On Oct. 29 Glenn Beck ended his program on Fox TV with the words of Thomas Jefferson: “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Beck himself certainly has not been silent. In lectures, best-selling books, a radio program and his television show, he has warned America of the coming tyranny under a conspiratorial president. Armed with videos and quotations ranging from the mindless and amoral behavior of some members of Acorn to reckless statements made by associates and appointees of President Obama, Beck connects dots to draw a web of radicals who are out to destroy America as the founders intended it.
The exposing of unethical practices or foolish statements as well as reasoned critique of health, economic and international policies are essential to our civil discourse. I, for one, am troubled by the administration’s policy in Afghanistan, its reliance on many of the financial wizards who led us into our present mess and its disorganized, sometimes tepid approach to health care reform.
But defamation by innuendo is something else. Glenn Beck and his radio twin, Rush Limbaugh, have since the president’s inauguration imputed tyrannical intentions to the man. Whether inflating episodes such as children singing a song about Mr. Obama, claiming that the president is a racist with a “deep-seated hatred of white people and white culture” or characterizing “Obama’s America” as an offspring of Maoism or Nazism, Beck and Limbaugh are stoking a fire of fear and anger against the president of the United States.
If you search the Internet for the phrase “Obama is…,” the top six possibilities offered are, “antichrist,” “idiot,” “racist,” “liar,” “Hitler,” “socialist.” A search for “Obama” and “destroying America” yields 719,000 sites.
Obama the destroyer has been a recent theme of Limbaugh. On June 4, Newsmax.com (a news partner of The Washington Times) reported that Rush Limbaugh, on the previous night’s news, told Sean Hannity that “like Osama Bin Laden, the president is trying to destroy America.” What Limbaugh really said was, “If Al Qaeda wants to demolish the America we know and love, they’d better hurry because Obama is beating them to it.” In an “On the Record” interview with Fox’s Greta Van Susteren on July 23 and 24, Limbaugh claimed that the president, who is “purposely destroying the economy,” wants “as little liberty and freedom as possible” for the American people. He wants to determine who is born and when we die. Bent on remaking the country, the president is allegedly causing joblessness on purpose. After saying that the “greatness of this country’s people is under assault,” Limbaugh concludes that the president “has contempt for the American people.”
As if that were not enough, on Nov. 1 “Fox News Sunday” gave Limbaugh 30 minutes to lob unchallenged assertions that Mr. Obama is an immature narcissist, an extreme radical intent on destroying the economy.
We have here the suggested embodiment of Glenn Beck’s tyrant, a president who wants to destroy America and its economy and to seize total control over our lives. These accusations should not be passed off as the musings of crackpots or satirical entertainers. No matter what the motives behind this demonizing, the act amounts to the highest of slanders. Limbaugh professes how much he loves this country, a Christian country, he insists. But does he realize that the Christian tradition holds calumny to be a serious sin?
Slander has emerged as a new genre for the Internet. I’m sure I am not the only one receiving “forward it on” e-mails from people alarmed at the coming downfall of our country, often with allusions to Hitler as a precursor to our present president.
Whatever our political leanings or fears for the future may be, let us hope that there is not someone out there who, having been seduced by slanderous innuendo, really thinks Barack Obama is as bad as Bin Laden and as tyrannical as Hitler. It is painful to consider what could happen in the face of such imagined tyranny. And let us pray that such actions are not inspired by John Wilkes Booth or Timothy McVeigh, with their shared motto, “sic semper tyrannis.” If a terrible assault on the president should occur, will Christians who advanced the slander of him be contrite? And will those of us who were silent be shamed?