Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.
By John Avlon, Special to CNN
Wingnut comments are often characterized by unhinged anger and a complete lack of historic perspective – and that’s what we saw this week from Arlington, Tennessee Mayor Russell Wiseman on the right, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the left.
Mayor Wiseman was sitting down to watch "The Charlie Brown Christmas Special" with his children when he found the program pre-empted by President Obama’s speech at West Point announcing the troop surge in Afghanistan.
His conclusion? The timing was a deliberate affront to Christians and the Constitution from a “Muslim president.” His next move was to post his feelings on Facebook.
“Ok, so, this is total crap, we sit the kids down to watch 'The Charlie Brown Christmas Special' and our muslim president is there, what a load.....try to convince me that wasn't done on purpose. Ask the man if he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and he will give you a 10 minute disertation (sic) about it....w...hen the answer should simply be 'yes'....”
In an extensive thread unearthed and excerpted by the Memphis Commercial Appeal this week, Mayor Wiseman went on to widen his attacks, writing: “...you obama people need to move to a muslim country...oh wait, that's America....pitiful.”
At another point he wrote, “you know, our forefathers had it written in the original Constitution that ONLY property owners could vote, if that has stayed in there, things would be different.”
Social media pulls the curtain back from the public face, and the incongruously named Mayor Wiseman’s rants covered broad territory, not only reiterating the “Obama is Muslim” fear-smear, but wading into paranoid politics as well as religion. His last riff on the Constitution is worth some analysis: Wiseman is apparently saying that what he sees as America’s decline is rooted in the expansion of democracy itself, from wealthy landed (and, at the time, white and male) elite to the principle of one person, one vote. That’s quite a prescription for what ails us, a strange nostalgia for a pre-civil rights and pre-Civil War era. That’s wingnut stuff.
Those historic struggles were apparently on the mind of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when he compared Republican opposition to Democrat’s health care legislation to defenders of slavery and segregation in a speech on the floor of the Senate. That’s wingnut stuff as well. Here’s what Harry Reid said:
"Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all the Republicans can come up with is, 'slow down, stop everything, let's start over.' If you think you've heard these same excuses before, you're right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said 'slow down, it's too early, things aren't bad enough.'"
"When women spoke up for the right to speak up, they wanted to vote, some insisted they simply, slow down, there will be a better day to do that, today isn't quite right.
"When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today."
Historic perspective is too rarely used in politics but this is malpractice.
First, current debates over health care are centered on taxpayer cost and unintended consequences. It is big legislation, but not as big as basic questions of human freedom.
Second, implying that Republicans were to blame for attempts to block the emancipation of slaves and the end of segregation is just wrong: it was conservative Democrats, not Republicans, who resorted to filibuster and other attempts to derail civil rights legislation. And it was Republicans like Lincoln who led the fight to end slavery in the 19th century.
Finally, Reid resorted to the left-wingnut sin of reflexively playing the race card. It’s a tactic that reduces credibility while trying to claim moral authority.
Reid’s comments quickly drew condemnation from GOP senators like John McCain and RNC Chair Michael Steele, but Reid’s office has refused to apologize. Some things are bigger than politics, and comparing your opponents to slavery’s defenders clearly crosses the line.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.