Man Without Qualities

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Climate Of Fear III

Claims by the Man Without Qualities that a growing number of liberal Democrats are creating a climate of fear with their willingness to engage in political vandalism and physically threatening language (here and here) have yielded a fair number of e-mails from liberals vigorously demanding examples of such behavior. Of course, the issue cannot be allowed to devolve into a "battle of the anecdotes," with liberals citing their own examples of conservative thuggery (which does exist). Indeed, it is a common political trick for activists to claim that their opponents have engaged in inappropriate behavior. That's one reason the police tend not to treat such claims very seriously in many cases. The telling point is not anyone's ability to tender self-serving anecdotes, but, rather, the objective existence of the sentiment this liberal behavior is engendering: Conservatives increasingly expect a high risk of being vandalized for expression of their political sentiments and liberals do not. But examples are useful - indeed, critical - in so far as they suggest what to look for and because the aggregation of examples creates the sentiments. So I want to thank OpinionJournal for this item about a Seattle Weekly article that includes some interesting, repulsive examples from that city:
Sandy Beeman of the Central District's Squire Park, 49, is a physician's assistant who assists cardiovascular surgeons at Swedish Hospital. She arrived in Seattle from Texas a year ago and is still adapting. At a neighborhood picnic, she asked which party a voter registration worker represented. The answer: "What other party is there?" Beeman made a point of saying she was a Republican. Listserve e-mails from members of her neighborhood group have often been filled with strident invective against President George W. Bush. During last fall's presidential campaign, Beeman was replacing the Bush-Cheney signs outside her home up to four times daily. The night before the election, she left some signs visible in the backseat of her car, parked on the street. The next morning, one of her tires had a key in it and was flat. "Moving to Seattle is like moving to a Soviet-bloc country, reading the stuff on the utility poles, hearing your neighbors compare Bush to Hitler. For the tolerant party, I find my Democratic neighbors to be very intolerant of anything Republican," she says.

• Mary Segesta, 40, of Fremont, is a Microsoft program manager who moved here after working for Apple Computer and Sun Microsystems in the San Francisco Bay Area. She had a "W" sticker on her car last fall and was driving to Office Depot in Ballard. "This old beat-up car made a turnaround. The guy followed me toward the store. In the lot he was screaming, 'How does it feel to be a communist?' He pointed to my car and the sticker, said something about Hitler, and then repeated his question." Segesta brushed him off, but says she found the incident both comical and sad.

• Warren Peterson of Pinehurst, in the city's North End, served one term as a Republican state representative from Seattle's 43rd District in the mid-'70s. More recently, the soft-spoken, circumspect Boeing retiree, 65, was the Bush-Cheney campaign chair in the 46th. At a North Seattle sandwich shop, he shares some war stories. Out with several other volunteers waving Bush-Cheney signs at motorists in Ballard last fall, he says one man leaped up through his open sun roof, flipped him off, and yelled, "GUY! YOU FAGGOT REPUBLICAN!" Another driver lunged over his son in the front passenger seat, who looked all of 10, to flip off a Bush supporter.

• Ross Marzolf, 50, lives in the Central District. He's the executive director of the King County Republican Party. Last fall, he says, he was shopping—as some urban Republicans do, actually—at an organic foods store, the Madison Market. "I was standing in line and heard one clerk say to another, 'I just saw my first Bush supporter.' I said, 'I guess I'm No. 2, then.' He looked at me like I was from Mars and, as I was leaving, said something about the president dying and having a good funeral." Disturbed, Marzolf later contacted the management and got an apology, but no longer shops there.

The Bush death meme has come up before. Last summer, I was at the Seattle home of a good friend, a card-carrying Democrat with whom I've always had spirited but friendly political disagreements. This time, things were a little different. Another guest—a guy I know and have always liked, in fact—began musing out loud. He had the perfect plan, he said, to kill Republicans and President Bush. Hide in trees at golf courses with a specially developed gun that shoots golf balls at their heads. It would always look like a golfing accident, he explained. Lots of laughs all around.

If such episodes had been less frequent or the feelings underlying them had at least subsided after the election, perhaps it would be a bit easier to minimize their effect on political participation in Seattle. But on Inauguration Day this year, students at Seattle Central Community College surrounded an on-campus military recruiter at his table, heckling and shouting at him and ripping up his pamphlets. He had to be escorted away by campus security. Then 36th District Democrats issued a resolution supporting the students and urging the banning of recruiters at SCCC. Not to be outdone, the Garfield High School PTSA passed a much-publicized resolution to bar recruiters there, though it couldn't be implemented. At Caffe Ladro in West Seattle, one regular is a short, burly, work-booted guy who pulls up right in front, in a Ford pickup bearing a pro-labor bumper sticker, and then another—from—that says, "George W. Bush Is a Lying Sack of Shit." No one blinks an eye.

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