The Political Language of War

This morning, I got an email from CREDO Action, a liberal, grassroots activism website that keeps me up to date on political campaigns, circulating petitions, and key Democratic issues. The subject of the email was: “Take Down these six Tea Partiers”. The message continued:

“Even in the most extreme Congress in history, these six stand out.

They’ve all voted to let women die, to gut the Clean Air Act and to destroy Medicare.

But that’s just the beginning of the bigoted, sexist, anti-science, hypocritical, corrupt and downright crazy things that have been said and done by the first six congressmen with the dubious honor of being selected for the CREDO SuperPAC’s Take Down the Tea Party Ten campaign. […]

It’s crazy. These people are representing the American people in Congress. That is unacceptable.” 

So, here is the letter that I wrote in return:


I am a strong supporter of CREDO Action. I have donated to campaigns before and I read your emails, sign your petitions, and write to the people who you tell me to write to very frequently. But the email that I just received re: “Take Down These Six Tea Partiers” is crossing the limits from taking the high road into taking THEIR road. And frankly, the LAST thing I want is to be associated with any of those crazy bastards on the other side of the line. So, for my sake, please don’t choose their path.
Remember when Sarah Palin put crosshairs on Gabrielle Giffords’ district in Arizona? Well, as she explained later, she was speaking “electorally”, and it wasn’t her fault that someone interpreted those crosshairs literally. You say “It’s crazy. These people are representing people in Congress. That’s unacceptable.” You say it’s time to “take down” these ten tea partiers. How could your words be misinterpreted? Would you want to be responsible for some crazed man or woman attacking, or shooting, one of the politicians you’ve highlighted? First and foremost, that’s a lot of blood on your hands, were something like that to happen. But second, if we are fighting an ideological war with the Republican Party – and particularly the Tea Party – if someone WERE to take matters into their own hands to literally “take down” one of those candidates, and if our words are the words that inspire that crazy person into action, then our side is no better than their side.  If we are fighting an ideological war, we have to take the high road. We have to be better than them.
Secondly, if those men and women – as insane as they are, and I agree that they are insane – are in office, then they’re there for a reason. They’re there because, notably, they were ELECTED to those positions. It’s not “crazy,” it’s not “unacceptable,” and it’s not a failure of our electoral system. They were chosen by the people who live in their districts – their constituents – to go to Washington and represent their interests in Congress. Apparently the people in their districts are every bit as whacko as their elected officials, but that has no bearing on the legitimacy of their election.
Ultimately, I will continue to support your campaigns. I will certainly support any Democrat – or even moderate Republican – who opposes tea party candidates. But I will not donate to your Super PAC campaign today, because the language that you have chosen to communicate to the American public the urgency of your goals is far too similar to the language that the Tea Partiers, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin have used in the past. And ultimately, though I used the phrase “ideological war” above, I want to make something extremely clear: we are NOT waging a war. We are campaigning for political candidates. Hopefully, there will never be guns, soldiers, or generals involved in political campaigns, and it is time to leave the language of war behind. Though perhaps violent language is one of the few things that has been consistent throughout American political history – Andrew Jackson comes to mind – I believe that if we as liberals and Democrats are to distinguish ourselves from our opponents, we must learn to speak with a different, more rational, and more peaceful dialect than that so frequently used by our opponents.
Thank you for your time.”