Politics in America remains downright sharply polarized. Discernment, however, is required to recognize hypocrisy when it's being flung about the landscape.
Last week The Journal ran a story titled, "Property owner calls vandalism attack on free speech." The story centers on vandalism experienced by Democrat Joe Fernandez who pasted inflammatory messages against Republicans on an empty store front he owns in downtown Turlock. You may have seen his signs as one bore a huge photo of Congressman Paul Ryan.
I hate seeing anyone damage another's property. It is clearly disrespectful and criminal. It is sad, though, when someone spins an incident for political purposes. Fernandez made hay in the Journal by castigating Republicans. He used the window breaking incident to ramp up rhetoric against Republicans by saying: "We have an element of the GOP here in Stanislaus County and Turlock that just doesn't like that kind of thing. Their way of speaking is vandalism and violence."
Pu-lease! Mr. Fernandez may want to go on a fact hunting mission. I never once even heard of violence committed at Tea Party rallies. But it is widely known that millions of dollars of vandalism damage has been inflicted in public facilities (Oakland City Hall for one) by the leftist Occupy movement.
Granted, his sign that read, "Vote Republican - It's easier than thinking," is a slap at any Republican and may have stirred angst, there's no evidence to prove the vandalism was anything more than the work of a street punk. Perhaps it was someone tired of seeing the quaint atmosphere of downtown marred by the out-of-place in-your-face political pop art.
Is it appropriate to use an isolated incident to stereotype a political party - a party which, I might add, takes a hard line stance on criminals, i.e., capital punishment? Would it be fair to use the torching of Sarah Palin's home church in Alaska to make the generalization that Democrats did it and they are a violent bunch?
Imagine using Ceres police killer Andres Raya's breaking into the Ceres High School gym and using a ripped-up American flag to spell out "F--- Bush" as evidence that Democrats have a tendency toward vandalism and violence. Of course, that would be as ridiculous as mid-westerners believing everybody in California is either gay or nutty.
To be clear, I don't believe anyone should damage anyone's property, but apparently even Mr. Fernandez believed his signs would eventually prompt an attack. "Quite frankly, I was surprised they lasted that long," he told the Journal (no doubt to paint the right as the intolerant ones.) Posting abrasive messages that disses half a population of voters is an odd action for someone who asserts Valley politics are "too extreme." Since Fernandez suggests residents are unwilling to get together to discuss and compromise on core issues, does compromising mean only the GOP must cave on core principles?
Of course, only the GOP is extreme, suggests Mr. Fernandez. Especially since he insinuates that those who vote Republican do not think have the capacity to think. But when comparing the unknown window smasher to Nazis, he made a horrible inference. He posted on his plywood boarded-up window a sign that reads: "Really! Vandalism and violence to suppress my freedom of speech in Turlock. Be careful, Berlin did that in the 1940s."
There's nothing new about politics being divisive in America. Pundits were downright insultingly cruel to Abraham Lincoln, portraying him as a baboon. In 1884, Grover Cleveland's purported illegitimate child was the focus of a cartoon depicting a baby bawling outside the White House, "Where's my Pa?" with the caption, "Ma, ma, where's my Pa? Off to the White House, ha, ha, ha."
LBJ used a patently unfair 1964 "Daisy Mae" TV commercial to portray Barry Goldwater as a reckless and dangerous hawk ready to nuke the planet. Even the NAACP shamefully suggested that then Gov. George W. Bush had something to do with the hate crime of black man James Byrd Jr. being dragged to death in Texas.
People of both parties have deep convictions and deep feelings based on their personal beliefs that there is a correct way and a wrong way to run the country. Partisanship and sniping and spin will forever be around as parties and candidates take desperate tactics to win votes.
Get used to the rhetoric. It's our challenge as freedom-loving people to weigh issues based on facts, to try to separate the bull from reality and not make decisions based on emotion. That's hard to do in an age when national media types unabashedly dispense the news with an unfair bias.
Thank God I have a brain to recognize propaganda techniques when I see them. But then again, I suppose, that to some I am unable to think when I vote.
This column is the opinion of Jeff Benziger and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.