Mad Rants From the Right Wing
This is what you've been waiting for. Bruce J. Miller's Take Them At Their Words: Shocking, Amusing and Baffling Quotations from the G.O.P. and Their Friends, 1994-2004 (Academy Chicago) is a compendium of hundreds of right-wing GOP quotations. Miller, brother of Mark Crispin Miller, has assembled the bitter, spiteful and downright bizarre ranting and ravings of the people who now rule America, along with their supporters.
Who could forget Barbara Bush on Good Morning America: "Why should we hear about body bags and deaths and how many...It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"
Or Ann Coulter, opining: "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."
Or George W. Bush to the Palestinian Prime Minister: "God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you can help me, I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them."
At first you will laugh, but keep in mind what Sidney Blumenthal, who wrote an insightful introduction, noted: "You may read and laugh, but, remember, they mean it."
BuzzFlash: You just edited a book, "Take Them At Their Words: Shocking, Amusing and Baffling Quotations from the G.O.P and Their Friends, 1994-2004." When you say, "Take them at their words," what do you mean?
There's a double standard about this, because if Democrats say anything that's the least bit controversial, they're hammered on it by the right wing media chorus. But should we take Republicans at their words? Does Ann Coulter mean that Timothy McVeigh would have been bettering off targeting The New York Times building? Are we to take them literally? Are they as dangerous, violent and bilious as they often sound?
Bruce J. Miller: That's a good question. In the book, there are really two kinds of quotes -- there's the sort that is deliberately sensational, like the one you mention by Ann Coulter, or talk radio people saying that Clinton should be assassinated. And then there are the quotes that are sort of policy declarations, something as mundane as Colin Powell writing a letter to Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee, supporting the development of low-yield nuclear weapons.
I think that what happens is that there's a vast gray area where the two kinds of quotes sort of run together, and you find elected officials sounding like talk-radio people, or sounding like Ann Coulter, or the other way around. They're overstating things to get attention. But, then, how do you tell ultimately? And how do you tell when, in fact, some of the words of talk-radio people, for example, have actually inspired people to commit violent acts?
So, yes, I do think we should take them seriously when they say these things. There's a book on the bestseller list now, Michael Savage's "The Enemy Within." You can't go for 10, 15, 20 years of vilifying anybody that doesn't agree with you and talk about killing them or exiling them, all the things that they talk about, and not take them seriously.
We recall a quote by a writer for the National Review in which he talked -- this was about two years ago -- about how evil the Clintons are. And he implied that Chelsea Clinton came of bad seed and should be killed, following an old Chinese ritual that if you rid yourself of an evil empire, you have to murder the whole family and their servants. The author, John Derbyshire, of this rather strange and implicitly violent commentary backed off, saying he was being satirical.
I had that quote right in front of me because it's in the book. And it makes a really interesting question because -- and I hate to keep relating that to talk radio, but to me, talk radio is kind of the perfect example, and even a perfect metaphor, for what the Republicans do. Right-wing talk-radio people, whenever they're called on something, they always say: Oh, it's just entertainment. Oh, it's satire. And then they back off a little bit, and maybe they tone it down for a period of time. But then it inevitably comes back to the same kind of virulent attack.
There does seem to be something implicit on the part of the right wing that if you don't agree with them -- particularly if you're a Democrat, or if you embrace a secular society -- you're an agent of Satan. In essence, that's what causes all these extreme quotes to be articulated, because the enemy within is something evil. It's evil to be inclusive. It's evil to believe women have equal rights. It's evil to believe that we are one community and we should be helping each other as a nation.
Otherwise, there's really no other way to account for this, because they are basically in the league of the witch burners. I don't know if you have this in your book -- but Judge Bork, at a dinner celebrating the end of Clinton's second term that was attended by right-wing pundits from the American Enterprise Institute and others institutions, said more or less that Clinton should have been hung. We heard this on National Public Radio. What do you make of this?
It's truly shocking, and there are a lot of things like that in the book. My own feeling is that it's a way of intimidating us all. That's why I take it seriously. Let me jump back to the Fairness Doctrine. You had the idea of fairness in broadcasting, which was set out in the Communications Act starting in the '30s. And the Fairness Doctrine, as such, didn't exist until later, but the elements were there. Even in 1939, there was a memo that the FCC published that enumerated certain things that were considered not in the public interest on radio.
