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Letter: Stopping the politics of hate

To the Editor:

Regardless of political party affiliation, we all have reason to celebrate the election of our first African-American president, Barack Obama. As many have observed, such a triumph over prejudice would have been unthinkable even a generation ago.

At the same time, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a sharp rise in hate crimes in the wake of Senator Obama's victory. Most alarming are the death threats against Sen. Obama, which are now occurring in record numbers.

With shocking intensity and viciousness, right wing radio shouting heads accuse Sen. Obama of being everything from a terrorist to the Antichrist. These same hate-mongers also scapegoat women, gays, the homeless, immigrants and the poor. On the monitoring Web site Media Matters ( you'll find a current sampling, if you have the stomach for it.

For most of us in the Midwest, our closest encounter with terrorism was the white supremacist mass murder of Timothy McVeigh. Less than one hundred years ago, our own area was home to the virulent bigotry of the Ku Klux Klan, who, in the absence of Blacks and Jews, burned crosses in the yards of Wisconsin Catholics.

More recently, we recall how crowds attending vice president candidate Sarah Palin's rallies shamefully shouted "Terrorist!" and "Kill him!" at the mention of Sen. Obama's name.

Too often during the recent election campaign, candidates who would never personally risk a bigoted or racist statement outright have given a wink and a nod to the toxic talkers of the lunatic fringe.

Words are powerful, and hate speech can kill. For the sake of our country, we need to call on our elected officials to decisively repudiate the politics of hate and bigotry that have disgraced recent campaigns both nationally and locally.

Thomas R. Smith

River Falls