The Republic of T.

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Conservatives’ Race To Oblivion, Pt. 3

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Conservatives' Race to Oblivion

The big news, since President Obama signed health care reform into law, has been the threats made against Democratic lawmakers. [h/t, Prometheus.]

But there is another threat looming, that isn’t directed at Democratic officials, and isn’t getting nearly as much press.

And no, I don’t mean this. [Via Ed.]

I’m fairly certain the Obama administration has far bigger and more important concerns than Glenn Beck. Plus, the threat I’m getting at here – the same one I started writing about last November – is directed at Republicans, and it comes from the most significant portion of their base.

I wanted to finish the series a while back, and intended to, but ran into writer’s block when it came to making the final case. Apparently, all I had to do was wait for the tea party to make it for me.

At long last, the tea party is being taken seriously. At least, seriously enough that the FBI is investigating a cut gas line at the home of Rep. Tom Perriello’s brother, that Democratic representatives have increased security details, and seriously enough that even tea party organizers across the country are condemning the harassment and threats of violence their supporters have directed at Demcoratic lawmakers.

tea party organizers across the country are condemning the harassment and threats of violence against House Democrats who voted in favor of the health care overhaul that passed the House Sunday.

Though individual tea partiers – and many Republicans – have distanced themselves from the threats and deemed them unaffiliated with the movement, the condemnations mark a more forceful response and indicate a keen awareness of the damage that being linked to them could do to the tea party brand. There hasn’t been any hard evidence that the reported harassment is linked to the tea party movement, but Democrats have tried to draw the link between the harassment and the sometimes-inflammatory rhetoric that tea partiers and Republicans deployed in opposing the health care overhaul.

The organizers of some major Florida tea party groups, for instance, on Thursday morning released an open letter to Congress and President Barack Obama declaring they “stand in stark opposition to any person using derogatory characterizations, threats of violence, or disparaging terms toward members of Congress or the President.”

The letter calls the tea parties “a peaceful movement” and says its leaders denounce “all forms of violence” and “support all efforts to bring [any perpetrators] to justice and have encouraged full cooperation within our movement and have asked for the same from the members of Congress who have laid such claims.”

This is at least a step or two further than GOP leadership has managed to get in addressing the situation. But not by much. Some stopped short of taking ownership of these incidents, being careful to state that the people committing these acts are “not yet proven to be members of our movement.” Granted, the tea party movement is loosely organized network of groups without any unifying national organization or centralized structure. Yet the degree of separation between these incidents and the rhetoric of the tea party movement across the country – as well as that of Republican officials who have embraced or at least aligned with the movement – gets narrower by the day.

Even the characterization of the Tea Part movement as “a peaceful movement” doesn’t square with how it’s been represented by its own members. Whether these are “isolated incidents” of individual action, as both tea party activists and GOP leadership like to claim, they can hardly be isolated from the rhetoric of either the movement or the party during the health care reform debate.

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Just a week before the vote, even Minority Leader John Boehner suggested Democrat Steve Driehaus wouldn’t be safe after the vote.

With several different Democrats receiving threats of violence and receiving protective detail after voting for the new health insurance reform law (I haven’t yet tired of saying that), it’s worth highlighting something that Minority Leader John Boehner said last week about one of the Congressmen who has been subjected to this sort of vitriolic abuse: his neighbor from an adjacent Ohio district, Rep. Steve Driehaus.

“Take [Rep.] Steve Driehaus, for example,” he says. “He may be a dead man. He can’t go home to the west side of Cincinnati.”

As mcjoan noted earlier, Congressman Driehaus has been subjected to a litany of intimidating tactics, including death threats, having pictures of his children used in an attack ad, and having the address of and directions to his private residence posted on conservative blogs–and we’ve all seen how well that worked out in the case of case of Rep. Periello’s brother.

Nor can they be completely isolated from the rhetoric heard from the party or pre-tea party supporters during the election.

The GOP strategy for dealing with the ugly tenor of the debate on their side has been all over the map, including excusing the behavior.

Dismissing it.

This is just pathetic. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), whose reaction to Democratic congressmen being called “nigger” and “faggot” by his teabagging brethren was:

I just don’t think it’s anything.

Justifying it.

