When a deranged gunman shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 20 others in January, partisan Democrats leaped at the chance to blame Republican rhetoric for the crime. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman was among the first, warning, “You know that Republicans will yell about the evils of partisanship whenever anyone tries to make a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, et al. and the violence I fear we’re going to see in the months and years ahead. But violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate. And it’s long past time for the GOP’s leaders to take a stand against the hate-mongers.”
Krugman was just the (excuse the expression) opening salvo. The sanctimonious hand-wringing that followed from NPR programs, liberal editorial writers, and cable chat shows was continuous. All use of war metaphors was declared out of bounds. There was to be no more talk of primary fights or battleground states or targeted districts or shots across the bow. Perhaps even the word “campaign” was too tainted.
Markos Moulitsas, Keith Olbermann, and other usual suspects rushed to blame Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement — thereby displaying incivility in the guise of condemning it. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois suggested that comments such as Palin’s trope, “Don’t retreat; reload,” were responsible for Jared Loughner’s brutal mass attack. “These sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in the United Arab Emirates at the time of the attack said: “We have extremists in my country. A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman Congress member, Congresswoman Giffords, was just shot by an extremist in our country.”
President Obama didn’t go as far as many in his party. Instead, he adopted a pose of wounded worry, noting in his Tucson speech that our “discourse has become so sharply polarized” and wondering whether we could “pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that — that heals, not in a way that wounds.” Later, the president called upon all Americans to “be civil because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.”
Within days of the “national conversation” provoked by the Tucson violence, union demonstrators were drawing Hitler moustaches on pictures of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and describing his supporters as “pigs.” The civility crowd was unmoved.
It’s easy to decry incivility on the part of your opponents — much harder to call out those on your own side. Peter Wehner, a former Bush administration official and respected conservative commentator, has been critical of Herman Cain (for his comments about Muslims) and of Tea Party Nation CEO Judson Phillips (for describing liberalism as a philosophy responsible for a billion deaths), among others. It’s harder to cite examples of liberals policing their own ranks. Barbara Walters condemned those who rushed to blame Sarah Palin for the Giffords shooting. But no other examples spring to mind.
Here’s a new opportunity. If the Democrats meant even one word of what they said in January about civil discourse, then they can loudly and unequivocally condemn the following:
Rep. Maxine Waters has invited the Tea Party “to go to Hell.” Fellow Black Caucus member Rep. Andre Carson recently said, “Some of these folks in Congress right now would love to see us as second-class citizens. . . . This Tea Party movement would love to see you and me . . . hanging on a tree.”
Vice President Biden described the AFL-CIO as the “only thing keeping the barbarians from the gates.”
Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa topped them all. Warming up the crowd for an Obama speech, he said, “We got to keep an eye on the battle that we face: The war on workers. And you see it everywhere, it is the Tea Party. And you know, there is only one way to beat and win that war. The one thing about working people is we like a good fight. And you know what? They’ve got a war, they got a war with us and there’s only going to be one winner. It’s going to be the workers of Michigan, and America. We’re going to win that war. President Obama: This is your army. We are ready to march. Let’s take these son of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.”
President Obama, are those the kind of “healing” words you had in mind?
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2011 Creators Syndicate, Inc.