In other words, these things would be considered when they're trying to decide whether or not to renew somebody's license. I'm not saying they often pulled licenses, but they occasionally did. There were three things on this memo: One, defamation; two, racial or religious intolerance. And another thing that was in the list further down was "presentation of only one side of a controversial issue." We were governed by that for close to 50 years, until the Reagan Administration dumped this and allowed talk radio to mushroom.
I would argue that this kind of rhetoric has grown with talk radio. Talk radio kind of fed the others, and it emboldened them with the so-called Gingrich Republican Revolution of '94 on to today, to turn up the volume on their rhetoric and the nastiness.
What I started to say about it is it's a way of intimidating us -- the way they trash the public interest protection in broadcasting. They got rid of that, and now they're saying: "We will control the microphone, and we're going to make fun of you if you differ from us." We're going to say really nasty things, drag you from the political process. But you're certainly not going to try to grab the microphone back. And I think that all too often we've kind of given into that.
Let's go to some of your favorite quotations in here. That's rather difficult to do because you have hundreds, divided up into different types of subjects. What are some of your favorite quotes?
There are various parts, and within those parts, there are different chapters. Here's one which comes from a chapter called "Family Values." This was about the Oklahoma City building that was bombed:
"These people who work in those buildings are not innocent victims. If they work in the federal building, they're the very people that are typing the letters, that are making the phone calls, that are getting your land taken away from you, that are calling you up on Internal Revenue Service, that want to confiscate all of your guns. These are the same people who womp up charges against you. These are the very same people that are all involved, every one of them. I don't care whether they are any more than a clerk or the high muckety-muck, or the guy out there who's got BATF painted on this back, and he's the one who's knocking your door down. These people are not innocent victims. These are people that operate and move the system against you and I. These are people that have sold out to the system. These are the people that are against you and I."
That's John Dayl, a talk radio host for KFYI in Phoenix, from July 21, 1996.
So this guy is sympathizing with Timothy McVeigh.
Right. And it's amazing how often people call for violence, all across the spectrum of the book. It occasionally includes congressional people, talk-radio people, and all sorts of people who are identified as Republicans or activists of various kinds. Whether it's Pat Robertson saying we should blow up the State Department, or another one of them talking about blowing up the Department of Education. Now granted, these were rhetorical things, and you can say, "Well, it's just a figure of speech." But when it's so widespread and so often, and you have people like Ann Coulter and others saying these things, it's very impressive when you see them altogether -- impressive in kind of a scary way. When you see it in black and white, you get a different impression. That's what I'm hoping to do with this book. I'm hoping people will see it and say: "Wow -- these people really are scary."
Sometimes you can't distinguish between the talk-show radio host and the politicians. You've got a quote in here from a Republican Senator, Conrad Burns from Montana, in which he recounts that a rancher in Montana asked him, "How can you live back there in Washington with all those niggers?" And that the Senator's response was: "Well, it's a hell of a challenge."
Right. He accepted the question as perfectly normal, apparently.
Then here you have the now governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, who was a big Republican lobbyist and made tons of money cutting deals, being a rainmaker, saying that Head Start is good for his state, "Because some of those kids would be better off sitting up on a piano bench at a whorehouse than where they are now." What's the difference between him and radio host Bob Grant? I don't know.
Right, that's a good point. We put quotes like that in a chapter called "Cracks in the Melting Pot," because there are a lot of cracks.
Here's one from '94 in the chapter called "Compassionate Conservatism." A talk radio host at a major station in L.A. says, "I believe that the homeless people should essentially be put to sleep. They should. I don't see any reason for them to exist. They're more of a burden than anything else. And as a matter of fact, those who can survive are the only ones worth surviving. These homeless people, for some reason, cannot survive anymore. Not only they're a burden, but it's a waste of space. It's a waste of human life, and I just don't see any other solution that's out there that works. They should just be -- the homeless should just be put out of their misery. It's as simple as that."
That's pretty startling, I think.
