Washington Watch: The 'aginners' and the politics of hate

The aginners and the p

Rush Limbaugh 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Rush Limbaugh 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
We buried my father last week just before Rosh Hashana. He was 92. He had no loyalty to any political party; he didn't like either one very much. He was mad at FDR to the end for not doing enough to help the Jews, and hated Richard Nixon because he was an anti-Semite who tried to destroy the Constitution. He voted Republican for many years because the head of the ticket in several Ohio elections chaired the annual Israel Bonds drive a few years running. He was an admirer of Ariel Sharon and regularly inquired about the old general's health even as his own was failing. The two had a lot in common - their bull-in-a-china-shop style, their emerging political views and even their physical appearance. Dad didn't talk much about his own mortality, but said he was worried about that of the president of the United States; he felt the atmosphere in the country reminded him of Israel before the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, another of his heroes. MY DAD didn't vote for Barack Obama, thought he was "trying to be Santy Claus to everyone" with his tax dollars. But he had a great deal of respect for the office and the man, and was deeply troubled by the hatred being stirred up in the country. That doesn't mean dad was some soft liberal; he was tough, conservative and not always the poster boy for tolerance. He was repulsed by the Christian fundamentalists who dominated the Republican Party, and didn't care much for the liberals running the Democratic Party. We disagreed on a lot more than we could agree on when it came to politics. We shared a love for Israel, but he was a hard-line Likudnik - although, to my surprise, he made the transition to the middle with his hero, Sharon, and for most of the same reasons. He never had much sympathy for the Palestinians, and he believed that the Arabs would wipe Israel off the map if given half a chance, but felt that it was in Israel's interest to separate into two states. He was an avid student and voracious reader of history - particularly Jewish history and the American Civil War. I think his greatest satisfaction - outside his four children, 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren - dated back over 70 years, to his experience as a yeshiva student in Cleveland. He remembered the Depression not just for the economic hard times, but also for the outbursts of anti-Semitism that characterized much of the 1930s. To him many of the hate radio voices of today were echoes of one from his youth, Father Charles Coughlin, the rabid anti-Semitic radio preacher who praised Hitler and accused FDR of "leaning toward international socialism" (sound familiar?) and being a tool of the Jews. Dad didn't listen to talk radio; it just made him angry, he said, and he thought most of those on it were "stupid." He said people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and their ilk reminded him of Father Coughlin. He called them "aginners." They don't stand for anything, they just want to tear things and people down and tell you what they're against, he liked to say. "They're aginners, not builders," he explained. "It's always easier to be an aginner." The aginners don't have to take any responsibility, they don't have to solve problems. Actually they prefer to create problems for others, he'd say. Often the aginners are haters, racists, elitists. Or they are stirring up rage for purely mercenary reasons. NO PARTY has a monopoly on aginners, although the conservatives appear intent on cornering the market these days and have the greatest access to the mass media - despite absurd claims about the "liberal media." Race baiting is a popular focus for hate-talkers like Beck, who has accused the president of hating white people, and Limbaugh, who is alerting the nation to the looming crisis created by two black teens beating up a white kid on a Missouri school bus. The Jewish community produced our own contingent of aginners in last year's campaign, accusing Obama of being a Jew-hating, closet Muslim out to destroy Israel. When it came to politics, my father and I found little in common, but there was one thing we could agree on - the aginners. Dad would have agreed with The New York Times's resident conservative columnist David Brooks, who said Beck and Limbaugh, with their agenda of fear and hate instead of ideas and policy, aren't going to take over the country, but they are taking over the Republican Party, and that's not good for the country.