The "nattering nabobs" speech of Spiro Agnew, delivered on November 13, 1969, may be the most misunderstood speech in the history of American rhetoric.
It is taken by liberal historians to be a speech putting them down, a speech against free speech. Its purpose, however, was vital to a proper understanding our own time. Its purpose was to set limits on debate, and to read extreme rhetoric outside those limits.
That's what we need now, badly. We need an adult to set limits on how far rhetoric can go. You can have free speech, but past this line you're inciting a riot, and must henceforth be called out of bounds by thinking adults.
What conservatives have been doing, what the haties have been doing for months, is demonizing the President, demonizing his causes, demonizing his followers in the most violent way. It is the fault of the President that they have been allowed to do this unchallenged for months.
Violent rhetoric leads to actual violence. We have already seen some of it. We are going to see more. And the only way to prevent further violence is to push away the incitement leading to it.
An essential aim of a transformational figure is to set boundaries. Just as a parent sets boundaries for children, an important President sets the boundaries for political debate. If you don't set boundaries people start acting like spoiled children.
Think of it in terms of Rudy Giuliani's broken windows rule. If you let them break windows and tag subway cars pretty soon they're dealing drugs openly and then they're killing people.
For months now conservative politicians and their followers have acted like a street gang. They have told a series of outright lies, each more outrageous than the last, concerning the President personally and concerning the policies he supports. They have been allowed to brand liberals as "socialists" without challenge, they have been allowed to compare the President to Hitler without challenge.
The summer of 2009 has become a summer of hate.
Because of this lack of challenge, their followers have bought the lies hook, line and sinker. If someone you trust tells you a whopper, and pays no price for it, then eventually you'll see the lie as true and truth as a lie.
It's time to pull in on the leash. The President next week can't just say that this or that statement is a lie, or that it lacks evidence. He needs to call out the liars, even within the Congress, by name. He needs to frame the terms of the debate going forward, and take control of its boundaries.
Then his Administration needs to follow up.
The commentators and the politicians who have lied to the American people over the last several months, who have lied with malice, who have lied with impunity, need to be called out, need to be shamed, and need to be tossed out of the debate by the majority of Americans who until now have mainly kept silent.
For those playing The 1969 Game at home, remember that Agnew's speech followed by 10 days Nixon's Silent Majority speech, where the President of that time laid out his Vietnam policy, his answer to the key policy debate of his time. It was in the wake of criticism over that speech, criticism that came instantly, before his words were allowed to sink in, that Agnew (under the baton of Pat Buchanan and William Safire) did what is still, to this day, considered dirty work.
The birthers and the deathers and the seccessionists and the liars have to be placed out of bounds, or it's the Obama Thesis that could be placed out of bounds, with democracy destroyed and American turned into something far more like Iran than any of us can truly imagine.
Agnew put the hippies out of bounds, and this Administration must put the haties at right, photographed by The Huffington Post, just as out of bounds, and for the same reason.