The Magazine


Jan 29, 1996, Vol. 1, No. 19 • By JOHN J. PITNEY
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THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE'S site on the World Wide Web (http://www. recently invited computer users to take part in a high-tech lynching of Speaker Gingrich.

In this Internet version of the game of"hangman," the player would guess letters of the alphabet to spell a word. For each correct guess, the site added a new part to a stick figure and displayed a different quotation from Gingrich. At the end of the game, the screen showed the stick figure hanging from a gallows, above the game's magic word: EXTREMIST.

This bore some resemblance to a death threat. If that observation seems overblown, just imagine what would happen if someone sent the White House a picture of the president hanging from a gallows. Don't try this at home: the Secret Service would investigate at once, and rightly so.

According to a DNC spokeswoman, the "hangman" joke was intended "as a takeoff on a child's game and was not meant as anything more than showing that the speaker is extreme and childish." Still, the game crossed into the realm of questionable behavior.

This incident points out just how much, how virulently, the Democrats hate the speaker. Casual usage has rubbed some of the edge off of the word hate, but here it applies with all its soul-churning, mouth-foaming force. At a 1994 campaign rally, the wife of Michigan Democratic Rep. Sander Levin let slip what a good many Democrats were feeling. The Republicans, she said, " signed a contract not with their constituents, but with Newt Gingrich. The devil, they signed a contract with the devil."

Democrats might argue that their hatred of Gingrich is not a major national issue and that the "hangman" game was merely a misstep by overzealous DNC staffers. Indeed, one might shrug off the incident -- except that Democrats themselves have made such an issue out of the consequences of political "hate speech." Recall how in his remarks on the Oklahoma City bombing, President Clinton assailed nameless "purveyors of hatred and division" and "promoters of paranoia." And he called on Americans to rise against them: "It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior. If they insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties."

A few months later, after the National Republican Congressional Committee issued a "Wanted" poster featuring Democrats who had voted against the Contract with America, the Democrats were quick to cry foul. When Rep. Maxine Waters saw her face on the poster, she told the Los Angeles Times, she sent it to the House sergeant-at-arms, which handles House security, and the FBI. "In the twisted minds of the McVeighs of the world," she said, "this could be a hit list."

In a press release, Democratic National Committee chairman Don Fowler also denounced the poster. You can find the release on the same Web site as the " hangman" game.

John J. Pitney, Jr., associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, last wrote about a FRAUDULENT Tocqueville quotation for THE WEEKLY STANDARD.