Conservatives are fuming (surprise, surprise) about Nancy Pelosi’s warning, but she was absolutely right. Threatening and hateful rhetoric can lead to violence. Yesterday, the Speaker said:
“I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw this myself in the late ’70s in San Francisco, this kin(d) of rhetoric. … It created a climate in which violence took place. … I wish we would all curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements and understand that some of the ears that it is falling on are not as balanced as the person making the statements may assume.”
Pelosi, according to her spokesman, Nadeam Elshami, was referring to Supervisor Dan White’s murder of Milk and Moscone, the basis for last year’s film “Milk.”
The commentators and politicians who are stoking the fringe always take umbrage when their tactics are criticized; they hide behind the First Amendment and the all-American right of dissent. But their feigned outrage can’t be taken seriously.
When he called out the respectable fomenters of violence back in the ’60s, Eugene Patterson, a distinguished former editor of The Atlanta Constitution, was more eloquent than Pelosi but he made the same point. This is what he wrote in a September 1963 column after madmen put a bomb into a Birmingham church and killed four little black girls:
A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham. In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her.
Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand.
It is too late to blame the sick criminals who handled the dynamite. The FBI and the police can deal with that kind. The charge against them is simple. They killed four children.
Only we can trace the truth, Southerner — you and I. We broke those children’s bodies.
We watched the stage set without staying it. We listened to the prologue unbestirred. We saw the curtain opening with disinterest. We have heard the play.
We — who go on electing politicians who heat the kettles of hate.
We — who raise no hand to silence the mean and little men who have their nigger jokes.
We — who stand aside in imagined rectitude and let the mad dogs that run in every society slide their leashes from our hand, and spring.