Republican leaders have taken a different approach. On Wednesday, House Minority Leader John Boehner issued a perfunctory denunciation of the threats: “I know many Americans are angry over this health care bill, and that Washington Democrats just aren’t listening,” Boehner said. “But, as I’ve said, violence and threats are unacceptable.” The comment infuriated Perrello. “I thought it his statement was fairly outrageous,” he said. “Every right-thinking person knows this is over the line. These things have to be called out.”

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor also denounced the threats at a news conference on Thursday. “Let me be clear: I do not condone violence. There are no leaders in this building, no rank and file members in this building that condone violence — period,” Cantor said, noting that his own office had been shot at as well. But then he pivoted, excoriating DNC Chair Tim Kaine and Rep. Chris Van Hollen and arguing it was “reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain.” The tactic, he said, was “reprehensible.” And in an interview with MSNBC, Republican Sen. John Barrasso flashed the same sort of political pirouette: issuing a strenuous denunciation before lapsing into talking points. “There no cause for this. This is not something that’s acceptable,” Barrasso said, before launching into an explanation of how Democrats had betrayed Americans by ignoring the will of the majority.

To be fair, no Republican ever endorsed violence as a way to express opposition to health-care reform, and they undoubtedly regret what’s happened. On the other hand, many stoked anger over the past few months by employing staggering hyperbole over a document they cast as tyrannical and totalitarian. Boehner, for example, called the vote on the bill “Armageddon,” and said Ohio Rep. Steve Driehaus could be a “dead man” in his largely red Cincinnati district. I can understand if he and other Republicans are upset about being grouped with the extremists chucking bricks through windows. But by condemning violence and blasting Democrats in the same breath, Republican leaders implicitly validate the anger spurring these incidents. Instead of defusing the situation, this sort of response escalates it.

Even encouraging itafter their colleagues had already endured racist and homophobic slurs.

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It was one of the ugliest and strangest periods the American legislative process has ever experienced. And Sunday was no different. The day’s debate on the House floor was in its early moments when two men, one smelling strongly of alcohol, stood up in the public gallery and interrupted the debate with shouts of “Kill the bill!” and “The people said no!” As the Capitol Police led the demonstrators from the chamber, Republicans cheered — for the hecklers.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who for the second day in a row had homophobic epithets hurled at him by demonstrators, called his Republican colleagues “clowns” for this display. But the circus was just beginning.

…But rather than calm the demonstrators, Republican congressmen whipped the masses into a frenzy. There on the House balcony, the GOP lawmakers’ legislative dissent and the tea-party protest merged into one. Some lawmakers waved handwritten signs and led the crowd in chants of “Kill the bill.” A few waved the yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag of the tea-party movement. Still others fired up the demonstrators with campaign-style signs mocking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

…That would have been the end of it, had Republican lawmakers not stirred things up. First Reps. Buck McKeon (Calif.), Rob Bishop (Utah) and Mike Turner (Ohio) came out waving signs saying “KILL THE BILL.” The crowd went wild. Reps. Mary Fallin (Okla.), Geoff Davis (Ky.) and Bill Posey (Fla.) held the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and Rep. Pete Sessions (Tex.), head of the House Republicans’ 2010 campaign committee, came out with half a dozen colleagues and more kill-the-bill signs. Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.) dangled an American flag from the balcony.

“That’s kind of fun,” Fallin said cheerfully after a turn at riling the crowd with signs saying “No” in red letters.

Praising the perpetrators, and egging them on with more violent rhetoric.

“I just came down here,” said King, “so I could say to you, God bless you.”

“God bless you!” shouted one activist.

“We’re here whenever you need us!” said another activist, patting King on the back.

“You are the awesome American people,” said King. “If I could start a country with a bunch of people, they’d be the folks who were standing with us the last few days. Let’s hope we don’t have to do that! Let’s beat that other side to a pulp! Let’s chase them down. There’s going to be a reckoning!” One by one, the people gathered outside the Capitol, who’d spent the day cheering and singing whenever Republicans appeared and egged them on, came to the realization that they’d been beaten in this round. They’d have to redouble their efforts.

