Midterm Elections Cringeworthy Comment Roundup: Jim DeMint, Sharron Angle ...

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Sometimes old people say things that make us young folk cringe.

Grandma Dorothy was 92. She lived in a small town in rural northern California, and referring to a near-by river village she said, “The gays have taken over Guerneville, but I like what they have done with the place.”

“The gays?” Ack!

Yet Grandma went on to describe the town’s creative new storefronts and community festivals with much approval, and who all from the community she had added to her Christmas cookie list. For someone who had seen nearly a century of history and a lifetime of change, this was Grandma accepting a new generation’s more enlightened values. Her edge was easily forgiven because we know what she meant.

But take these cringe-worthy comments from another old person, this time a congressman from South Carolina. According to the Washington Post:

At a 2004 debate, DeMint declared that openly gay people should not be teaching public school. "We need the folks that are teaching in schools to represent our values," he said. DeMint later added that he "would have given the same answer when asked if a single woman, who was pregnant and living with her boyfriend, should be hired to teach my third grade children."

Having originally apologized for the comments, six years later he is now defending them. The Post article continues:

But last week, DeMint said that he had been privately encouraged by reaction to his words. "[N]o one came to my defense," he said at at a rally. "But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn't back down.

As a former teacher from Memphis, I know the notion that discriminatory hiring practices are necessary to protect children from exposure to gays (or pregnant women) is ridiculous, misguided and an encroachment on private lives of teachers. The arguments here are obvious and have been stated many times.

But looking deeper, the DeMint situation is a metaphor for what has gone wrong with our political processes. The private encouragement whispered to DeMint is not that much different than the private interests anonymously funding this political season’s Republican message. The cowards behind this hate-filled election year count on bold bigots like Jim DeMint and others to carry their water.

LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 21: U.S. Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle waves as she is introduced at Newt Gingrich's 'Jobs Here, Jobs Now' tour at the JW Marriott Las Vegas October 21, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Angle is challenging U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in a tight race. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Consider Carl Paladino, the Republican nominee for New York governor, who finds fellowship with DeMint in believing that gay people set out to brainwash children.

Then head west, where the bigots are more scared of the brown people than the gays, and Republicans Jan Brewer in Arizona and Sharron Angle (endorsed by DeMint) in Nevada are eager to ship them back to Mexico, even if they just look Asian, or maybe Canadian.

And of course there are the women haters, with people like Republican Ken Buck (endorsed by DeMint also) in Colorado referring to rape as “buyer’s remorse.” At least he is an equal opportunity hater -- Republican Rich Iott (yet another DeMint investment) of Ohio, who likes to wear an SS uniform some weekends. "They were doing what they thought was right for their country," says Iott.

This entire election season is hateful and cringe-worthy, with no redeeming evolution in sight -- and Jim DeMint, while not the only marketer of hate (see Thomas Mitchell’s "joke" on repealing the 19th Amendment), is certainly at the center of a lot of it.

To some, this is nothing more than heightened rhetoric in a particularly brutal election season. But to many of us their words are horrifying because we know what they mean -– the gays, the brown people, the Jews and the women need to be put back in their place.

Gina Cooper, the founder of Netroots Nation, is a former high school teacher from Memphis. You can read her personal thoughts as a teacher turned political professional on her blog.

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