Bringing Guns To The Debate
Wednesday - September 23, 2009
“I just hope nobody shoots him.”
We all know to whom “him” refers. It’s President Barack Obama. I’ve heard the sentiment expressed repeatedly in the past two or three weeks. I’ve said it myself.
Our fears are justified. Assassins have killed four American presidents - for a variety of reasons. All of the killers either suffered from a mental condition or saw themselves as saviors of the Republic. Usually both.
Across the country this past August, right-wing conservatives showed up at town hall meetings to protest Democrats’ plans for reforming the nation’s healthcare system - and save the Republic. Some of them yelled “Socialism!” Others shouted comparisons of Obama with Hitler. Others compared him to Stalin. Still others screamed the double whammy, Hitler and Stalin. When Obama spoke to a meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., last April, a man packing heat demonstrated outside the building. He carried a sign that read: “It’s time to water the tree of liberty.”
And when the president spoke at a meeting in Phoenix, protesters walked around outside carrying handguns. One toted an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Enlightened Arizona has a law allowing folks, however deranged they may be, to carry arms to protect themselves against criminals, socialists and the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Obama.
This would all be excessive, sad, sick, darkly comic at times - if it weren’t so potentially tragic.
And believe me, potentially tragic it is. Fourteen years ago Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols planted a bomb beside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It exploded, killing 168, many of them children in the building’s day care center. Another 680 were injured.
When arrested an hour later, McVeigh was wearing a T-shirt bearing a quotation from Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
I remember that night. It was the final night of Hawaii’s legislative session, and I took my anger out on an East Honolulu Republican legislator. I’d listened to him and others in the conservative movement denouncing then President Bill Clinton as a variety of Arkansas Marxist whose tyranny threatened the liberties of all America.
It was partisan hogwash, of course, fueled by the emergent right-wing radio fire-eaters. Clinton triangulated everything with the conservatives, abandoning the poor and banking regulation in the process. He was no Marxist, and if delegitimizing Clinton’s administration was the conservatives’ aim, they could have saved themselves the effort. With the aid of Monica Lewinsky, Clinton was more than capable of advancing that cause himself.
No, those who’ve raised the temperature of disagreement over healthcare reform this summer venture into dangerous territory: not just for themselves and their cause, but for the stability of the nation. Since announcing his candidacy for president in February 2007, Obama has spoken eloquently for civility and an end to partisan warfare.
Republicans have occasionally nodded their respect for these sentiments, but they’ve rubbed their hands at the incivility and the effect that comparisons to Hitler (a fascist) and Stalin (a communist) have had on Obama’s poll numbers. “You lie!” has become their rallying cry.
I am waiting, I fear in vain, for some prominent Republican to come forward to lower the temperature of the healthcare debate. How can so-called moderate Republicans like John McCain, Maine’s Olympia Snowe or Iowa’s Charles Grassley remain mute while the far right attempts to destroy our first African-American president?
Where’s Linda Lingle, a Republican who won two gubernatorial elections in Hawaii in part because of her appeals to moderation and civility?
Oppose Obama on issues. Offer counterproposals. But lower the temperature of the current debate. We risk too much if we don’t.
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