Now we hear this, but rarely is it condemned. As Sidney Blumenthal says in his excellent introduction to your book, what we really see here is a style of anger, a style of stereotyping that becomes a reality unto itself. This attitude that liberals are "betrayers" becomes a reality.
I think Blumenthal goes on to say -- he quotes Richard Hofstader, "Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content." That seems to me almost a Rosetta Stone for what you have here. It's the way in which the ideas are believed, so the demagoguery can be piled on without anyone really questioning its validity because the basic assumption is that the other side is evil. So Ann Coulter can say, "Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason." Do you have any idea what she's talking about?
I don't really know what it means, but I know that it means that they want liberals to disappear. As Rush Limbaugh once said, "Don't kill all the liberals; we want to have some around" -- I've got the exact wording here somewhere -- "so that we can have them like fossils."
We have to remember that one of their mottos is: If you say a lie five times, it becomes the truth. That's what basically has happened with Rush Limbaugh and right-wing radio populism.
Exactly. And people do absorb that. That's what this is all about. It's all about persuasion. I mention in my preface that I was watching C-SPAN one morning, and a guy calls up and says, "The Democrats are always committing mass murder." And he sounded deranged and angry.
It was probably Dennis Miller.
Yeah, right. And nobody said anything. It was just normal for somebody to say something like that, I guess. I don't know what they're supposed to say. But in any case, it does reach down and influence people. One of the reasons I did this book was because when I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh, I found that a lot of the advertisements on his show, at least in major markets, were these sorts of odd products like, "Get rid of your nose hairs." But I noticed on Sean Hannity's show that Marshall Field's was advertising, for example. And Sean Hannity is, in some ways, slicker than Rush, but he's just as dangerous, just as contemptible, just as intolerant of other views, and he also demonizes liberals. But he's getting major advertisers on his show.
I want to mention also that in his book "Let Freedom Ring," he actually has kind words for Bob Grant. He praises him as one of the few people on radio in the '80s who actually was any good. And he mentions, toward the end of his book, that, oh, yeah, Bob Grant has said some controversial things and was fired.
Bush, after Limbaugh was implicated in a drug scandal, said, "He's a fine American." Meanwhile Bush is imposing, along with Ashcroft, extremely harsh penalties on illegal drug prescription users and drug users of any sort, but without the investigation having reached any culmination at that point, Bush just said, "He's a fine American and I support him." What do you think about that hypocrisy element in all this?
That's true. That kind of hypocrisy, I think, is the heart of the Republicans. On the one hand, they're extremely intolerant and self-righteous, moralistic. But on the other hand, they're utterly hypocritical. And I think there are more people seeing through that. I'd like to think so, with the Limbaugh thing and with William Bennett disgracing himself, and others.
You have quotes here even from November, December of 2003. You've got Tom DeLay accusing Kennedy of hateful speech, which has got to be the laugh-out-loud accusation of the decade, if not the century. The chairman of the RNC went after MoveOn.org because a couple of videos among the 1,500 that people submitted to the Bush In 30 Seconds contest depicted Bush morphing into Hitler. He said that this was the most vile thing that ever occurred, though their chief radio spokesman, Rush Limbaugh, calls liberals and feminists feminazis all the time, and you never hear a word from them.
Or when they say things that are sort of Nazi-like, which many of them do. When Limbaugh says, for example, don't kill all the liberals so we can have some around for display, you can't help but think of the Nazis, where they wanted to kill all the Jews and then have a Jewish Museum that people could go and look at.
And that was Hitler's particular interest.
That's what I thought of right away when I read that. There are a lot of instances where their rhetoric reminds you of Nazi rhetoric.
Because they do believe that evil people have led us into an impure society that's not godly. I'm thinking of Falwell and Robertson, when, after 9/11, they said it was God's wrath upon America for falling from the righteous path. Either you are a white Christian who believes Jesus Christ is the savior or you're fallen. There's a deeply flawed and self-indulgent religiosity here that seems to be spoken in a lot of code words.
Some of those people, like Pat Robertson, I'm convinced that if he doesn't think he is God, he certainly thinks that he has a direct line to God.
Bush thinks that. Bush says God chose him to lead the nation in 2000 when it was actually Antonin Scalia, and Antonin Scalia thinks he was acting on behalf of God because he actually believes that America was founded upon divine inspiration and that the Constitution flows out of divine inspiration.
Right. And I'm sure John Ashcroft would agree with that. He's made similar kinds of statements.
If Howard Dean points out that we're not necessarily safer with Saddam captured, he's vilified and pilloried for this.
Republicans control the microphone. That's how they can get away with it, despite this idea that we have a liberal media.
Yet Tom DeLay said perennially outrageous things about Clinton. You had a Republican congressman, Dan Burton, who claimed Vince Foster didn't commit suicide and tried to "prove it" by shooting a gun at a watermelon. You have Rush Limbaugh every day saying the most outrageous things -- he is absolutely obsessed with Hillary Clinton, to the point where he says he won't go to Wellesley College because they produced Hillary Clinton.
But because they have power, and they have the potential to have more and more power over our lives, that's why we have to take them at their word. We have to do things like call people that sponsor these radio shows. I know this is old hat and people have tried it, but people get tired of it, and they think that it doesn't have an effect, but it does. We need to do that kind of thing, and we need to raise people's consciousness.
I think that there's a lot of money and certain interests fueling the nut cases and keeping this going. When you've got 1,200 stations controlled by one outfit -- Clear Channel -- and, because 50 years of fairness in broadcasting has gone down the toilet, they feel free to abuse the public airwaves, that's a kind of theft. They've stolen the public airwaves, and that's allowed them to do a lot of things.
If we look at what seemed to obsess the Republicans when Clinton was in office, first they had Whitewater, and they couldn't find anything there, so eventually they nailed him on a blow job. Then we had Gingrich resign, and subsequently we found out it was because he was having an affair with a Congressional staffer during his second marriage. Eventually he married this woman, who was 20 years younger, and she became his third wife. The guy they chose to replace him, Robert Livingston, it turned out that Larry Flynt was about to expose him as a serial Romeo. Livingston has since set up a lucrative lobbyist shop in Washington.
The Republicans were absolutely scrambling, in the midst of the Clinton impeachment vote, to find a Speaker, and finally they selected Denny Hastert, because he prefers food to women. They're complete hypocrites. Are we supposed to think George Bush is basically a great President because, at least to our knowledge, he sleeps with his wife? Is this what it comes down to in terms of making a great president?
Apparently some people think so. It's really hard to fathom that.
Is it really a morality issue here, or just the posturing of a morality issue?
I think it's posturing, and I think the Republicans are also sort of obsessed with sex. I'm not sure I understand all the elements of that. I have a chapter called, "Sex, Sex, Sex" in which I show some of the bizarre examples of this. But, no, I think it's primarily posturing. There may be people within the Republican camp who genuinely believe that our morals have been corrupted or whatever. But you don't want people like that running your life.
The Republicans have kind of split their levels. They've got their cultural populists on the radio who do all the dirty work, and then they have Bush appear to be above this all while providing coded language and religious language that's ambiguous. He can say we're being compassionate by cutting off aid to poor people because it's forcing them to work for themselves, and that's where the compassion is. The Republicans couldn't win unless they disguised what they're doing, so they've got this one level of attack, making Democrats and so-called liberals seem unpatriotic, and if you disagree with their thinking, you're not a true American. And then on the other level, they've got this language that sugarcoats everything to disguise their extremism from the centrists and independents.
I'm trying to get at that, too, in the book. I don't have just the outrageous quotes, but I also have these policy-laden quotes that show the sugar-coating that they're trying to apply. I tried to expose that as much as I can.
When a person finishes reading this, do you think they're going to be depressed, outraged? What are they going to come away from this thinking?
I hope they'll be a little bit surprised, taken aback, maybe entertained along the way. But I would hope that ultimately they'll say, "We've really got to take them seriously." We've got to participate. I'm not saying they should spend all their time on politics, but just to do a little something -- maybe call a sponsor of a show, or complain to, say, MSNBC that they only have right-wing hosts. Just a little something more than they were doing before -- maybe even to show the book to people that don't even know this is going on.