Now that we’re done with the Joe “You Lie” Wilson sideshow, I want to talk about a different kind of Republican disrespect for normal political disagreement.
Having been raised by a Republican of the now-extinct Rockefeller variety, I am often struck by how extreme the GOP has become. Chuck Grassley and Terry Branstad were on the far right in the early 1980s, but many Iowa conservatives now consider them “moderate” or even “liberal.”
Mainstream extremism in the Republican Party is depressing on many levels. It fosters ignorance, as when Iowa Republicans are led to believe that the judiciary is not supposed to interpret the constitution. It encourages politicians to put their theology ahead of civil laws.
Most troubling is when prominent conservatives use language that condones physical violence or “revolution” to resist Democratic policy proposals. I fear that people will get hurt or killed if some mentally unstable person takes these appeals too literally.
More thoughts on this subject are after the jump.
All year, right-wingers have been egging each other on with fantasies about Barack Obama’s supposedly socialist (or fascist) agenda. Too many Republicans lend credibility to these delusions.
For example, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma told his followers, “We’re almost reaching a revolution in this country.” He was presumably speaking figuratively, but it’s not far-fetched to imagine someone taking up arms against alleged Democratic tyranny. A right-wing terrorist killed dozens of people in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has encouraged her constituents to be “armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax, because we need to fight back […].” Speaking to a sympathetic audience about health care reform, Bachmann said,
“This cannot pass,[…] What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass.”
“Be armed and dangerous” and “do whatever it takes” mean different things to different people. I have no idea what Bachmann considers an acceptable response to the threat of climate change or health care legislation. Some conservatives have brought guns to crowded town-hall meetings in an apparent attempt to intimidate. Some people even called for physical violence at those town-halls. A man whose pastor famously prayed for Obama to die tried to bring a gun to one of the president’s events this summer. If any well-known Republican condemned the idea of bringing firearms to a scene of heated political arguments, I didn’t hear about it.
Fortunately, no town-hall meetings in Iowa erupted into physical violence, but paranoia and extreme views were in plain view at some of them:
One questioner asked Harkin if he realized that passage of a health care bill would force patriots to begin a civil war in the US? This question was followed by sustained shouting of approval. Then the guy said there would be a million people marching in Washington to take back the country from the socialists unless the bill failed.
I don’t remember any Iowa Republican trying to ratchet down this kind of hyperbole. I understand why they don’t want Democrats to succeed in passing health care reform, but is it too much to ask for someone in the “party of Lincoln” to stand up and say civil war is not an acceptable response to losing an election?
During the August 23 Black Hawk County Republican dinner, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats
criticized national Democratic Party plans to pursue a public health insurance option. People have angrily rallied against at town hall meetings, he said, because they fear losing their freedom to choose health care plans they want.
“That’s why (President) Barack Obama has been really, really good for two industries — guns and ammunition,” he said.
He may have meant this as a joke, but it sounds like Vander Plaats is condoning the idea of taking up arms if the legislative majority changes the health insurance system. Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan was right to call on Vander Plaats to retract that “outrageous, irresponsible and very dangerous” statement:
“The rhetoric of armed extremists has no place in the race for Governor and is outside the bounds of what’s acceptable to Iowans,” Kiernan said. “It’s reckless and very dangerous to incite the misguided few who take such statements seriously.”
Instead, the Vander Plaats campaign claimed that what the candidate said was no big deal. No rival Republican candidates criticized the remark either, not even Chris Rants, who has gone after Vander Plaats’ ridiculous policy ideas and management skills.
Speaking of Republicans who failed to denounce extremist rhetoric, look how Senator Chuck Grassley reacted to a questioner at his Pocahontas town-hall meeting in August. The exchange happens near the beginning of this video clip. The questioner introduces himself as a World War II veteran, then accuses Obama of acting like a “little Hitler,” adding, “I’d take a gun to Washington if enough of you would go with me.”
Grassley could have clearly distanced himself from a violent uprising against Obama’s policies. Instead, he said he didn’t ascribe “ulterior motives” to what Obama is trying to accomplish, then gave a meandering answer about why people are right to be concerned about “the federal government taking everything over.” Not good enough:
“It was a credit to the senator’s audience that they booed [the “little Hitler” questioner], but Sen. Grassley also has a responsibility as an elected official to categorically denounce Mr. Eisenhower’s statement and the sentiment behind it,” said Doug Pennington, assistant director of communications for Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Grassley may not have taken the threat seriously, Pennington said, since Eisenhower appears to be a senior citizen.
“Yet we recently saw 88 year-old James W. von Brunn shoot and kill a security officer at the Holocaust Memorial Museum here in Washington, DC,” he said. “Sen. Grassley should have taken Mr. Eisenhower and his words very seriously.”
I suppose we should be grateful that Grassley didn’t applaud the man who called for an armed march on Washington. Bleeding Heartland user MrScarletW noticed a Pocahontas County supervisor as well as the campaign manager for Iowa House district 8 candidate Tom Shaw clapping during Eisenhower’s remarks. Shaw is not a fringe candidate; he’s been endorsed by the Pocahontas County GOP.
My father was a veteran and disliked President Jimmy Carter’s policies as much as anyone, but he never would have joked about or cheered the idea of taking up arms against the federal government.
Like the saying goes, this is not your father’s Republican Party.
LATE UPDATE: Nancy Pelosi got teary reflecting on the atmosphere in San Francisco in the 1970s leading up to the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. She’s now being attacked, as usual, but I agree with her comment, especially this part: “I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made, understanding that — that some of the people — the ears it is falling on are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume.”