In the circus surrounding the Tea Party reaction to the health insurance reform bill, Republican Congressman Eric Cantor is stepping in as a ringmaster.
In the midst of death threats against nearly a dozen Democrats who voted for the bill, Cantor is blaming the victims, saying they are using these threats as political fodder. Cantor, the Republican Whip, claims that his campaign office was shot at and that he has gotten threatening e-mails himself, with the implied message to his opponents: “man up and ignore it.”
However, a casket was left on one Democratic Congressman’s lawn. A Democratic Congresswoman was told her children would be “assassinated.” A gas line was mistakenly cut at a house owned by one Democratic Congressman’s brother – I say mistakenly, because the people who did it thought it was the Congressman’s house.
The people making these threats are mentally disturbed; they have to be. But they are being encouraged by the Republicans’ take-no-prisoners battle against health insurance reform, a battle that has led to hyperbole by party leaders, including House Minority Leader John Boehner’s assertion that one Democrat in particular would be a “dead man” if he stepped back inside his district.
And Sarah Palin’s Facebook page (!) uses gun sights to mark the Democratic members of Congress she thinks should be targeted this fall.
One of the most bizarre things about this whole turmoil is that the health care legislation is a collection of conservative provisions that, in the past, Republicans would likely have embraced. In fact, according the Democratic Whip James Clyburn, the legislation is nearly identical to a counter-proposal that former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan) pushed in opposition to President Clinton’s failed attempt at universal health care back in the 1990s.
The distortions the Republicans have made about this legislation throughout this process have led to this frightening atmosphere. They have spread fear about this legislation, rather than helping craft the legislation. They preyed on the fears of the sick and elderly by falsely alleging the bill would create “death panels” that would “kill grandma.” They charged that it would socialize medicine, when it did exactly the opposite.
Worse, they excited the already agitated fringe of the pro-life movement (a fringe agitated enough in the past to kill doctors outside clinics) that this legislation will lead to federal funding of abortion, when there is no language in the bill suggesting this possibility.
Perhaps it is Cantor, and his leader, Rep. John Boehner, who need to “man-up” and back off the incendiary rhetoric stirring up this fringe element. So far, their strategy seems to be taking two steps away from these lunatics and one step back towards them as they try to harness the hatred being spewed to power their party’s electoral prospects this fall.
There’s a poorly disguised wink-and-a-nudge as they mouth the words about abhorring violence. If they don’t make a more convincing effort to calm the waters, we fear that the nation may witness the type of hatred-fueled violence we endured in the 1960s.