Where do you draw the line between the right of voters to vent their anger at public officials whose policies they oppose and actual violence? The answer is pretty obvious: at the point where verbal abuse turns to action that puts the safety of the officials in danger.
That line was crossed earlier this month when a Tennessee woman began chasing Representative David Kustoff as he drove away from an appearance. Fearing for his safety as the woman tried to force his car off the road, the GOP congressman pulled off and was then confronted by 35-year-old Wendi Wright, who struck his vehicle and then reached into a window, all the while expressing her anger about his vote on the Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill. She was ultimately charged with felony reckless endangerment but only after she had bragged on Facebook about running Kustoff to ground and giving him a piece of her mind.
This is yet another reminder of the iron rules of politics: There is no such thing as a permanent victory, and tactics that work for one party can serve its rivals when, as it always does, the worm turns. As members of the GOP House and Senate caucuses get roasted at town halls because of Obamacare or their failure to support a special prosecutor to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians in 2016, liberals have a right to some schadenfreude. They were given the same treatment in 2009 and 2010 as the Tea Party movement gathered momentum because of anger over President Obama’s stimulus bill and the passage of Obamacare.
But the accusations being thrown at conservatives only go so far. The same liberal media that are happily celebrating expressions of anger from the Democratic grassroots thought there was something sinister when the same tactics were employed by the Tea Party.
Since that argument had no basis in fact, liberals had to manufacture evidence, and that’s exactly what they did when Representative Gabby Giffords was shot and badly wounded by a deranged person in January 2011. The immediate reaction went beyond horror at a crime that also took the lives of six persons. The assumption was that the shooter was a conservative who had been inspired by Tea Party rhetoric and an election map on Sarah Palin’s website, where Gifford’s district was depicted as being in the crosshairs of opponents. As it turned out, Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old perpetrator, was unstable and had no political ties or inspiration. But the prevailing narrative, reinforced by President Obama’s speech at the memorial for the victims, still asserted that political activism had crossed the line into incitement and actual violence. Too much anger has consequences and, we were told, those who value democracy need to keep their emotions and their rhetoric in check.
If it was appropriate for Obama to declare that there should be limits to political rhetoric in 2011, perhaps Democrats ought to hear the same sermon now.
The Giffords shooting wasn’t the first time Democrats played that card. In 1995, President Clinton blamed the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building on conservative talk radio, even though the attackers were radical militia members who had no use for Rush Limbaugh and other Clinton critics.
So it’s interesting to note that now that the shoe is on the other foot, no one in the media has attempted to connect the dots between liberal anger and what happened to Kustoff. But if it was appropriate for Obama to declare that there should be limits to political rhetoric in 2011, perhaps Democrats ought to hear the same sermon now.
Calling Democrats who voted for Obama’s stimulus and the Affordable Care Act socialist thieves who were robbing the taxpayers was harsh. But it’s pretty tame compared with the current effort of liberals to demonize those who wish to repeal and replace Obamacare, portraying them as literally seeking to kill Americans who might be negatively affected by the changes the House bill will create if it becomes law. If you call Republicans murderers, why would you be surprised when some aggrieved Democrats or critics of the GOP bill think that Republicans should be treated like killers?
Imagine if some tea-partier had run a Democratic senator of member of the House off the road? Rather than being relegated to a news brief, if it were mentioned at all, the incident would have been front-page news. Every Republican officeholder would have been compelled by media interrogators to denounce violent rhetoric and to prove that he wasn’t guilty of incitement. But Democrats haven’t been so much as questioned whether talk about hardhearted Republicans killing sick Americans played even a small part in what happened to Kustoff.
So while Democrats have every right to enjoy the Republicans’ town-hall problems, they and their press allies also need to own up to the double standard by which the two protest movements have been portrayed in the media. So long as it is Democrats who are being attacked, conservatives will be blamed even for the actions of apolitical lunatics. But when Republicans are endangered, liberals yawn.
— Jonathan S. Tobin is the opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review.