Yesterday on Meet the Press, Chuck Schumer waived off David Gregory's invitation to pile onto the Republicans over the insults, threats, and acts of violence directed at Democratic Members of Congress in reaction to the health insurance reform law. Senator Schumer correctly noted that those behaving reprehensibly represented "outliers" of those opposed to the new law, and that it would be wrong to tar all the rest.
We'll leave aside for the moment the sad fact that no one within eye or ear shot of the various acts and slurs lifted a finger to stop the "tiny fraction", or even wagged a finger, much less collared them for processing by the authorities. And as to the cover of darkness brick throwers, no one to whom those yahoos have boasted has yet to drop a dime.
Schumer passed on the opportunity to use this question to assess the responsibility of the Republican Party leadership for the series of violent and extreme actions we've seen directed at Democratic Members of Congress recently. He may have thought it impolitic after lecturing Lyndsey Graham on the Republican threat of refusing to work with Democrats on the other pressing issues before Congress.
But hearken back to the days of the Obama-McCain campaign. Recall those accusations against the now-President? How McCain would egg on the crowd by asking them "Who is the real Barack Obama?" and wait for their answer -- "Terrorist!" Throughout that summer and fall the Republican standard-bearers allowed their supporters to shout "Treason!" or "Kill Him!" at their rallies. Instead of throwing them out, or correcting their supporters, McCain and Palin paused to enjoy the huzzahs of the crowd. (McCain, unevenly and only halfheartedly, sometimes murmured objections, infrequently enough to make them ineffective.)
With the top of the ticket giving them cover, Republican leaders told their faithful that Senator Obama was "a terrorist's best friend". After the election, Republican leaders, like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, gleefully attend the Tea Bagger rallies, prominently featuring racist and violent signs and pictures attacking the President and Democrats. They encouraged the claims of socialism, that the President was leading an attack on freedom or ushering in totalitarianism. No correction, no objection, no call for serious discourse. They delighted as the Baggers, with Republican Congressional encouragement, disrupted town hall meetings for the very purpose and effect of preventing reasoned discourse.
Two years into this ugly campaign, Michele Bachman now tells supporters to consider policy disputes an armed conflict, in which she is "a foreign correspondent behind enemy lines". Warning about "nefarious things" going on in Washington, she shrilly laments for the very existence of the country: "the people . . . .are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country." And, after seeing violence directed at Democrats in Congress, Bachman exhorts "the people" to prepare for war: "I want people . . . armed and dangerous . . . we need to fight back . . . having a revolution every now and then is a good thing."
Under what scenario is this sort of talk tolerated from a Member of Congress? Under what circumstances would that member's party leadership not condemn and disown the comments?
Sadly, in today's Republican Party -- we have witnessed a two-year campaign in which incitement has become not only an acceptable way to whip up the base, but and essential element of the opposition strategy.
Michele Bachman can get away without criticism from her leader, because just a week before that he referred to a supporter of health insurance reform as a "dead man": [He's] a dead man. He can’t go home to the west side of Cincinnati."
And, while the reform legislation was passing the House, Iowa Congressman Steve King took the bullhorn at a Tea Bagger rally to issue these calming works about what needs to be done with the Democratic majority: "Let’s beat that other side to a pulp! Let’s take them out. Let’s chase them down. There’s going to be a reckoning!" (King is the same guy who essentially justified the nut who flew a plane into the IRS building in Texas.)
Those Tea Baggers who spat on Congressmen, hurled epithets and slurs at them are indeed outliers and don't represent the greater majority of the opposition. But they were given cover, and permission, to act out by the Republican leadership tolerance of this sort of thing for the last two years -- by the creation of an appearance of the propriety of such conduct, by the indirect and direct expression that this kind of action is necessary to preserve our freedoms, to save our country. In a more sane environment, those surrounding these "outliers" would denounce them, would oust them from their midst to avoid being tarred with their brush. Just as in more sane times an outlier Congressman would be taken to task for intemperate words.
But when the minority leader of the House suggests a colleague is a 'dead man' who can't go home; when a member of Congress grabs the bullhorn before an angry mob with vicious posters and ugly chants, and exhorts them that the only way to deal with the opposition is to "beat them to a pulp", we are not in sane times.
After seeing the horrifying dividend paid on their two-year campaign, John Boehner went to the airwaves to recruit the brick throwers, the spitters, the gun shooters, to work for his campaign. Does anyone really need to say that he missed the point?
In a more sane environment, he would have asked those with knowledge of these criminals to turn them into authorities. He would have urged the Tea Baggers to cleanse their ranks of the loonies, the racists, and the violent among them. In a more sane environment, Sarah Palin would have been shamed into taking down her graphic of rifle crosshairs on the Democratic Congressmen who supported the health insurance reform legislation. Instead, she is cheered for defiantly calling on her following to "RELOAD!". And they do.
The Republican Party leadership condones, encourages, and participates in this rhetoric of violence in response to policy differences. That political disputes ought not be addressed in civil discussion on the issues is further underscored by their second strategy -- preferring process arguments, procedural complaint, and atmospherics to discourse. Their legions, and particularly the outliers among them, are hearing that there is no use talking, there is nothing to talk about, that dangerous and fearful things are happening, and that the discourse is no way to deal with the Democrats. They then see their heroes using gun sights to target Democrats, calling for them to be beaten to a pulp, exhorting them to reload.
In all these ways and many more, over the last two years the Republican leadership has ,directly and indirectly, in manners veiled and plain, granted cover to the worst of their fools to behave in the worst of ways. And while the actors are themselves to blame for their actions, the Republican reaction to those violent and threatening outliers continues to be tone-deaf and some, like King and Palin, seem to take delight in incitement. When they do, it is for people like Cantor, Boehner, and McConnell to let them know that that is not how the loyal opposition behaves in a mature democracy. Instead, they recruit the angry to work on their campaigns, make up stories about angry gunshots through their own windows, and keep repeating slogans suggesting a national Armageddon is upon us.
Leaders don't act that way on the national stage -- outliers do.
Robert Greenwald and the Brave New Foundation team have recently gathered over 50,000 signatures on a Petition to the Republicans to take ownership of this insane environment and to encourage them to take more serious action to quell the violence of the Tea Baggers. Here's a suggestion to the Republicans, start with policing your own ranks.
All of which leaves me to wonder, what punctuation would fit the title of this piece?