I guess this started around the beginning of the Iraq war. A little before, or a little after, it doesn't really matter. A news anchor from one of the 24/7 cable networks had just finished introducing his guest as a former chief weapons inspector for the United Nations. There were smiles and cordiality, these were stately and accomplished men supposedly interested in the truth, not rogue partisans out to sell snake oil and lies.
We're not talking about a Keith Olbermann or a Bill O'Reilly, this was a desk jockey in the mid-morning rush, the kind that spends most of the day repeating the same news stories over and over again every half hour.
You've seen it before.
This is the type of newsman that isn't a newsman so much as he is a news actor. He tries to ask unbiased questions because they are the easiest to remember, and never probes too deeply, lest the great unwashed masses actually learn something useful.
With the niceties out of the way and the hot topic of the moment to address and little time to address it, the first question was asked and for me, in that very moment, my entire world would change.
"Why do you hate your country", the news anchor asked.
This wasn't Fox News and it wasn't an entertainment talk show, this was supposed to be the place that ordinary people can go to get a birds eye view of what's going on in the world in half an hour or less.
For the next several years it would become the most favored smear of the right, used early and often against anyone that dared deviate from the pro-war camp mandates of forced patriotism and a dictate of descent into authoritarianism, with the kinds of intellectually false and yet child-like declarations that George W. Bush would become famous for.
If you're not with us, you're against us. It sounds pretty good in a speech on prime time television when you're beating your chest and trying to scare the world, but it doesn't work very well in real life.
Applied liberally to every situation imaginable, the refrain would become as routine as it was predictable. If you're against the war, you're against the troops. If you're against GOP plans for immigration reform, you're pro-illegal immigration. If you want the troops to leave Iraq, then you must want them to lose, and only people who hate the troops would want them to lose.
Later we'd find ourselves embarrassingly debating the merits of torturing other human beings, prisoners of war. If you're against torture - literal war crimes, the kind they write about in history books - then you want to be best friends with terrorists, give them cookies and hugs and bring them home to live in our neighborhoods where they'll Kill Us All, so why do you want to kill us all?
Such dishonesty should be immediately obvious to anyone with a brain as nothing but a transparent attempt to dehumanize and delegitimize both critics and their criticism, and to make reasonable debate impossible. Since the war began and continuing still today, the purveyors of these smears were always Republicans and conservatives, "the right" in America.
Their targets were always Democrats and liberals, though these days you'd be hard pressed to identify them as such since the smears have escalated to absurdly comical levels. It's now "the angry left", the "far left", the "far angry left", the "left of the left", and of course socialist, communist, marxist, and finally, traitor.
While Republicans spread lies about health care reform that supposedly will discriminate against conservatives based on their voter registration - honestly, how dumb must you be to believe that? - they continue to demonize liberals as traitors that should be executed.
Top conservative pundits like Anne Coulter suggest in books and in magazines that liberal Supreme Court justices should be poisoned - literally assassinated - and others suggest that the Speaker of the House should be tried as a traitor, although they can never quite explain what crimes any of these people have committed other than being liberals.
Persecution in this country, it would seem, is alive and well. Although the right will be the first, last, and loudest to scream persecution - persecution of the white man (Sotomayor), persecution of Christians (ACLU), all the overwhelming majorities that currently and have always held all the power in this country, etc - it's usually those complaining the loudest that are the ones doing the persecuting.
But liberals, I'd like to think, understood that these smears about hating your country were nothing more than the result of empty brains under enormous pressure. Dumb people say dumb things, as it were. Forget the debunked myth that America suffers under the hand of a cruel liberal media; the incident with the weapons inspector I referred to ought to put that silly tale to rest on its own.
You wont see much garbage like that coming from the left because we understand what it is: garbage. It's out there on the fringes, certainly, but as I'm about to explain, the garbage from the right doesn't come from the fringes, it comes from their most celebrated media pundits and from party members within government.
So you can imagine it came as quite a surprise when one prominent Republican came out and admitted the painfully obvious. It's not liberals or Democrats that hate this country, it's Republicans.
MoveOn.org held a pro-reform health care event in Austin, Texas, on Saturday afternoon. It wouldn't have come as a shock that conservatives - mostly Republicans - showed up to protest health care reform carrying signs bearing swastikas, that's been their worn out schtick since the August congressional recess began. When MoveOn.org held a contest for political commercials, someone submitted a video that compared Bush to Hitler. The right was incensed with rage and went on a crusade that lasted for weeks. But when conservatives do it, meh, who cares, right?
And it wasn't the first time, either. Signs dressing up President Obama as Hitler have been extremely popular at gun shows this year.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who got in some hot water over suggesting that he loved America so much that his state might have to secede from it, was scheduled to speak there (it's not clear if he was going to speak at the MoveOn event in free opposition to reform, in support of reform, or if he was to speak only to/for the anti-reform crowd) but "backed out at the last minute", according to FDL.
The GOP would have undoubtedly been better off had Perry kept his appointment and made a full throated, but spin-filled argument for secession that he would almost certainly walk back in friendly local papers the next day, because his replacement was a disaster.
Larry Kilgore is running to replace Perry as Governor - Perry is running for reelection and is already facing Texas GOP Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison who apparently is trying to run to both his left and his right at the same time - and spoke to the anti-reform crowd, which was caught on video.
Like Perry, Kilgore is an advocate for secession, but that's not even considered controversial when you look at some of his other issues. Kilgore reportedly supports the execution of homosexuals and strict adherence to literal biblical law over real law.
