Thursday, March 25, 2010

We Don't Need Another Jihad

Here's the reason people like myself hate politics. Consider the attacks on people who voted for the health care bill:
  • Someone left a coffin on the lawn of Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO). (UPDATE: A conservative group says they used that coffin as part of a prayer vigil to mourn the "death" of some of their freedoms and took it with them.)

  • Someone broke windows at Rep. Louise Slaughter's (D-NY) office. Similarly, someone also did a number on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' (D-AZ) Tucson base of operations.

  • A Tea Party blogger posted the home address of Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA), encouraging people to "drop by" and "express their thanks" for his health care vote... only it was the address of Perriello's brother, who found a gas line cut.

  • Sarah Palin tweeted: "Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!" Pls see my Facebook page."

  • Holdout Rep. Bark Stupak (D-MI) describes his life as a "living hell" after he changed his vote and supported the health care bill in exchange for an executive order banning federal money from being used for abortion. As CBS News reports:
    "Congressman Stupak, you baby-killing [expletive]... I hope you bleed out your [expletive], got cancer and die, you [expletive]," one man says in a message to Stupak.

    "There are millions of people across the country who wish you ill," a woman says in a voicemail, "and all of those thoughts that are projected on you will materialize into something that's not very good for you."

    CBS News also obtained copies of faxes sent to Stupak, which include racial epithets used in reference to President Obama and show pictures of nooses with Stupak's name.
You can argue some opportunistic pranksters left that coffin and broke those windows. You can tell me that blogger didn't post anything that wasn't a public record, and he didn't mean to target an innocent brother. You can tell me the former governor of Alaska used "reload" in a figurative organizational context. But you can't justify death threats against Rep. Stupak, even if you think he sold out his conscience for a flimsy executive order.

None of this surprises me. I've lamented before on how hyperpartisanism fueled by talk shows are killing our civility. To be sure, politics has always been dirty. But we are slowly losing our shame, turning the health care debate into a holy war, where it's all right to win by any means necessary, including threats, intimidation, violence... and murder.

And we can justify it to ourselves. We can rationalize it by saying it's for the best interest of the nation. We can repress the better angels of our nature from interfering with a good temper tantrum. We can even say GOD is on our side. But then we fall into the trap expressed in James 1:26-27 (NIV): "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that GOD OUR FATHER accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Anger is not the problem. Anger has its righteous place, and GOD didn't give it to us for naught. Anger leads us to fix injustices and right wrongs. It strengthens the sedate and gives us courage to stand firm. Our Constitution gives us the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

I wish our Framers would have added a Bill of Responsibilities to our Bill of Rights. Maybe then we'd understand we have some standards to honor in our republic. George Washington left us his Rules of Civility. It's not a bad start. And he gave us this bit of advice in his farewell address: "However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."

I read that quote and I have to ask myself -- are we being used? Does either party really care about us, or do they just want get or keep hold of the reins? Are we the unsuspecting means to their end?

I don't know, but I do know this: even if House Republican Leader John Boehner is condemning the threats and intimidation, that condemnation isn't coming from the places where people will hear it. It's not coming from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, or Sarah Palin. (UPDATE: Glenn Beck has gone on the record as condemning the violence.) It's not coming from the Tea parties or the Conservative bloggers. If it is, I'm not hearing it. I don't expect to.

The message needs to be loud, clear, direct, and unwavering, with as much passion as the health care debate itself. You don't like health care reform? Take it out at the ballot box in November. Don't take up the pitchfork of a scofflaw, thinking there is no vice in pursuit of justice. Those people end up in the slammer. Sadly, with our own hyperpartisanism at work, people will probably label them political prisoners and compare them to the inmates of the old Soviet gulags. Spin leaves nothing sacred.

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