Commentary: Intolerance

Mar 28, 2013

Did you know there is actually still a Communist Party, USA? They even have a website, so that if, in the middle of the night, you are suddenly seized with a desire to join the party of Lenin and Stalin, why, you can get on line and whip out your credit card.

For $60 a year, you can be a Communist. Not only that, my guess is that if you do sign up, you won’t even lose your job or be visited by the FBI. That’s because the Communist Party today is no threat to anybody, and is, in fact, totally irrelevant.

That isn’t true of the Republican Party. Not yet, anyway. But increasingly, the GOP is beginning to behave like a wacky fringe party. They are offering positions way outside the mainstream. More and more, what one hears from Republican spokesmen is hatred and intolerance, and we got a good example yesterday.

For six years, one of the most appalling members of the Michigan legislature was one Dave Agema, a retired airline pilot. During his first term, he wasn’t around to vote when a deadlock over a budget battle resulted in temporary government shutdown. He was off hunting in Siberia. When he finally came back, he distinguished himself mainly by a steady stream of false and hate-filled statements, as when he charged on Facebook two years ago, for example, that President Obama was a Muslim.

When police tear-gassed protestors last fall during demonstrations against the new right-to-work law, Agema gleefully posted, “I rather enjoy this,” and said it reminded him of being back in the military. 

Term limits ended his legislative career in January. But instead of trying to forget him, the state party made him Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman, one of two state representatives to the national party. Agema has long opposed the idea that gay people have any rights at all.

Yesterday, as the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of marriage, Agema spent his time, posting, then defending, an intolerant rant called “Everyone Should Know these Statistics of Homosexuals,” allegedly written by a retired physician named Frank Joseph.

The article is short on facts and long on bizarre allegations, such as that “homosexuals”  -- his word -- cause half the murders in large cities, are actively engaged in “recruiting” children, and have as their agenda turning people from Christianity and getting the public to “affirm their filthy lifestyle.”

When someone posted on Facebook that he was ashamed to live in the same state as Dave Agema, Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman wrote that these were “facts derived from several studies. The trouble is, that many don’t like facts.”

Nobody suggests that every Republican believes these things about gay people. But by making Agema their national commiteeman, the state GOP appears to be sanctioning his views.

If so, that means that Republicans are effectively writing off another chunk of the electorate—not only LGBT people, but friends and family members who oppose their being dehumanized.

These days, the Communist Party no longer runs candidates for office. Nobody suggests the Republican party is about to stop contesting elections. But thanks to spokesmen like Dave Agema, it soon may find it increasingly impossible to win them.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.