The Washington Post

Maxine Waters vs. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, ahead of its dedication in Washington this weekend. (Charles Dharapak/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

“As far as I’m concerned, the ‘tea party’ can go straight to Hell.” — Maxine Waters, August 22, 2011

It’s been a great week for lip-service to Dr. King.

There’s that stirring ad (courtesy of Chevrolet) with people sitting down at a great table of brotherhood in King’s shadow.

But tables of brotherhood these days seem to be in somewhat short supply. We might have to sit near people we disliked.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden compares Tea Partyers to terrorists . Michele Bachmann calls the IRS the enemy. Rick Perry says the chairman of the Fed is treasonous. Maxine Waters tells the Tea Party to go to hell.

I’m sick of it. I wrote about the End of Nice — and it turned out we hadn’t even come to the end. If Waters’s remarks are any indication, the goal posts are just going to keep moving. Next, the president of the United States will start calling everyone [expletiving] [illegitimate] [mistakenly conceived] [poorly executed] [non-carbon-based life-forms] with [difficulties in the home]. And everyone will cheer. Public debate has turned into an obscene game of Mad Libs — and we’re all getting madder all the time.

I don’t know how to stop it. I would urge us to purge our system by plugging our ears and yelling the vilest, foulest phrases we could think of to describe those with whom, in prior years, we might have politely disagreed. But that might just give us more ideas.

When did it become wild and radical to say that “although I differ with the Tea Party on some issues, I am far from wishing them in hell?”

The uncomfortable truth is that if you wish your enemies ill, you get more donations.

The Tea Party, as a group, are neither hell-bound nor terrorists. It seems absurd to have to point this out. If allegiance to a political movement that some people found distasteful were sufficient to guarantee admission to hell, I will see you there.

Disagree — disagree vehemently, if you like — but at least be polite. Don’t stoop to hate. Terrorists? Treason? “Go to Hell”? We’re better than that. At least we used to be.

You’d think, in the shadow of MLK Jr., that we would understand that there are better words to use and better ways of using words. Maybe the monument will remind us. We’re already pondering what his carved expression might mean: Defiance? Worry? Incredulity? Ate bad cheese recently?

Perhaps he simply overheard us.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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