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The perils of poisonous politics

Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. | 2/2/2015, 7 a.m.
By doubling down on his vile slur on President Obama’s love for his country, ex-New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani ...

— By doubling down on his vile slur on President Obama’s love for his country, ex-New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani created the media frenzy that he craved. He also set up an easy test of decency for Republican presidential contenders: Who has the sense to disavow Giuliani’s poison? Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio passed the admittedly low bar; Governors Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal failed ignominiously: Governor Rick Perry pretzeled his way through it.

If Republicans wonder why 95 percent of African Americans and 70 percent of Latinos will likely end up voting for Democrats in 2016, they should look in the mirror. Virtually every African American will see this attack on President Obama as racist, something that would not be occur were Obama white.

Silence in the face of the attack will be seen as proof that the Republican race-based politics of division remains in force. In his decision to weaken the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder, Justice Roberts wrote, “This country has changed.” Giuliani’s insult ratifies the wisdom of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s ringing dissent, that while progress has been made, the Congress surely was right in deciding we still have far to go.

Giuliani’s rant echoes the new hysteria that Republicans are trying to stoke: that Obama is “withdrawing” from the world, and thereby weakening America. A parade of horrors— Russia in Ukraine, ISIS in Syria and Iraq, negotiations over nukes with Iran, terrorist violence in Paris— is summoned up and blamed on the president.

Recently, Obama made the simple and common sense observation that we are not at war with Islam, but with terrorist extremists who want to hijack the religion for their own ends. His statement was similar to that repeated frequently by George W. Bush when he was president. Any future president from either party will make similar statements— both to reflect reality and to keep the fear-mongers from fanning hatred here at home. Yet, the president’s comments sparked hysterical comments from across the right-wing noise machine as if common sense were somehow heresy.

This clamor is feeding a mindless war fever. Do we want to have an armed confrontation with Russia over Ukraine? Not really, the macho hawks basically want to fight to the last Ukrainian. Do we want to put troops back into Iraq? Not really, although as President Obama has escalated the U.S. response to ISIS, the armchair hawks have moved to more muscular positions, now even mumbling about “boots on the ground.” We are fighting wars in Afghanistan, providing troops and arms and bombs against ISIS, running drone attacks in nearly a dozen countries, dispatching special forces to 120 countries. And somehow this is scorned as withdrawal from the world.

Missing in the hysteria and the vile attacks on patriotism is a sensible policy debate— and a sensible reckoning of how we got to where we are. The reality is that excessive belief in military force has done more than anything to cause this mess. The catastrophic invasion of Iraq is the worst foreign policy debacle since Vietnam. The decision not simply to go after Bin Laden and al Qaeda, but to wage a counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan and “rebuild” that nation has led to the longest war in our history that shows no sign of ending.