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When "traitor"'s just another word

This week, it seems that our state of Pennsylvania is coming the poster child for over-the-top right-wing speech. First we had the state Republican Party of Pennsylvania make the McCarthyist suggestion that the president of the United States is a Communist, by placing a hammer-and-sickle in the "O" in Obama -- a ploy party officials laughed off as a way to get people to pay attention to an underpublicized statewide judicial race. Now we have the bizarre case of a Republican state lawmaker from western Pennsylvania, Daryl Metcalfe.

I don't think there's anyone who doesn't think that greenhouse gases and climate change is a complicated issue. When Americans can't agree a) on how serious the problem is and b) what, if anything, to do about it, especially when the potential long-term remedies will have a short-term impact on an economy that's already struggling, people are going to have strong opinions. But when we call people who disagree with us on that issue "traitors" and "Benedict Arnolds" -- even if they are soldiers who fought for the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan...well, that's remarkably sad, but that's America in 2009 for ya. It should be shocking when it comes from an elected official, but it's not.

Here's what Metcalfe -- himself an Army veteran, now a state rep from the area near the Pittsburgh airport -- said in an email (meaning he had time to think about it) about Operation Free, a busload of military veterans that's touring 21 states and speaking out for action on climate change:

As a veteran, I believe that any veteran lending their name, to promote the leftist propaganda of global warming and climate change, in an effort to control more of the wealth created in our economy, through cap and tax type policies, all in the name of national security, is a traitor to the oath he or she took to defend the Constitution of our great nation!" Mr. Metcalfe said in his e-mail response.

"Remember Benedict Arnold before giving credibility to a veteran who uses their service as a means to promote a leftist agenda. Drill Baby Drill!!!"

Apparently Metcalfe skipped over that part of the Constitution that deals with free speech. This isn't the first loopy thing that the lawmaker has said -- he also opposed a Domestic Violence Awareness Month resolution because he felt it included gays, and also balked at a resolution honoring a Muslim group because "Muslims don't recognize Jesus Christ as God." Those things may not have hurt him so much with voters in a conservative district, but slandering veterans will probably be another story. is calling on Metcalfe to resign -- but I suspect the electorate may deal with the problem.

The thing I find most troubling in this: We now live in a society where people don't think it's a big deal to compare their political opponents to Commie dictators or even to label them as "traitors" merely for holding a different view on a matter of public policy. It's not hard to see why -- people grow immune to the language they hear every day, even when it's out of bounds.

For example, when Chase Utley spends all his time in a baseball clubhouse, he can forget that you're not supposed to say "World (bleep)ing champions!" in front of 50,000 people. When you spend all your time listening to talk radio and reading the angriest Web sites, it doesn't even cross your mind that calling veterans with a liberal viewpoint on politics "traitors" is a bad thing to do. As I as noted the other day about the hammer-and-sickle incident, we have no sense of decency, at long last.