Bigotry, bashing and bricks marked the heated debate over health care reform, as free speech crossed the line into hate speech in recent weeks.
One day before the historic health care vote, tea party protesters aimed to intimidate Democratic congressmen by spitting on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), shouting sexual orientation insults at Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and yelling racial slurs at civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and other black Democrats, according to the Huffington Post.
While Democrats had mixed reactions to the bill, a handful of Republican leaders replaced lively discourse with flagrant provocation.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) screamed “baby killer” while anti-abortion Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) spoke during floor debate in the House on March 21.
Two enraged Twitter users called for the assassination of President Barack Obama, prompting an investigation by the Secret Service, according to ABC News.
Even more leaders reported threats from citizens after the bill was signed into law March 23.
A caller said to Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) that snipers would “kill the children of the members who voted for health care reform,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Bricks shattered the office windows of Democrats in New York, Arizona and Kansas, and a letter instructing Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) to “drop dead” accompanied a package with white powder, according to NBC News.
Politico reported that a coffin was placed outside the home of Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) as part of a “wake” staged by a tea party.
Such an outrageous level of uncivil disrespect is inexcusable, but equally revolting are the lawmakers who exploit these instances of assault for political gain.
Some Democratic groups and candidates mentioned the threats in fundraising e-mails while conservative icons both inside and outside of government fueled the flames of partisanship and rage.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner said fellow Ohio Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Oh.) could be a “dead man” if he voted for the bill.
Sarah Palin posted a map on her Facebook page, which targeted 20 Democrats’ districts with crosshairs. After the bill passed, she Tweeted, “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!”
The most disappointing comments came from Sen. John McCain, who is humoring the fringe and indulging the base in this do-anything-to-win election season.
“There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year,” McCain said on an Arizona radio show.
It is time to stop pretending that public figures are harmless when they clearly influence Americans on the edge. Suggestive language and blatant hate speech incite extremists who are furious with a bill that extends a basic human right to the powerless.
Not only are politicians inflaming those with right-wing militia impulses, but they are bickering like children and shirking their duties as lawmakers.
Congressional leaders must take a unified stand against such behavior and hold the perpetrators and instigators accountable.
Lydia Harvey is a junior majoring in mass communications.