Obama and hate speech – What consequence?

It seems everything one reads suggests this president is the most unpopular in our lifetimes.

Even though most of the public vitriol in newspapers, online posts and Fox News are from Republicans, it must be noted that he is also unpopular with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Polls now suggest his popularity rating is at best 40 percent among Americans.

Even though Barack Obama states that he is a Christian, and regularly attends church with his family, he is constantly attacked even by Evangelical Christians, whose Bible directs that they pray for him.

It seems his detractors do not merely dislike his policies, but their words and actions seem very close to hatred. It seems personal.

In public prayers in our churches and in the halls of Congress, one may rarely still hear a petition for God to “bless our leaders” but never a reference to the president, either by reference to the office, and certainly not by name.

From my perspective here in the Red Clay Hills of Georgia, I must ask where are these 4 of 10 people who would admit to being a supporter of Barack Obama, or who give him any kind of approval? They are obviously far enough from Rome, Georgia, that they cannot be heard or seen by casual listeners or observers. Or are they perhaps close by but in hiding — a really silent bunch?

I have concluded that this is the answer. The fear of public harassment and ridicule, in the face of such overwhelming enmity, is often enough to cause those of us who will still admit to supporting the president to remain silent for fear of ridicule or worse.

One of our freedoms and favorite pastimes in America is the freedom to criticize our leaders. It is the lifeblood of a democracy.

We have exercised this muscle vigorously over our history as a nation and our words and opinions have scarred many of our elected leaders to the point where one of our presidents resigned in shame. Another, George W. Bush, was elected twice as the country’s chief executive but heard from the bully pulpit of the Fourth Estate a constant barrage of invective to the point that he took to quietly painting in retirement and has little been seen since.

When exercising our right to criticize, we who respect our system should do so in a way that respects the rights and views of others. We should encourage the expression of opposing views rather than condemning it. Our government system is the best ever conceived by man.

Our respect for it should be apparent. Our criticism should be expressed with a view to taking to task the decisions of our elected leaders, without resorting to personal character attack. There is a difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms.

It would seem that this admonition and responsibility of good citizenship should, by all means, apply to those who take seriously a commitment to living out a commitment to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, other faith, or atheism. After all, it is the guarantee of religious freedom that makes our freedom to worship, or not, possible.

The current atmosphere brings that into real question for all of us.

Nine short years ago, a young man loaded a truck with explosives and parked it in front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and detonated it, killing 167 people, including 19 children attending their daycare center. Timothy McVeigh was a normal child growing up and seemed destined to a normal adult life, until he became influenced by a increasingly loud crescendo of anger directed at the FBI, Janet Reno and the U.S. government.

He heard and read all the news accounts and online posts attacking the governnment as evil and, after much deliberation, this young man acted out his hatred of our government in the mass killing of all the occupants of a government building.

This made sense to him in the insane world he had come to embrace, which convinced him that our government was bent on destruction of the American way of life, of the Christian faith, and all that we hold dear.

All reasonable people joined in condemning this horrendous act and Americans were united in their grief and disbelief. For a long time to come.

We who consider ourselves good American citizens, who respect the rule of law, must ask ourselves if the hate speech we so often spew at our leaders and our government, or that we hear in silence without response, will reach the ears of another Timothy McVeigh — who will take our words in an unhinged mind and with delirious passion and conviction again seek to wreak destruction on our children, our places of worship, and all we hold dear.

Kenneth Fuller, a retired Rome attorney and former state senator, writes a regular column for the Rome News-Tribune.

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