HOW HE SEES IT Tone down rhetoric or shut your mouth

Have you been listening to our political discourse lately? It sounds like a verbal riot. It's vitriolic and fevered and, in a few cases, crazed. If you doubt that the heathen are raging, just tune in the debates in Congress or the cable television gasbags or listen to Howard Dean and Tom DeLay go at it or read the ideological bloggers.
Last week, Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary-general, denounced the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the "gulag of our time." There is plenty to criticize about our treatment of detainees in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan, but for Khan to compare these detention facilities with Stalin's Soviet concentration camps is outrageous. She would cheapen the massive loss of life in Stalin's brutal gulag to demonize the United States.
O'Reilly's fantasy
Meanwhile, what was FOX News bloviator Bill O'Reilly thinking when he recently fantasized on his radio program that terrorists might "grab" Michael Kinsley, the editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times (a newspaper he hates) "out of his little house and . . . cut his head off."? O'Reilly continued: "And maybe when the blade sinks in, he'll go, 'Perhaps O'Reilly was right.' "
OK, I know O'Reilly was not serious. But even if such a wacky fantasy was crashing around in his head, why would he air it on radio?
Then there's Howard Dean, old faithful when it comes to political eruptions. The chairman of the Democratic Party apparently would deny due process to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and send him straight to jail on allegations of corruption.
"Tom DeLay is corrupt. No question about it," Dean told reporters recently. He has refused to apologize for saying earlier this month, at a convention of Massachusetts Democrats, that DeLay "ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence."
As far as I know, DeLay, though mired in an ethics swamp, has not yet been charged with any crime, much less convicted. Republicans are asking why Dean would deny Tom DeLay the due process he once said Osama bin Laden deserved?
As a presidential candidate last year, Dean famously refused to call for the death penalty for bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks. "I've resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found," Dean said. "I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to ... prejudge jury trials."
Even the world's greatest deliberative body, as the Senate fancies itself, has been infected by this virus that can cause delirium. In the political fracas over a Republican threat to end the filibuster of judicial nominees, two senators couldn't resist making references to Hitler's Nazi Germany.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., orated: "We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not of men. But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends."
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said of the Democrats' opposition to ending the filibuster: "It's the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying, 'I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me? How dare you bomb my city? It's mine.'"
Any standards?
No wonder CQ Weekly, which covers Congress, asked in a recent issue: "Are there any remaining standards governing political discourse?" Its answer: Yes, there are standards, but they are increasingly being violated.
Cussing, for example, is forbidden on the Senate floor. But that didn't stop Vice President Cheney last year from telling Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to "go [bad word] yourself."
More recently, while President Bush was in Russia, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid told a group of high school students, "I think this guy is a loser." He apologized after realizing that senators are not supposed to attack the president when he is traveling abroad.
Maybe its time for the American public to lean out the window and shout, "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. So tone it down or shut up."
X Philip Gailey is editor of editorials of the St. Petersburg Times. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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