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Thursday, 25 March 2010 05:13

How Did the 'Party of Responsibility' Become the Cheerleaders of Hate and Violence?

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by Meg White

I'm having trouble deciding whether or not I'm shocked by the death threats and vandalism being visited upon those who voted for healthcare reform. On the one hand, it's hard to imagine that such a watered-down bill containing so little real change in the way we do business in this country could inspire so much violence.

On the other hand, what do you expect when one of the GOP's rising stars publishes a map targeting Democrats in the crosshairs of a gun barrel, urging her supporters to "RELOAD"?

After outlining all the ugly rhetoric being spewed by the GOP over the passage of healthcare reform, Timothy Eagan asks these questions in The New York Times today:

Do Republicans really want to campaign in favor of insurance companies’ right to drop people when they get sick? Do they really want to knock the 25-year-old graduate student, living on Top Ramen and hope, off his parents’ health care? Are they going to deny tax credits for small businesses?

Yes, it may not be politically expedient to oppose what may become a very popular change to American healthcare. But there's another question going unasked by the mainstream media:

Do Republicans really want the blood of their colleagues on their collective hands?

At the Democratic press conference convened yesterday to address the threats, members of the media were asking questions such as, "Do you feel that your members are really at risk in terms of their security?"

Not, "Do you think the angry rhetoric being whipped up by the Republican Party is encouraging unbalanced people to threaten and/or commit acts of violence against lawmakers and their families?"

It took a commentator, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow to parse out these issues of violence as well as responsibility for it in her top story last night.

There's no feasible way to list all of the many different instances of vandalism and threats of violence directed against Democratic lawmakers here. Bricks have been thrown into district offices around the country. The Capitol police and FBI are involved in investigating the threats and providing increased security for lawmakers. A gas line was severed at the home of Rep. Tom Perriello's brother after one anti-reform activist posted the brother's address on his Facebook page and misidentified it as the congressman's (The activist's response? "Oh well, collateral damage").

And what is the GOP doing? Plastering the front page of their Web site with an image of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi surrounded by flames. Instead of toning down the rhetoric, Republican Chairman Michael Steele said on FOX, "Let's start getting Nancy ready for the firing line this November."

In other words, "We won't pull the trigger, but we'll blindfold her and set her up in front of a bunch of hate- and misinformation-filled gun toters."

And it's not just party cheerleaders, but actual elected members of Congress whipping up the crowds.

Rep. Bart Stupak received death threats via phone in which callers used the very same words, over and over again, ("baby killer") that Rep. Randy Neugebauer screamed at the Michigan Democrat from the House floor.

House Minority Leader John Boehner said this about Rep. Steve Driehaus as a way of warning the Ohio Democrat not to vote for the healthcare package:

He may be a dead man. He can't go home to the west side of Cincinnati.

Now Driehaus is getting death threats. His family has been threatened. Directions to his home have been publicized and this Sunday, activists plan to protest on his own lawn. Interviewed on Maddow's show last night (in the video embedded above), Driehaus said when he gave Boehner the opportunity to dial back the rhetoric, he just politicized it:

It's not really what he meant or how I take it. It's how some crazy person in Cincinnati, or some crazy person in Indiana or Kentucky may take it and might act upon it. And I think Congressman Boehner, as a leader in the House should step up and take responsibility. You know these words matter...

People look to their political leaders for signals and when you have people taking to the floor of the House, when you see them, you know, quoted in the paper using irresponsible language, using threatening language, those are signals...

This is a pretty dangerous environment.

These Republicans should be ashamed of themselves. But I'm betting they won't be. Even if some tragic violence (aside from the property destruction already being perpetrated) should befall pro-reform politicians, the GOP will never apologize for their rhetoric or take responsibility for inflaming the debate with lies, innuendo and veiled threats.

How did "the party of responsibility" become the cheerleaders of hate and violence? As Maddow points out in a subsequent segment, they're doing it in the same way they did it in the 1990s, when they quietly encouraged the violent militia movements that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.

The larger question is why. I'd like to believe it's not because they really want to physically hurt people. Instead, I have to think it's because hate-filled rhetoric and lies are all that Republicans have left to prop up their silly arguments. If they took the hate and fear-mongering out of their political positions, I think they'd find it a lot harder to get reelected. And if they abandoned the bile that is causing these threats to encircle Democrats, they wouldn't have anything left.

Sadly, if we can't expect the GOP to take responsibility for their own words, all we can do is hope no one gets hurt.