Yesterday, about an hour before I boarded my plane from Las Vegas to DC, I received a breaking report about the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) at a public event held at a supermarket in her district. As we are now all aware, six others were killed in this massacre, including a nine year-old girl and a federal judge.
It so happened that my plane was packed to the gills with members of the DC policy apparatus, including staffers of the U.S. House of Representatives. A 32 year-old Giffords aide was among those killed in the incident, which brings the tragedy close to home for those of us working in Washington. The attack made me sick to my stomach: this is not an abstraction, it’s part of our shared reality.
My reaction was angry and swift. Given Giffords’ recent history with the so-called Tea Party, I, like many others, drew an immediate connection between the violence and the modern conservative movement’s penchant for threatening rhetoric. By now, observers will have become (re)acquainted with Sarah Palin‘s “crosshairs map,” which placed a rifle target next to Giffords’ name.
Then there’s the ad placed by her defeated tea party rival, Jesse Kelly, on the Pima County Republican party website. It urged voters to “get on target for victory,” and “help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office.” How one might accomplish this was perhaps implied by the fact that event attendees got to “shoot a fully a automatic M16″ with the candidate.
I tweeted the link to that ad, and was immediately chastised by someone with whom I’ve professionally interacted for not supplying “context.” I replied that, after two-plus years of violent, racially-tinged rhetoric from the Tea Party crowd (conveniently ignored by GOP leadership), nuance was a luxury, not a necessity. Shame is what Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin — alongside their supporters — should feel. And I had absolutely zero compunction about dealing it.
Conservatives often argue that gay marriage can destroy traditional families through osmosis. By that same logic, yesterday’s violence is a direct result of inflammatory oratory from the right’s most rabid.
I’ve since heard accusations that bloggers, columnists and pundits unsympathetic to the modern flavor of conservatism are “politicizing” the tragedy. We’re not politicizing; we’re criticizing. Politicizing would be turning the health care debate into a hyperbolic pissing match about “death panels.” Politicizing would be stalling medical benefits for 9/11 first responders in order to get another ginormous tax break for America’s top 1 percent. Politicizing would be allowing your party to be redefined by loudmouthed provocateurs in pursuit of electoral expedience.
In an environment such as that cultivated by the Tea Party, it was only a matter of time before bloodshed.
Yesterday’s tragedy was not an isolated incident of violence or the threat of violence against elected officials. In March, CBS News reported that:
The Democratic leadership in Congress is decrying recent “acts of violence” against 10 House Democrats and one Republican, including one report of a cut gas line at the house of the brother of one member of Congress.
The most recent report came from US Rep. Harry Mitchell, AZ, whose spokesman, Adam Bozzi, said in a statement that the congressman received physical threats, including threats on his life, both before and after a vote on health care reform.
A brick was thrown through the window of the district office of Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter in Niagara Falls, in upstate New York, while Bart Stupak, the conservative Democrat whose deal with the White House on abortion funding curbs provided the crucial last few votes for passage of the bill, reported getting calls from people wishing that he “bleed, get cancer and die.”
Representative James Clyburn, the highest ranking black lawmaker, said he received a fax with an image of a noose.
Even the families of representatives aren’t immune to the backlash, apparently. The Albemarle County Fire Marshal’s Office and the FBI have concluded, in a joint statement, that a severed gas line outside of the house of Rep. Tom Perriello’s (D-Va.) brother was “an act of vandalism.” Perriello supported the overhaul measure and an activist involved in the “tea party” movement reportedly posted the brother’s address on an internet forum — apparently thinking it was the congressman’s — and urged angry opponents to pay him a visit.
We’ve also witnessed head-stompings, domestic terrorist attempts and countless signs, pamphlets and pronouncements threatening violence of one kind or another. Much of it is aimed directly at the president, for clear racial reasons. Some of the fury revolves around attempts to improve the health care system for the benefit of more Americans. Never mind that the actual bill that passed does more for the insurance companies — as we’ve noted time and again, nuance is lost on the Tea Party crowd.
So whether or not the presumed shooter (perhaps acting in concert with other disturbed/deranged individuals) is just a straight up lunatic or a card-carrying member of one or another anti-government group, there is plenty of reason to finger the fringe and their high-profile ambassadors. This is what happens. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS.
Shame on the Tea Party and their elected and media representatives. Shame on the mindless participants in a movement based solely on ignorance, hate and fear. Shame on the GOP for not having the balls to publicly disavow this despicable behavior. We aren’t politicizing. We’re holding up a mirror to your own warped actions. It’s of no concern to me whether you like what you see.
This is the America you’ve created. This is the calling out you deserve.