Blaming the victims.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) angrily lashed out at Democratic leaders for their handling of reported threats against members of Congress Thursday, accusing them of “dangerously fanning the flames” by blaming the GOP and confiding that he has also been the recipient of threats.Then he contrasted his own actions with those of Democrats who have been harassed:

…”I’ve received threats since I assumed elected office, not only because of my position but also because I’m Jewish. I’ve never blamed anyone in this body for that, period. Any suggestion that a leader in this body would incite threats or acts against other members is akin to saying that I would endanger myself, my wife or my children. Just recently I have been directly threatened. A bullet was shot through the window of my campaign office in Richmond this week, and I’ve received threatening e-mails. But I will not release them, because I believe such actions will only encourage more to be sent,” he said.

Cantor provided no further details about the shooting during his press event. The Richmond Police Department said in a press release Thursday that it “is investigating an act of vandalism at the Reagan Building, 25 E. Main St., Richmond, Virginia. A first floor window was struck by a bullet at approximately 1 a.m. on Tuesday, March 23. The building, which has several tenants including an office used by Congressman Eric Cantor, was unoccupied at the time. A preliminary investigation shows that a bullet was fired into the air and struck the window in a downward direction, landing on the floor about a foot from the window. The round struck with enough force to break the windowpane but did not penetrate the window blinds. There was no other damage to the room, which is used occasionally for meetings by the congressman.”

Suggesting that they were “asking for it.”

At a press conference in Atlanta on Thursday, former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich said he was happy to condemn the use of personal threats rising out of the health care debate, but added that Democrats must bear some of the responsibility.

Said Gingrich:

“Just as there was no place for the kind of viciousness against Bush and Cheney, there’s no place for viciousness against Democrats.

“I would condemn any kind of activity that involves that kind of personal threat.

“But look, I think there’s something very disingenuous about the Democratic leaders who attacked the tea party movement, who refused to hold town hall meetings, who refused to go back home, who kept the Congress locked up in Washington, and are now shocked that people are angry.

“I think the Democratic leadership has to take some moral responsibility for having behaved with such arrogance, in such a hostile way, that the American people are deeply upset. So let’s be honest with this. This is a game that they’re playing.

“People should not engage in personal threats. I’m happy to condemn any effort to engage in personal threats. But I think the Democratic leadership has to take some real responsibility for having run a machine that used corrupt tactics, that bought votes, that bullied people, and as a result has enraged much of the American people.”

And finally suggesting that it’s all a hoax by “liberal plants,” thus making the GOP and tea party the “true” victims.

Even as any decent-minded Libertarian or conservative would surely condemn such remarks, some anti-liberals were claiming at least some of these stories didn’t pass the smell test.

“If anyone screamed those words, it was Democrat plants!” yelped one commenter on a Yahoo! message board.

“Liberals days are numbered and they are in a desperate panic! Democrats’ hate never ends, they have so much evil in their hearts these neanderthals WILL BE STOPPED IN NOVEMBER.”

Hmmm. That message is so obtuse, I can’t help but wonder if it was penned by a liberal pretending to be an ultra-conservative wingnut conspiracy theorist.

…Other comments below various stories on the ugliness of the weekend:

“I am willing to bet this was a liberal posing as a tea party protester. In fact, I am sure of it.”

“Probably graduates of the Sal Alinsky school did this to make conservatives look bad. It’s been done before.”

“Liberals have finally found an effective tactic. Plant someone in the crowd to shout racist slurs and behave like a liberal.”

Yes, because liberals are known for their racist slurs. Huh?

What, in the end, does the evidence support? Are the acts of vandalism and threats of violence against Democratic members of Congress, due to “liberal plants,” or the teabagger’s own sentiments and the fiery, apocalyptic rhetoric of Republican leadership. Well, it’s impossible to know, unless the individuals responsible for the slurs, spitting, threats and vandalism identify themselves. That at least one incident is connect to a tea party activist posting what he thought was a congressman’s address is pretty clear. That the other incidents follow a vote that was the focus of the protest where members of Congress were met with racial and homophobic epithets is a matter of looking at the timeline.

