Monday, June 1, 2009

Just words

"Words have the power to destroy or heal. When words are true and kind, they can change the world."
--- Bhudda

There is one man responsible for the death of Dr. George Tiller. And it appears that man is Scott Roeder, an anti-choice activist who some reports say believed in the "justifiable murder" of doctors who perform abortions.

But surely constant foaming and fomenting has some price. Yes?

May 31, 2009 When his show airs tomorrow, Bill O'Reilly will most certainly decry the death of Kansas doctor George Tiller, who was killed Sunday while attending church services with his wife. Tiller, O'Reilly will say, was a man who was guilty of barbaric acts, but a civilized society does not resort to lawless murder, even against its worst members. And O'Reilly, we can assume, will genuinely mean this.

But there's no other person who bears as much responsibility for the characterization of Tiller as a savage on the loose, killing babies willy-nilly thanks to the collusion of would-be sophisticated cultural elites, a bought-and-paid-for governor and scofflaw secular journalists. Tiller's name first appeared on "The Factor" on Feb. 25, 2005. Since then, O'Reilly and his guest hosts have brought up the doctor on 28 more episodes, including as recently as April 27 of this year. Almost invariably, Tiller is described as "Tiller the Baby Killer."

Tiller, O'Reilly likes to say, "destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birth date for $5,000." He's guilty of "Nazi stuff," said O'Reilly on June 8, 2005; a moral equivalent to NAMBLA and al-Qaida, he suggested on March 15, 2006. "This is the kind of stuff happened in Mao's China, Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union," said O'Reilly on Nov. 9, 2006.

O'Reilly has also frequently linked Tiller to his longtime obsession, child molestation and rape. Because a young teenager who received an abortion from Tiller could, by definition, have been a victim of statutory rape, O'Reilly frequently suggested that the clinic was covering up for child rapists (rather than teenage boyfriends) by refusing to release records on the abortions performed. Read more...

This isn't a new discussion. Hate talkers have scarcely left the news in the last decade, as they swing from hysterical, angry pronouncement to pronouncement. The last year has featured a veritable cavalcade of alarmist and hateful speech by rightwing talking heads--murmurs about re-education camps, socialism, "reverse racism," a future president consorting with terrorists, gun seizure, the end of America as we know it and more. The left has its crazed demagogues, too, but they have neither the voice nor power of their counterparts on the right. We have become a loud, angry and self-righteous society.

Back during the 2008 election, when people, alarmed by the anger and aggression at McCain/Palin rallies, questioned whether the campaign's rhetoric, abetted by Limbaugh, Hannity, O"Reilly, etc., could incite violence, folks on the right balked, disengenuously acting as if words are not powerful. They are. Words can launch movements, inspire faith, change minds and...cause violence.

A man is dead--shot inside his place of worship on a peaceful Sunday morning in an act of domestic terrorism. He had been placed at the center of the volatile abortion battle, in part, by Bill O'Reilly, who in usual fashion blustered and bloviated and accused and demonized, carelessly tossing around words like "killer." Is O'Reilly's heart heavy today? Does he feel some moral culpability for the weekend's violence? I think that he should. Words matter. And hateful, angry words, repeated over and over and over again, have negative power that cannot always be contained.


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