"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
-- Attributed to Voltaire.
Updated version: "How dare you say something I disagree with you lousy, liberal, atheistic Commie? You should roast in hell."
Seldom is heard a rational word and paranoia's the order of the day.
You have to be hard-hearted not to feel a little sorry for the poor, hag-ridden souls who haunt those venues. You do, that is, until you realize that many of them deserve nothing but contempt.
I'm talking specifically about the moral cowards who use telephones, the postal service and e-mail to attack those who do not share their own world view. Anonymously, of course.
I was reminded of that the other day in a note from an old friend who had written a letter to the editor of this newspaper in which he was critical of Bush II. And because we, unlike the hate radio outlets and the Web sites, do not allow anonymous postings, he has since been the target of vicious personal attacks.
His letter to the editor was restrained and balanced. He praised Bush for his aggressive pursuit of the terrorists responsible for the attacks of September 11, but chastised him for his refusal to make available to Congress information regarding the administration's dealings with Enron, and the papers of presidents past that should, by rights, now be in the public domain.
These are concerns that have been raised by editorialists and commentators across the country. They are not -- not yet anyway -- indictable violations of national security. But in the minds -- or what pass for minds -- of the rabid right they are rank heresy.
"My reasons for writing have been questioned," he wrote in his note. And his parentage questioned. "Apparently I'm an SOB. I am obviously a 'liberal fag,' and I don't know that the true villain is Bill Clinton.
"The theory behind that is that the Arkansas Mob killed others, so it isn't a stretch that they have involved Bush in the Enron mess so that Hillary can someday become president."
Farfetched? Of course, but it all makes sense if you dwell long enough in Limbaughland.
My friend, incidentally, may be a liberal. Or he may not be. But one thing he is is a hero who embodies the virtues that the stalwarts of the far right claim to stand for.
When he was only 21, he saved an elderly couple from the clutches of three muggers, all of whom he subdued, but not before sustaining injuries that have since become disabling.
The phone calls began the same day his letter appeared, my friend said. A couple were congratulatory, but they were soon buried under a wave of vituperative messages, some of them taking note of the fact that he is Jewish; sentiments that would have warmed the long-dead heart of Julius Streicher.
They say it takes all kinds. But these are kinds we can clearly do without.
Rossie is associate editor of the Press & Sun-Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Write to him c/o P.O. Box 1270, Binghamton, N.Y. 13902-1270.