Extend the timeline out further, and it’s going to encompass the much of the rhetoric heard from right wing media, Republican lawmakers, and tea party activists from the presidential campaign through to the health care reform vote. It’s difficult to point out a causal relationship. That would require evidence that one party told another to go commit an act of violence, harassment or vandalism, and that the other party carried out that act. Thus far, there’s nothing like that. Even addresses posted online don’t include such directions.

Determining a positive correlational relationship — based on increasingly angry and intense anger on the right (with some GOP officials apparently encouraging and taking part in the heightened, even increasingly violent rhetoric) and the sudden increase in threats a vandalism against Democratic health care reform supporters (with some GOP leadership, up to and including the NRCC, either justifying, deflecting, or excusing these actions) — is a bit easier.

Finallly, a strong link between Republicans and teabaggers is suggested not only by the words and actions of GOP leadership and their participation in tea party events, but also by teabaggers themselves. A recent poll suggests that most tea party members consider themselves Republicans, or at least Republican-leaning independents.

Almost three quarters of those who identified themselves as part of the tea party movement – 74 percent – also identified themselves as Republicans or independents who lean Republican, according to the poll. Only 16 percent of tea partiers said they are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.

And 60 percent of voters who identify themselves as members of the tea party movement have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared to only 20 percent who view the GOP unfavorably.

Put another way, more than one fifth – 21 percent – of those who described themselves as Republicans said they also considered themselves part of the tea party movement, compared to 15 percent of independents and 5 percent of Democrats.

The poll was based on interviews with 1,900 voters. Thirteen percent responded yes to the question: “Do you consider yourself part of the tea party movement?” – a percentage roughly equal to the size of the African-American electorate.

That the GOP seems to rely more and more upon, and play more and more to the teabaggers, presents a twofold danger for the party that requires it to walk a well-greased tightrope and maintain enough balance to get to the other side.

On one hand, Republican must keep the tea party activists happy enough with them to prevent the teabaggers from forming a third party and running candidates against them. That would be bad for Republicans, since they poll lower that the tea party these days. Meanwhile, relations between the two wings of American conservatism are already strained, with teabaggers growing dissatisfied with the party that oversaw the growth of government and the deficit in the previous administration.

On the other hand, keeping the teabaggers in the fold must mean to some degree ignoring or excusing the vitriol that seems to emanate from some tea party activists. That’s dangerous for Republicans, because it seems impossible to tone down that rhetoric, and because it alienates most of the rest of us.

Republican leaders have distanced themselves from the tea party activists who hurled racist and homophobic invective at lawmakers during the health care debate over the weekend. But the images could still hurt the GOP because it has courted the outraged conservatives of the loose tea party movement.

“It’s very dangerous for the Republicans to be associated with hate rhetoric,” Jane Elmes-Crahall, a professor at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania and an expert on political rhetoric, told AOL News. If political debate stays so heated, it will have a boomerang effect, driving people who see themselves as moderates away from the “us versus them” choice that conservatives have presented, she said. “It will turn on Republicans.”

…David Gergen, a professor of public service at Harvard and director of the Center for Public Leadership, said the Republicans have a strong interest in clamping down on episodes that offend Americans. The outbursts this past weekend overshadowed what had been an effective message of opposition to a health care bill many people dislike.

…But Gergen said the messages from the tea party and GOP could end up diverging over health care reform, which the activists want repealed. Republicans, he said, need to tell the public what they would replace it with so they don’t come off as opposing the new health benefits for Americans, such as allowing young adults to extend coverage under their parents’ insurance plans.

“If this becomes a fight between the tea party and Republicans, the Democrats will be happy to hold their coats and just watch,” Gergen said.

Gergen may be right, but America is already watching and beginning to see a Republican leadership that David Frum aptly described as trapped by the most radical voices in their party. We see a party beholden to an increasingly belligerent faction that — despite being a minority of the population — identify themselves and their beliefs as representative of the majority.

Teabaggers are fond of punctuating their opinions with “the people have spoken,” and carrying placards declaring themselves “We the people,” or “Bring back we the people.”

Watching this spectacle, many of us ask “What do you mean we?”, because it’s apparent that the tea party’s — and thus the GOP’s — idea of “We the people,” probably doesn’t include most of the rest of us. Which brings up another question. Who made them “the people”?

The GOP, ultimately, has to decide whom they can afford to alienate, and whom they can’t

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