In Politico's "The Arena" on March 26th, the site asked: "Do Democrats have legitimate gripes about GOP rhetoric they claim is 'fanning the flames' of anger?"
Politico's question was unfortunately couched in a "how will this play politically" frame. Instead, the website should give much more weight to how such inflammatory rhetoric can lead to violence. What's troubling is the inability of most pundits to take seriously the violent statements from right-wing organizations, hate radio, and sadly, the leadership of the Republican Party in response to the health care reform bill.
These coded and direct threats are a direct assault on the very definition of the rule of law. The message being sent is that violence is the corrective action versus using a democratic and political process.
Luckily, thoughtful commentators such as Sherrilyn Ifill, a professor of law at the University of Maryland School of Law, and a civil rights lawyer, call it what it is:
Let’s dispense with the false Republican/Democrat symmetry that has become the only lens through which we view events in Washington.
There is no symmetry here.
The rhetoric of Republican leaders – replete with hunting metaphors, cross-hair icons, and other veiled references to violence – whether perpetrated by Sarah Palin, Michael Steele or Republicans in Congress – cannot be compared with Democratic leadership, even during the dark days of George W. Bush, when there was a real assault on the Constitution in the name of national security (as the Supreme Court later confirmed in several cases).
Code Pink and Cindy Sheehan did not walk around at rallies brandishing rifles, nor did anti-war and anti-Bush activists carry signs that suggested that a gun could solve the problems that politics cannot.
Nor did they wear T-shirts quoting the language used as a call to action by Timothy McVeigh and other violent groups. I know of no instance in which members of Congress who supported the Patriot Act were spat upon by leftist visitors to the Capitol.
The history of right-wing violence in this country over the last 50 years cannot be denied.
Yes, there’s been some violence on the left. But most Americans had never heard of the Weather Underground until the Bill Ayers flap during Obama’s campaign. But we all know the names James Earl Ray, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph. And we know many of the victims – from civil rights activists to doctors who provide abortions. There’s a reason for that -- and it’s not because of liberal media bias.
There has been a long and disturbing history of right-wing violence in this country.
Both Republicans and Democrats know this history. Republicans and Democrats should stand together and denounce any explicit or implicit calls to violence. That some Republican leaders are irresponsibly ignoring this reality, and through their rhetoric fanning the flames of outrage among their most zealous and potentially dangerous supporters, is beyond shocking.
And when we decide that this is simply another matter in which we seek to balance the scales between Republicans and Democrats, we ignore the growing threat to the stability of our country and the safety of our leaders. On this we should be united.