Frank Rich had a very insightful op-ed in the Times yesterday on the hatred that percolates from the right wing in the United States. Indeed, while conservative policies are often deleterious to average Americans, we find huge swaths of support for such policies in public polls, thanks largely to the masterful messaging of political conservatives, messages often predicated upon fear and hatred.
Recently, conservatives have evoked the notion of progressive policies being similar to the policies of Hitler, in an ironic twist of logic. And lo and behold, we find the same sort of demagoguery coming from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is attributing "Hitler-style techniques" to his political rivals. It is no coincidence that conservatives in the United States and conservatives in Iran are using similar tactics to manipulate their electorates. They are both understandably successful at garnering support after using such fear-inducing language (I still find it painfully hypocritical, though, that Ahmadinejad evokes Hitler as an epitomization of evil while continuing to deny the Holocaust).
One glaring consequence of this extremist conservatism is that as it intensifies and gains influence, in whatever country, it makes the world a more hate-filled and consequently dangerous place. Since his groundbreaking speech in Cairo, Obama has been barraged by conservatives as being too "apologetic" to the Muslim world. In his speech, however, he not only made no semblance of an apology, but addressed the need for Middle Eastern nations to reject authoritanism and establish true democracies, governmental shifts that would serve to weaken the hate-mongering right wing extremists in those countries. Yet the analogous extremists in the United States, who purport to cherish freedom and democracy, decry the President for his less-than-hawkish tone, calling him weak and ultimately harmful for America.
As these extremists convince their fellow citizens to elect politicians who espouse their views—as they have in the cases of George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, Ahmadinejad, and recently Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman in Israel—the inflammatory tone in each of these countries is increasingly amplified, until a tipping point is reached. In the case of Israel and Iran, frighteningly enough, that tipping point could come in the form of war, and even nuclear war.
Politicians like Obama, who are wise to strike a more tempered tone, help to ease some of the tensions, anger, and hatred that can so easily be tapped for political gain. While Obama may receive criticism for his words, he is ultimately making the world a more peaceful place. He is helping to avoid the unnecessary violence brought about by right-wingers who, in their hatred for right-wingers in other nations, engage in an arms race, both figuratively and literally, sending the level of discourse spiralling downward and increasing the propensity for confrontation and war. Too often, people believe that the only way to deal with incendiary leaders like Ahmadinejad is to elevate incendiary leaders of our own. But maybe the path to world peace is by backing away from the "tough guy" persona and actually engaging our supposed enemies.
Images: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (truthdig.com), nuclear warhead (howstuffworks.com), Obama in Egypt (publicradio.org)