meme that George Bush is a guy with whom you'd like to have a beer.

Lost in that rhetorical diarrhea is policy. I'm an angry lefty, but my anger isn't a manifestation of mental disease. I'm angry about an economic policy predicated on using the power of the government to redistribute wealth upwards, I'm angry that we invaded a country in a war of aggression, I'm angry about secret prisons and illegal wiretapping and circumventing the Geneva Conventions and Guantanamo Bay and all the rest.

That a person's perceived anger quotient has become an issue in politics is a sign of the flattening of American politics -- the shrinking of our political spectrum. But it's a poor proxy for whether someone is capable of serving in public office. If you have any doubt, just consider how nice that Fred Phelps is.

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer .