Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Liberals in the Cross-Hairs

“Liberal” has become a dirty word in America. Right wing radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh use it like a term of disgrace, tantamount to treason. The rhetoric has become vicious, and it was only a matter of time until the irresponsible potshots ended in real shooting.

Sunday morning, Jim Adkisson walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church with a shotgun hidden inside a guitar case. He’d been planning his attack for at least a week, and chose a special children’s service for the assault. Before he was tackled, Adkisson managed to kill at least two parishioners and seriously wound seven others.

Adkisson targeted the church, according to Knoxville’s WBIR-TV, “because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets."

The shooter told reporters that "he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office."

Inside Adkisson's house, officers found Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder by radio talk show host Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring by talk show host Sean Hannity, and The O'Reilly Factor, by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly. So it wasn’t just another random act of violence that took place Sunday. It was the culmination of years of mean-spirited fulminating from the fanatic right.

These right-wing pundits have made a travesty of America’s liberal political tradition. Because our nation’s founders almost all described themselves as “liberals.” Not all of them were Unitarian—the denomination that Adkisson decided to put in the cross-hairs—though John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both identified as such. But certainly others shared in the liberal spirit: respect for personal freedom and tolerance of cultural diversity coupled with a non-dogmatic approach to life.

If a white supremacist bombed a black church, one hopes that people of goodwill would speak out against such bigotry. If a neo-Nazi targeted a synagogue, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims alike would ideally be quick to condemn that kind of violence. I wonder, will the presidential candidates, or other political and faith leaders, speak out against Sunday’s mayhem?

Liberals should not be intimidated or silenced by Sunday’s attack, but defend the progressive legacy they bequeathed to this country. The Declaration’s dictum that “all people are created equal” and endowed with inalienable rights to life and liberty was a radical precept. The defense of human rights inevitable led to the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights, children’s rights and the rights of labor, gay rights and the rights of indigenous people--even animal rights. The world is a better place thanks to these “liberal” innovations which lie at the heart of the American Dream.

We can’t let that Dream remain in the cross-hairs.

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