The wages of fear

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It's 2010, and America has finally started dragging itself into the 20th century's world of social responsibility. We have a health-care reform bill, and that's a thing to celebrated. Meanwhile, as you will have heard, a few opponents of progress are doing their best to drag us back to the worst parts of the 19th century*, as in these incidents (as reported in the New York Times) against House members who voted for the reform bill:

At least two Congressional district offices were vandalized and Representative Louise M. Slaughter, a senior Democrat from New York, received a phone message threatening sniper attacks against lawmakers and their families.

Ms. Slaughter also reported that a brick was thrown through a window of her office in Niagara Falls, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, said Monday that her Tucson office was vandalized after the vote.

The Associated Press reported that the authorities in Virginia were investigating a cut propane line to an outdoor grill at the home of a brother of Representative Tom Perriello of Virginia, after the address was mistakenly listed on a Tea Party Web site as the residence of the congressman. Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan and a central figure in the measure's abortion provisions, reported receiving threatening phone calls.

Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking black lawmaker in the House, said he received an anonymous fax showing the image of a noose....

The reports of threats, coming after a tense weekend when protesters hurled racial and homophobic slurs at Democrats and spit on one congressman, left many Democrats shaken.  [full article]

I don't imagine that most Republicans condone the behavior exhibited in these incidents. But the Republican Party is responsible for it. As I've said before, their constant hammering on the idea that Obama's health-care reform equals socialism was a campaign designed to bypass rational thought and strike directly at the fear centers of their constituents. America has such a collective misunderstanding of socialism that the word is heard as "communism" or even "nazism." Calling something socialism in America is akin to calling patriots to arms. And the GOP did this deliberately.

So when John Boehner says that "violence and threats are unacceptable," I have a hard time taking him seriously. Without the constant patronizing GOP appeal to fear, there would likely not now be people so terrified that we're on the road to totalitarianism that they'd be faxing nooses to congresspeople.

You reap what you sow, Mr. Boehner. You want the violence and the threats to stop? Then stop using the language of fear. Stop appealing to the lowest common denominator. Rely on rational argument to make your point. If your point is valid, that ought to be sufficient. If not, then you're only in politics for the power, and not for the people.

* Okay, so I'm giving the 19th century a bad rap for rhetorical reasons. In truth, of course, crap like lynchings never stopped in the 20th century, which was probably a worse era for crimes against humanity. And in 19th century America we had the amazing spectacle of Christians and atheists working together to strengthen the wall of separation between church and state. So in some ways the 19th century was a more progressive time in the U.S. than most of the 21st century so far. Just goes to show how far rhetoric won't take you.

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on March 25, 2010 10:45 AM.

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