Addressing the angry anti-reform mob created and supported by people like Kilgore and Perry, and widely popularized by Fox News, Kilgore pointed to an American flag hanging near-by and said "I hate that flag up there", and then a moment later, apparently speaking for the conservative mob, said that "we hate the United States".
Can you imagine the reaction from the right if such things had been said by a Democrat, or even a loosely affiliated liberal, much less a candidate for Governor of Texas? It shouldn't take a genius to figure that the statement would reverberate between the papers, cable news, and blogs for days, if not weeks, eventually resulting in the candidate bowing out of the race.
The right would settle for nothing less, just as they did with New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. Republicans demanded Spitzers resignation while ignoring infidelity by multiple Republicans in Congress and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.
Every big Democratic player would be forced to personally denounce identical statements or forever be assumed to support them. This double standard is not new. MoveOn.org ran an ad in the New York Times in 2007 saying "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?", amidst accusations that Petraeus was succumbing to political influence from the White House over sound military policy.
The U.S. Senate would pass an amendment written by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) condemning "personal attacks" from MoveOn.org. Support for the amendment from the GOP caucus in the Senate was unanimous, and even a depressing number of stupid Democrats fell in line. The House disgraced itself as well about a week later.
It doesn't matter if you agree with what MoveOn said, there's a fine debate to be had about the statements from MoveOn, whether they were substantive or reasonable or even appropriate, but that's a debate for the American public to have. It's not for the federal government to step in and begin officially denouncing private citizens who were simply availing themselves of their first amendment rights.
The right made a lot of noise when President Obama criticized Rush Limbaugh earlier this year. How dare he use the perceived awe and power of the presidency to attack a private citizen like that, is this a dictatorship or a democracy?
Where was the concerned right when the entire Republican party and an overwhelming majority of Congress was coming down on MoveOn?
These two events are deeply illustrative of the double standard America has when it comes to which party has the responsibility to act like adults, to play above the fray, and always do the right thing. When a group of liberals speak out, as is their right protected by the constitution, the entire congress officially condemns them, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it because, well, they were liberals, and liberals can't be allowed to step out of line like that.
They were mean to the General and should be spanked like little children for it.
But you won't ever see a reaction like that from the right when the attacks are coming from their own You won't see bills in the House or Senate pass by veto-proof majorities condemning Rush Limbaugh when he says he wants the President to fail just a few months into his first term. You won't even see a blurb on cable news when a Republican candidate for governor says, with a straight face completely in context, that he hates the American flag and he hates the United States itself.
It just doesn't happen, it's not news when the right acts this way anymore. It's expected, not shocking, this is simply how they behave themselves and everyone just accepts it. When the right does it, they are being patriots and acting in the spirit of the first amendment. When the left does it, they are being mean, they hate America and the first amendment wasn't meant to protect mean people.
Just last week a man attending a town hall meeting held by GOP Representative Wally Herger stood up and said directly to the congressman's face: "I'm a proud right-wing terrorist".
Herger's response wasn't muted, but appropriate, in the way that John McCain had to set a crazy woman straight about then-Senator Obama being a secret Muslim during the 2008 campaign. Although it was anything but sincere, at least McCain made a token effort to restrain the crazies on the right. Herger actually thanked the "right-wing terrorist", saying "God bless you", and "there's a great American."
According to the right, a self-professed terrorist is what counts as a great American these days, but only a right-wing terrorist. A left-wing terrorist is an America-hating traitor.
A favorite ruse by Republicans to stir up their base during election years over the past decade has been their support for a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning. Asked if they support such an amendment, the public usually supports it by wide margins, but asked if it's a top priority, most say no, making it nothing more than pandering.
But here we have a Republican candidate for Governor of Texas who declared his hatred for a flag that his party wants exempt from the first amendment, so that people like Kilgore can't burn it on their way to seceding from America.
Republicans nearly broke from reality when the Department of Homeland Security released a report -- ordered by the Bush administration to complement an older report on left-wing extremism that went by without notice by the right or the mainstream media -- on right-wing extremism. Michele Malkin and other stupid conservative pundits immediately insisted the report was about them, and took great offense about being targeted by the evil liberal Big Government, when it was in fact about true right-wing extremists like the James von Brunn, the lunatic who shot up the D.C. Holocaust museum.
But here in the last week we had a man in a town hall crowd declare himself a right-wing terrorist, and he was warmly embraced by a sitting Republican Representative. A representative who will never be criticized by the so-called liberal media, a group who you'd expect to be all over such an event if they actually existed. Kilgore wont be denounced by the U.S. Senate and House, either, or talked about for ten news cycles like MoveOn.org was.
While we may be living in a center-left nation - Democrats control the Senate, House, White House, along with a majority of governorships and state legislatures and lead in party identification and voter registration - the one thing we most certainly do not have is any semblance of sanity when it comes to double standards.
Any minor act by a liberal on the lunatic fringe must be immediately and publicly denounced by the highest party leadership. Laws must be passed denouncing uppity liberals who dare criticize the military or say that the CIA is lying, even when Republicans have made similar claims just a couple of years before. But if a Republican declares his hatred for the country, flag, and another embraces self-professed ring-wight terrorists, they were all just joking, and nobody should write about it or talk about in the press.
Those would be unfair attacks by mean super partisans with a liberal, socialist agenda that's clearly in the tank for Democrats, and any denunciations by Congress or the White House would be an abuse of public power to attack private citizens simply for expressing their right to free speech.
Does it take any great stretch of the imagination to understand then, how we've gotten ourselves in this mess in the first place? When the lies about death panels and Obama's birth certificate spread like wildfire while the truth is systematically ignored, it's not hard to see where this all began, and how we can and must go about putting it to an end.