As most readers here know, I am a vigorous supporter of the recently passed health care law and President Obama’s agenda in general. I have a very low opinion of the Tea Party Movement and conservative Republicanism in general. That said, I have to wonder if the charges of violent threats and intimidation are all they are cracked up to be. More importantly, how organized are these threats (if they are real) and how much responsibility do GOP leaders actually hold for them?
This morning the latest story centered on a coffin placed in front of Missouri Congressman Russ Carnahan’s home. The original reporting suggested that this was another death threat, implying that Carnahan himself would be fated for the coffin. But after reading the detailed account from the ultra-conservative activist who placed the coffin there it’s obvious that the coffin signified the supposed babies to be killed with government-funded abortions – and the elderly to be soylent greened by the great Death Panels. In other words, it was nothing more than typical anti-abortion theatrics coupled with Palinite paranoia about snuffing out grandma – not an actual threat to a Congressman.
This isn’t to defend bricks thrown through windows or nooses sent on faxes. It’s just to say that a lot of this is political theater and nothing more. What’s more, the actual violent threats, including cutting gas lines to the BROTHER of a Congressman’s home, were so hamfisted as to expose the culprits for the idiots that they are.
But let’s see this for the propaganda war that it is. Anti-reform protesters are trying to “send a message” that will garner news attention. And supporters of reform are highlighting the more egregious acts of protest to discredit the seriousness of the opposition. This sounds like much of American politics since, say, the 1960s. It’s a war of images.
Frankly, I don’t begrudge either side here. Those opposed to reform SHOULD make their voices known. And when they step over some supposed line of civility, supporters of reform SHOULD call them out for it.
As long as nobody gets hurt, of course. If we end up with another Timothy McVeigh then the opposition really will pay a deep and deserved price. But contrary to some of my liberal brethren I don’t see anything more than empty rhetoric from lunatics like Michelle Bachmann or Steve King – and reciprocated breathless charges from the Tea Party right of the death of America.
Let’s remember that American democracy has always had a violent component to it. And the violence quite often – though not always – backfires. Nothing helped the fortunes of the anti-slavery Republican Party in 1856 more than the caning of Senator Charles Sumner. The Massachusetts abolitionist Senator was loathed by many in the North as a self-righteous, imperious radical – think of views of Barney Frank or some other high-profile politician on the Left. But when he was caned to near-death in the well of the US Senate Charles Sumner became a martyr and the Republican Party effectively captured Northern public opinion. Meanwhile, South Carolinian Preston Brooks was rewarded with new canes.
I don’t foresee Jim Demint bashing, say, Dick Durbin with a cane. Nor do I envision any serious violence between Tea Party protesters and militant supporters of health care – at least nothing beyond minor scuffling and shoving. Compared to the sort of violence that regularly attended heated mass meetings in the past, these protests today are mild.
So count me out among those supporters of health care willing to enjoin this propaganda effort to discredit these opponents. It’s the ideas and the rhetoric that make the Tea Party right so offensive, not the actions. They are a citizen’s group – albeit a misguided one in my opinion – but they haven’t crossed any line that, say, anti-war progressives ever crossed (and I don’t think they crossed any lines either). Barring an actual and serious act of violence the whining about threats is little more than a theatrical rejoinder to the comically overheated rhetoric about “communism” from the Tea Party right. If Dems think it does them good to highlight these threats so as to discredit the Tea Partiers then fine – if they can get away with it. This is a post-modern world and those who manipulate public opinion most effectively win in the end. But on this score I won’t be participating. Maybe I just find the theatrics of the health care debate too entertaining. Or maybe I just see democracy as impossible without its rough edges.