The past week's unfolding tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, with its militarized and overwhelmingly white police force confronting angry and hopeless African-Americans, is not a story unique to that place or this moment. Many cities and towns in this country confront the same problems of poverty, alienation and inequality as metropolitan St. Louis -- or even worse.
But beneath the familiar narrative, there is a deeper history that reflects the unfinished agenda of race relations -- and the persistence of poisonous prejudice that has never been fully cleansed from the American mainstream.
Having infuriated millions of Robin Williams fans with insensitive remarks on the late actor's suicide, Rush Limbaugh now blames the "liberal media" and "despicable leftists" for distorting his innocent message.
This is an old dodge for Limbaugh. Yet however he parses his language, there can be no doubt that he sought to exploit a tragic event for what he likes to call "political education." His attempt to brand Williams' suicide with "the leftist worldview" was perfectly plain. And as usual, his alibi is plainly false.
Most Americans have long believed, in embarrassing ignorance, that the share of the U.S. federal budget spent on foreign aid is an order of magnitude higher than what we actually spend abroad. Years ago, this mistaken view was amplified from the far right by the John Birch Society. Today, it is the tea party movement complaining that joblessness and poverty in the United States result directly from the lamentable fact that "President Obama keeps sending our money overseas."
Making predictions is a perilous practice for any political journalist. Too often, the would-be seers turn out to be dead wrong -- as can be attested to by George Will, Michael Barone, Larry Kudlow and the humiliated boy genius of Fox News, all of whom projected a big victory for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Yet there is at least one future event that could be safely forecast years ago, almost as soon as President Barack Obama entered the White House: a movement among House Republicans to impeach the president.
When Louis Brandeis wrote in 1932 that a "single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country," he was suggesting that state innovations might advance reform on the federal level. The progressive Supreme Court justice surely wasn't imagining anything quite like Brownbackistan.
Flamboyant piety has long been fashionable on the political right, where activists, commentators and elected officials never hesitate to hector us about their great moral and theological rectitude. Wielding the Scriptures like a weapon, these righteous right-wingers are always eager to condemn the alleged sins of others but reluctant to examine their own. They seem to spend far more time in posturing and preening than spiritual reflection. Rarely does anyone call them out on their failures to fulfill their proclaimed devotion, because, in this country, that is considered rude.
When the flags fly proudly on the Fourth of July, I remember what my late father taught me about love of country. Much as he despised the scoundrels and pretenders he liked to call "jelly-bellied flag flappers," after a line in a favorite Rudyard Kipling story, he was deeply patriotic. It is a phrase that aptly describes the belligerent chicken hawk who never stops squawking -- someone like Dick Cheney or Rush Limbaugh.
Like many who volunteered for the U.S. Army in World War II, my dad never spoke much about his four tough years of military service, which brought him under Japanese bombardment in the Pacific theater. But eventually there came a time when he attached to his lapel a small eagle-shaped pin known as a "ruptured duck" -- a memento given to every veteran. With this proof of service, he demonstrated that as a lifelong liberal, he loved his country as much as any conservative.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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In the years since the terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, his aide Sean Smith and CIA officers Tyrone Smith and Glen Doherty in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, President Barack Obama's congressional critics have complained long and loudly about his failure to immediately apprehend the perpetrators. Republican experts like Ted Cruz and Darrell Issa, along with the right-wing media machine, even insinuated that Obama might not really want to catch the Benghazi perps.
Divided between neoconservative ultra-hawks and libertarian isolationists, today's Republican Party is hardly a steady influence on American foreign policy. But there is one thing that can be reliably expected from every right-wing faction in Washington: Whenever disaster threatens, they eagerly cast blame on President Barack Obama -- and utter any falsehood that may be used to castigate him.
What the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl saga demonstrates beyond question -- to anyone who still nurtured any doubt -- is that the Republican right will junk just about any basic American value to satisfy its hatred of President Barack Obama. Fair play, due process, respect for families and the military: To most, if not all, so-called conservatives, none of these fundamentals matters nearly so much as the urge to undermine the nation's first black president. Which is another reason, among many, why they no longer deserve the honorific "conservative."