Not all overheated political rhetoric is alike. Delusional right-wing crazy talk -- the kind of ranting we've heard recently from washed-up rock star Ted Nugent and tea party-backed Rep. Allen West -- is a special kind of poison that cannot be safely ignored.
Let me be clear: I'm saying that the extreme language we hear from the far right is qualitatively different from the extreme language we hear from the far left -- and far more damaging to the ties that bind us as a nation. Tut-tutting that both sides should tone it down is meaningless. For all intents and purposes, one side is the problem.
Nugent, who delivered his foaming-at-the-mouth peroration at a National Rifle Association convention, earned a visit from the Secret Service with his promise that "if Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year."
That might or might not constitute an actual threat to the president of the United States. More chilling, to me, was the way his audience of gun enthusiasts applauded as Nugent compared the Obama administration to a bunch of "coyotes in your living room" who deserve to be shot. Nugent ended by exhorting his listeners: "We are Braveheart. We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November. Am I -- any questions?"
No, I think he made himself quite clear.
Violent metaphors aside, the nub of Nugent's argument -- and I use the word advisedly -- was this: "If you can't go home and get everybody in your lives to clean house in this vile, evil, America-hating administration, I don't even know what you're made of."
Vile? Evil? America-hating? Nugent doesn't just characterize those with different political views as misguided or wrong. He seeks to paint them as alien and anti-American -- as enemies of this nation, rather than as citizens with whom he disagrees.
This distinguishes the flame-throwers of the far right from those of the far left. Nugent and his ilk seek to deny their political opponents the very right to believe in a different philosophy. Agree with me, he says, or be stomped.
It comes, too, from an elected member of the House of Representatives.
At a town hall meeting last week in Palm City, Fla., West was asked how many Marxists there are in Congress. He replied, "I believe there's about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party who are members of the Communist Party."
That is, of course, a bald-faced lie. There are no communists in Congress. What makes the lie even worse is West's subsequent declaration that he stands by his words because he was referring to the 80-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, which West considers a branch of the Comintern.
"There is a very thin line between communism, progressivism, Marxism, socialism," West claimed this week. "It's about nationalizing production. It's about creating and expanding the welfare state. It's about this idea of social and economic justice. You hear that being played out now with fairness, fair share, economic equality."
West can't really believe this nonsense. What he's trying to do is delegitimize the entire stream of progressive thought that has run wide and deep through American history since the nation's founding. Disagree with his views, West insists, and you're not just a political opponent, you're a godless Marxist.
So this is what I want to know: Mitt Romney, do you agree with your prominent endorser, Ted Nugent, that the Obama administration is evil and hates America? House Speaker John Boehner, do you agree with your star freshman West that "78 to 81" of your colleagues are card-carrying communists?
Speak up, gentlemen, I didn't hear you.