The much-discussed polarization of American politics carries many risks -- just look at the health care debate or town hall madness or Joe Wilson's outburst -- but could it spark violence, possibly against President Obama? Worries over a lone wingnut have simmered among liberals since the campaign, but they were never taken too seriously.
But on Wednesday, Thomas Friedman elevated concerns over violence to a new level. Wading in from his New York Times perch, he legitimized fear that far-right-wing hatred and conspiracy mongering could, in fact, jeopardize Obama. Friedman wrote, "a cocktail of political and technological trends have converged in the last decade that are making it possible for the idiots of all political stripes to overwhelm and paralyze the genius of our system."
Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.
Friedman, no partisan, pointed out that such extreme partisanship plagued Clinton and Bush as well.
Sometimes I wonder whether George H.W. Bush, president '41,' will be remembered as our last 'legitimate' president. The right impeached Bill Clinton and hounded him from Day 1 with the bogus Whitewater 'scandal.' George W. Bush was elected under a cloud because of the Florida voting mess, and his critics on the left never let him forget it. And Mr. Obama is now having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe.
Whether or not you agree with him, Friedman sparked wide debate. His attention brings assassination concerns, acknowledged among liberal bloggers but previously outside the mainstream, to the forefront. Coming on the same day a Newsmax columnist suggested that a military coup against Obama might be in order, Friedman's caution against extremism carries extra weight.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.