Clearly, a poisonous atmosphere in American politics has surfaced in the wake of last Sunday’s passage of the health care legislation. Regardless of what has sparked the threats and actual acts of violence that unfortunately have manifested themselves in recent days — and there is plenty of blame to go around – the leaders and members of both major parties have an obligation to take steps to rein in their supporters. And this means going beyond simply issuing statements condemning violent acts and threats. The leaders of both the GOP and the Democratic Party need to actually meet with constituents and interest groups — including leaders and organizers of the Tea Party movement — and tell them in no uncertain terms to back down and cool off.
It is probably too much to hope that party leaders would stop bracketing their remarks condemning violence with clever political phraseology implying the other party is somehow responsible; but it sure would be nice if they did.
One thing that is not too much to ask, however, is for both major parties to stop the unseemly spectacle of permitting their fundraisers to use the current climate of combativeness for political and fundraising gain. Such tactics continue to coarsen the debate even if they do not directly fuel the current climate of hate.
The media, unfortunately, is not just sitting on the sidelines objectively reporting about the goings on. Individual members of the House appear almost eager to use the media to headline every untoward action or problematic phone message; and many in the media are more than eager to comply — with blaring headlines, repetitive “specials,” and endless interviews. Rather than standing aside and permitting law enforcement to investigate incidents of violence or threats thereof, in order to determine who is responsible and whether there actually are links to political groups, politicians and many in the media are jumping to conclusions and running with their assumptions in order to garner headlines and score political points.
In times past, including a little more than a decade ago when tempers ran high during the impeachment proceedings and when I and others involved in that process on the Republican side had to deal with threats and unseemly actions against us and our offices, there was no media hooplah and no parade of news conferences detailing every unsavory incident. Incidents that needed to be investigated by law enforcement were turned over to law enforcement to handle appropriately; we preferred simply to “deal with it” rather than make political points from it.
The health care vote certainly will figure prominently in the strategies employed by both major parties in this fall’s elections; and which side will reap the greatest gains from their efforts remains to be seen. But stoking anger and violence is something all interested parties — including the media — have an affirmative rsponsibility to foreswear and work to avoid. Flames once fanned have a nasty habit of flaring up where and when you don’t want them to.