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Posted by on May 20, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

GOP Rhetoric Veers Dangerously Towards Extremism

Over the past 48 hours key GOP Senators’ rhetoric has sunk to new lows — bordering on an extremism that conservatives in the past (rightly) condemned when coming from Democrats.

To say it’s loaded verbiage is an understatement. The question is whether it’s simply the unthinking new political style to use verbal atomic bombs as you march towards triggering “the nuclear option” on judicial filibusters or part of a short-sighted effort to inflame passions to the point where there’s a real danger that less mentally stable supporters could even be moved to violence.

Are we exaggering? No. First there was Senator Bill Frist, as the Raw Story reported:

On the same day that a federal judge whose family was assassinated testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about courthouse safety, Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) described Democratic efforts opposing some of President Bush’s judicial nominees as “leadership-led use of Cloture vote to kill, to defeat, to assassinate these nominees.�

Federal Judge Joan Lefkow was a target for assassination, and her husband and mother were murdered in February of this year. Democratic Whip Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) hammered Frist’s comments and asked they be struck from the Senate record.

Durbin remarked, “When words are expressed during the court of the debate that those of us who oppose these nominees are setting out to ‘kill, to defeat or to assassinate these nominees, those words should be taken from this record. Those words go too far.”


Senator Frist, please answer this question coming from someone who does not belong to EITHER political party…someone who is the kind of “swing voter” your party presumably would like to win over:

When did opposing a nominee for a judgeship or ANY postion become equivilent to “killing” or “assassinating” them? By your definition, then, every time we have an election and anyone dares run against an incumbent or any nominee they are out to “assassinate” them.

It is not against the laws of a democracy for people to oppose ANY nominee. It is not illegal or immoral. In fact, it is PATRIOTIC to put candidates and nominees to the test via spirited debate.

Senator Frist: don’t you think your kind of language inflames passions so a mentally unhinged follower of yours might consider it life and death for X nominee to get in — and therefore consider those who are exercising their democratic RIGHT to vigorously oppose as part of our DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM somehow threats to the country?

Senator Frist: haven’t you by your comments dishonored all of those who held your position before you, including Senator Trent Lott?

And then there are the reprehensible comments of Senator Rick Santorum, who compared the Democrats to Adolph Hitler, saying they had the “audacity” to claim the GOPers were trying to break the filibuster rule:

“It’s the equivelent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying, `I’m in Paris. How dare you invade me? How dare you bomb my city? It’s mine.'”

Knight-Ridder Newspapers notes:

The reference to Hitler recalled a Byrd speech in March comparing Frist’s “nuclear option” to Hitler muscling his program through the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament, in 1933. Byrd’s comparison spurred an outcry from conservatives as below the belt.

A few things on that:

  • GOPers have long decried — in verbal comments and various written pieces — the use by Democrats of suggestions that Republicans in any way are akin to Nazis. They have argued that Republicans don’t compare Democrats to Nazis. Santorum has, with a grand sweep of his Grand Canyon-esque mouth, now undermined that argument forever. Sean, Rush, and Michael: you can’t rant on about the Democrats comparing GOPers to Nazis anymore.
  • Santorum is in some ways becoming the GOP equivilent of Democratic leader Harry Reid: he’s becoming king of the foot-in-mouth sound byte that cheers on partisans but turns off non-partisans.

What’s most troubling about the GOP’s rhetoric is that it’s going way beyond sound bytes, cutesy references to popular culture, or even talk show rants. It’s now veering off into dangerous verbal extremism making their Senate delegation seem like one of the most polarizing ever in American history.

Perhaps the only equivilent would be the angry resistance during the early and mid 60s by Southern Democrats to LBJ’s attempts to pass civil rights legislation.

Can we remind Mr. Frist and Mr. Santorum of a few things?

To oppose, Mr. Frist, is not to assassinate.

To say the GOP is trying to end the filibuster rule, Mr. Santorum, is not an echo of Adolph Hitler.

Both of you need to read your history books — and perhaps re-read your constitution.

UPDATE: Santorum uninserts foot from mouth:

Sen. Rick Santorum says he “meant no offense” by referring to Adolf Hitler while defending the GOP’s right to ban judicial filibusters as Senate leaders prepared to start a countdown Friday to a vote over whether to stop minority senators from blocking President Bush’s judicial nominees.

“Referencing Hitler was meant to dramatize the principle of an argument, not to characterize my Democratic colleagues,” Santorum, the No. 3 Republican in the GOP leadership in the Senate, said of his remarks Thursday.

Now if Frist can acknowledge that opposing a person in American public life is not trying to “assassinate” them, it’ll be a good day for American politics. But don’t hold your breath waiting for Frist.