Okay, so let’s get this out of the way first: no one at Pajamas Media is advocating violence. I wrote the “dek” — that long subheading each of our PJM pieces uses — for Roger Simon’s open letter to Steny Hoyer. I think it summarizes his position, and certainly does mine:
I unequivocally condemn those threats and any possible acts of violence taken in response to the bill. I also unequivocally condemn the actions of the Democratic Party in running roughshod over the clear will of the American people. You have reaped a whirlwind by subverting a democracy.
So let’s be clear: Roger was not in fact suggesting that a tornado should hit Steny Hoyer, and neither am I.
Let’s refer to this old quote, often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson, and very popular until November 2008:
When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.
Now, yesterday’s big deal was the death threat about which Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) was so exercised:
Millions of people wish you ill.
Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, and other paradigmatic left-side blogs are collapsing in waves of maidenly vapors over this. Of course, no one likes getting called “a piece of human sh*t” by an anonymous caller, but then you should see some of the comments at PJM that never make it out of our comments queue. Still, clearly this is out of line, much worse than, say:
I want to spit on them, take one of their “Obama Plan White Slavery” signs and knock every racist and homophobic tooth out of their Cro-Magnon heads.
That’s Courtland Milloy in the Washington Post on March 24, 2010.
And naturally, no one likes to hear, as Rep. Stupak purportedly did:
Congressman Stupak, you baby-killing motherf—er. … I hope you bleed out your a–, got cancer and die, you motherf—er.
This is, of course, much worse than Sean Penn’s recent gentility:
“Do I hope that those people die screaming of rectal cancer?” he continued. “Yeah.”
This could continue — mobs trashing campaign offices, death threats on signs, popular novels and movies about assassinating the president, radio messages using gunshot sound effects to threaten the president — almost endlessly, but I’ll spare you. Besides, all those were threats or attacks against Bush or Republicans.
There’s a fallacy of rhetoric called the tu quoque — in other words, “you did it too.” The point isn’t to make this a tu quoque, but to point out that the threats we’re talking about, toward the congresspeople and others, are actually pretty mild.
The furor is not.
As is not uncommon, Victor David Hanson had something insightful to say:
So here we are with the age-old problem that once one destroys decorum for the sake of short-term expediency, it is very hard to restore it in any credible fashion on grounds of principle when the proverbial shoe is on the other foot. A modest suggestion: If the liberal community wishes to be more credible in its concern about contemporary extremist anti-administration rhetoric, then they might try the following: “Please, let us avoid extremism and do not fall into the same trap as Baker, Chait, Keillor, Gore, Moore, or Rangel when they either expressed open hatred toward their president, or speculated about the assassination of their president, or compared their president to a fascist. We must disown such extremism, past and present.”
Frankly, the fuss about “death threats” that Hoyer, and Stupak, and Talking Points Memo were all indulging isn’t real fear or real threats. It’s political theater, and poor theater at that.
But what follows today? We’re seeing more excitement. Rep Eric Cantor (R-VA) has a district office shot up; Rep Anthony Weiner (D-NY) got another famous package of white powder. (Speaking of theater, could we stop panicking over white powder? We haven’t seen weaponized anthrax in eight years, and we’re at the point when any idiot with a box of baking soda and a first-class stamp can make the national news and empty an office for the day.)
Well, here’s a thought. There are some nuts out there, we know that. Republicans were getting death threats last month, and there have been actual murder attempts as happened in Tampa last year.
Do you suppose using these calls, with all the political theater and the frankly manufactured outrage that somehow ignored Sean Penn and Courtland Milloy, but focuses on an anonymous voice wishing Bart Stupak ill, might be encouraging the nuts? Might just possibly be raising the excitement to a point where the nuts feel like the only way to protect their side of the fight is to act violently?
Real threats, of real violence, certainly can’t be tolerated. But calling national press conferences to take advantage of what were, after all, pretty normal nasty phone calls, for purposes of political theater, doesn’t improve the situation. Instead, it exaggerates, it exacerbates, and increase the risk to everyone.