Health care protesters are an unruly lot. They’ve broken windows. They’ve sent threatening letters to congressmen. They’ve called representatives bad names and spat at them. By the standards of American politics, this is small potatoes, and like everything else, it too shall pass.
Democrats, eyeing the 2010 midterms and eager to portray the Republican party as an atavistic throwback to the 1960’s, are now trying to spin a case that recent unrest is not the random stirrings of the occasional angry guy, but instead purposely incited by Republican leadership. Nevermind that the GOP has publicly denounced what few outbursts of racism, homophobia, or violence that there have been — when a conservative gives a speech that urges his party to contest “battleground” states, we should all read into the subtextual clue he is sending to commit violence against liberals.
This charge is absurd, and what’s more, is patently hypocritical. Republicans are merely rallying their base and tapping into the sea of discontent that liberals have brought upon themselves. Most of the Republican language that has been cited by Democrats as inflammatory is simply run of the mill metaphor of politics as war, and certainly no worse than the charges hurled by liberals at the previous president.
When liberals said that George W. Bush stole the 2000 election, were they merely being outspoken in their belief that the Supreme Court interpreted the law incorrectly, or were they urging on a patriotic counter-coup to seize back the country by whatever means necessary? When they said that he was a war criminal, were they using hyperbolic language to challenge his foreign policy, or were they calling for him to be tried and executed? When they compared him to a chimpanzee, were they being humorous in their criticism, or were they being racist? Throughout the eight years of the Bush Presidency, even a casual follower of politics can find language and acts more extreme than those being taken by some protesters today. Hell, a casual observer of Obama’s current Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, could find antics as embarrassing as what we are now seeing.
Perhaps Bill Clinton said it best when he commented on the 1992 Los Angeles riots that killed 53 people and injured thousands of others. In the run up to the riots, plenty of leaders on the left had expressed outrage and stirred up their followers. Afterward, few were willing to go so far as to condone the violence, but neither did they condemn it too strenuously either. Then candidate for president, Clinton captured the logic perfectly: The rioters couldn’t be blamed. Their rioting was the natural result of being poor, unemployed, and downtrodden — and wasn’t it Republican policies that made them so? Should the blame fall on the leaders that stood up and represented them, or should it fall on those who placed them in their situation?
Or perhaps it was Barack Obama who said it best, when he commented on the racism of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. He denounced the pastor’s speech in no uncertain terms. And yet, he could not disown him or others like him, saying, “These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.” Their anger was not to be embraced, he explained, but to ignore their anger would be to ignore its root causes, and if we did that we would never unravel it.
If angry people are symptomatic of legitimate problems, and it is more productive to address those problems than to mute angry people, then what exactly is the Democratic complaint with today’s strain of angry folk? Why should it be the case that Democratic anger must be dealt with by an appeal to its root causes, but Republican anger must be false, manufactured, and unworthy of anything but contempt?
Outraged people have a right to express themselves. Of course we should condemn violence and calls to violence, but broadly muzzling political speech on the speculative basis that it might lead to violence is contrary to our democratic values. Besides, we are nowhere near that point — the worst example of Republican politicians urging violence that Democrats have been able to muster is an Arizona blogger who called upon his readers to break windows and run away. The melodramatic claims that Republican politicking is destroying the fabric of our nation is nothing more than the prattle of egoists with hurt feelings, wishing that others loved them as much as they love themselves.