By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
As a campaign manager, consultant, party chair, and candidate, I’ve been to a lot of political celebrations in my life. But never one more boisterous or meaningful than this week’s signing ceremony for health care reform legislation.
Almost every Democrat in the House and Senate packed into the East Room of the White House. They cheered like teenagers at a pep rally when the president and vice president walked in. They interrupted Obama with so many standing ovations, reporters lost count. And they glowed with pride as Obama signed the historic legislation.
In fact, it was easy to get so caught up in the euphoria of the moment I forgot I was witnessing the end of Western civilization as we know it — at least, if you believe the rhetoric spewing forth from Republicans on Capitol Hill.
You thought last summer’s tea parties were ugly? In their desperate attempt to kill health care reform, Republicans invited the tea baggers onto the Capitol grounds and into the House Chambers, where things got even uglier.
Protestors called civil rights hero John Lewis the “N” word as he walked into the Capitol. Maryland Congressman Emanuel Cleaver was spat upon. Congressman Barney Frank walked in to a chorus of cries of “f—-t” and “h—.” Whip James Clyburn was sent a drawing of a hangman’s noose.
You expect that kind of behavior from a gang of political thugs. What’s so shocking in this case is not only that many Republican leaders failed to quickly condemn the protestors’ tactics, but that they actually appeared to egg them on. Members of Congress waved handmade protest signs from Capitol balconies. Others stood and applauded one tea bagger in the gallery who was arrested for disrupting House debate.
But, of course, Republican leaders couldn’t really condemn the verbal abuse of protestors because they were engaging in the same over-the-top rhetoric themselves. On the floor, Minority Leader John Boehner called the health care bill “Armageddon,” because it “will ruin our country.” Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee equated passage with “the death of freedom.” And in New York state, Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino lamented: “the day that bill was passed will be remembered just as 9/11 was remembered in history.”
Meanwhile, outside the Capitol, Michigan’s Bart Stupak and other Members reported receiving death threats to themselves and their families. Bricks were thrown through district office windows. Tea partiers even posted online what they thought was the address of Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello, urging protestors to show up at his front door. Instead, by mistake, they listed the address of Tom’s brother, Bo. The next morning, Bo discovered a severed propane gas line on his front porch. The FBI is investigating.
On her Web site, hoping to fan the flames even hotter, nutty Sarah Palin urged tea partiers not to retreat, but “to reload.” And, just to underscore her gun-loaded message, she posted a map of rifle sights aimed at Democratic members of Congress she has “targeted for removal” in November, urging followers to send a “one-shot donation.” While Republican National Chair Michael Steele warned Nancy Pelosi to get ready to face “the firing line.”
It should not be difficult for leaders of either party to condemn that kind of violent language as unfit for civil debate. But not John Boehner. When asked by reporters if he agreed with the violence, his first response was: “You could get in this long debate about what came first, the chicken or the egg.”
Only five days later did Boehner urge protestors to channel their anger, instead, toward repeal of health care reform. Oh, really? What I want to know is: Exactly what parts of the bill do Republicans plan to repeal, tax breaks for small businesses; free preventive care for seniors; access to affordable health insurance for 32 million Americans? Or do they simply plan to campaign with the bumper sticker: “Bring Back Pre-existing Conditions”?
My advice: Before rushing into repeal, Republicans and their tea bagger friends might well learn a lesson from history. In 1936, one year after Franklin Roosevelt made Social Security the law of the land, Republican Alf Landon ran against him on the slogan: “Repeal Social Security.” He carried two states.
As with FDR’s Social Security, so with Barack Obama’s health care reform. Once it kicks in, once Americans realize what a good deal it is for their families, only an idiot would vote to repeal it.
© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.