Wednesday, April 21, 2010

April 21: How Do We Tone It Down?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

In an opinion column in Sunday's New York Times, former President Bill Clinton, looking back 15 years at the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, mentioned the current angry words going back and forth:

Well put. The next question is: How do we get politicians, broadcasters and others responsible for this angry rhetoric to tone it down?

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote in a ruling that the First Amendment right of free speech does not extend to being able to falsely shout "fire" in a crowded theater - in effect, to say or do something that would cause a dangerous situation. We've heard plenty of people recently straddling that line.

Some Americans have begun "coffee parties" as an alternative to the hostile atmosphere generated by many of the "Tea Party" participants. It's a grassroots effort, and it and any other way to quiet things is a good idea.

Stronger efforts, however, need to come from the top down. When Clinton spoke about the demonizing of politicians, he was speaking of it being done by those with the power of a microphone or elected office, besides everyone else.

The nature of the hostility was reflected by one of the worst offenders, Rush Limbaugh, who proceeded instantly to blame Clinton for any future violence. That reaction illustrates exactly what's wrong - and what needs fixing.

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