Mr. Pot, Meet Mr. Kettle

Remember how difficult it was to get conservatives in Congress to pass any kind of bank bailout bill despite the fact that they were told by leading economists and virtually everyone in a position of leadership in both parties that the global financial system teetered in the balance? What was the problem? Turns out it was hurt feelings.

Moments after the failed vote sent the stock market reeling, Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) explained, “Right here is the reason I believe why this vote failed,” brandishing a copy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s speech during the bailout debate. “This is Speaker Pelosi’s speech that frankly struck the tone of partisanship that frankly was inappropriate in this discussion.”

This was a view shared by House Republican Leader John Boehner, who opined, “I do believe that we could have gotten there today had it not been for this partisan speech that the speaker gave on the floor of the House. I mean, we were—we put everything we had into getting the votes to get there today, but the speaker had to give a partisan voice that poisoned our conference, caused a number of members who we thought we could get to go south.”

The “hurt feelings” excuse was seconded—or “thirded” by the McCain campaign. McCain’s economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said, “Just before the vote, when the outcome was still in doubt, Speaker Pelosi gave a strongly worded partisan speech and poisoned the outcome.”

Notably, the only time Pelosi mentioned the opposition party was when she said: “Over the past several days, we have worked with our Republican colleagues to fashion an alternative to the original plan of the Bush administration.” She did criticize the Bush administration when she explained, “It is a number that is staggering, but tells us only the costs of the Bush administration’s failed economic policies—policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system.” This was a political moment when virtually everyone in the Republican party was seeking to distance themselves from its failed economic policies. John McCain even complained when Barack Obama brought up Bush during a presidential debate, almost as if he had never met the guy.

A more recent, slightly less momentous manifestation of this newfound conservative sensitivity took place not long ago when reporters from “The O’Reilly Factor” ambushed New Yorker writer Hendrik Hertzberg outside his Upper West Side apartment and demanded an apology to Newt Gingrich. The former House speaker, appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show, warned America of the threat posed by “a gay and secular fascism” that, he explained, “is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it.”

Hertzberg quoted Gingrich accurately on his blog before lamenting that, “Like a polluted swamp, anti-gay bigotry is likely to get thicker and more toxic as it dries up.” When the apology did not prove forthcoming, O’Reilly put Hertzberg’s mug shot up on TV and insisted that The New Yorker should be ashamed to publish “a dishonest guy like this.” Gingrich later told Politico that Hertzberg was a “total jerk.”

What is clearly oddest about this newfound conservative hyper-sensitivity is its recent vintage. It feels like just yesterday, for instance, that conservatives so enjoyed the type of juvenile taunts that give junior high schools their bad name. In case you thought you might have been imagining this, Media Matters’ “Most Outrageous Comments of 2008” helps to refresh our collective memory, as well as inspire some inescapable conclusions about regarding pots and kettles.

Many, unfortunately, were tinged with racism. Rush Limbaugh opined, for instance, that “If Barack Obama were Caucasian, they would have taken this guy out on the basis of pure ignorance long ago.” Mark Steyn called Obama “Kim Jong-Il dressed up with a bit of Oprah Winfrey dressing.” John McLaughlin said Obama, “fits the stereotype blacks once labeled as an Oreo—a black on the outside, a white on the inside.” And G. Gordon Liddy said he thought, “Obama’s concentration camp will serve “ham hocks and turnip greens” and that his “police force —he will round me up. Because I—I’m a white American.”

These comments follow on a whole host of hateful remarks one has heard for the decades now. I was perusing a collection of these published under the title, Take Them At Their Words by Bruce J. Miller, and here are just a few of the best:

"The Clintons have a cat, but their nanny has a dog.”
–Rush Limbaugh, during a tirade against the Democratic National Convention [August 28, 1996]. Limbaugh had referred to Chelsea as the “White House dog” in 1993. Apparently, he liked the remark so much he decided to repeat it.

“Really, if I had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would.”
–Kendel Ehrlich, wife of Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R-MD), on the way women are portrayed by the entertainment industry. [10-3-2003].

“I always see two Jewish communities in America, one of deep intellect and one of shallow, superficial intellect … Liberals are in my estimation just not bright people. They don’t think deeply they don’t comprehend; they don’t understand … They have a narrow educational base, as opposed to the hard scientists.”
–House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) addressing a mostly Jewish audience in Florida supporting Katharine Harris’s congressional campaign. [9-20-02]

Michael Savage: So you’re one of those sodomists. Are you a sodomite?
Caller: Yes, I am.
Savage: Ok, you’re one of the sodomites … You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How’s that? Why don’t you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage. You have got nothing to do today, go eat a sausage and choke on it.
–Michael Savage, host of talk radio and MSNBC TV show “The Savage Nation,” which was cancelled after the above exchange. [7-5-03]

“[Sarah Brady] ought to be put down. A humane shot at a veterinarian’s would be an easy way to do it. I wish she would just keep wheeling her husband around, wiping saliva off his mouth once in a while—and leave the rest of us damn well alone.”
–Bob Mohan, talk radio host, KFYI Phoenix, on a gun control activists Sarah and James Brady. [4-29-1995]

“That ugly cackler. She [Sarah Brady] pulls her husband around like a pull-toy on a string, My friends and I say that if that ever happened to one of us and our wife did that, somebody would slip into the house one night and slit her throat.”
–Leroy Pyle, NRA board member. Osha Gray Davidson, Under Fire: The NRA and the Battle for Gun Control, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998. p. 275.

“If guns are outlawed, how can we shoot the liberals?”
–State Sen. Mike Gunn (R-MS). Larry Engelmann, “Quotable ‘96; A Year-End Tour of Words; Atlanta’s Olympic Year,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, 12-31-96.

“I read your book. When you get through, you say, ‘If I could put a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that’s the answer.’ I mean, you get through this, and you say, ‘We’ve got to blow that thing up.’”
–Pat Robertson, interviewing Joel Mowbray, author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Endangers America’s Security. [10-10-03]

I could go on for a quite a while, and I’d like extra credit for having done it without even making reference to Ann Coulter, but there’s a point here as well. We are about to enter an era when conservatives profess to be shocked when liberals undertake any action whatever that smells of politics. And the mainstream will likely lap it up.

These cries have already been echoed over and over in the mainstream media with demands that Barack Obama be held to higher standards of truthfulness, decency, and all-around Boy Scout behavior than any president in American history. But the truth is there in black and white for anyone who cares to look. Let them whine all they want. What are they going to do? Shoot us in the face?

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College, and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His blog, “Altercation,” appears at http://www.mediamatters.org/altercation (http://www.mediamatters.org/altercation). His seventh book, Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America, was recently published by Viking.

George Zornick is a freelance writer in New York.