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Saturday, 19 September 2009

US health 'debate': the dangers of rhetoric and the need for responsibility

This week I posted about how the Daily Mail appears to be supporting - and making money off - the right-wing America 'Tea Party' movement.

As I added to my post, since then President Jimmy Carter has sparked debate with his comments that much of this movement is driven by racism. But there is another aspect to what's happening and that's the increasingly open threats of violence.

The USA has a long history of political violence, assassinations and home-grown terrorism. The environment is which the 'Tea Parties' and the heathcare 'debate' are happening is one where President Barack Obama is the target of more than 30 potential death threats a day and is being protected by an increasingly over-stretched and under-resourced Secret Service, according to a new book.

On 17 September, Rachel Maddow discussed on her show the rather rare emotional statement warning of violence and call for a responsible debate by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi referenced the late seventies assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Her guest to discuss this was Cleve Jones, a colleague of Milk and the man who found his body.

In the course of the segment, Maddow discussed not only Speaker Pelosi’s view of the violence as being not unlike that of the time surrounding the assassination of Moscone and Milk, but also the incredibly irresponsible response out of Republican Minority Leader John Boehner.

There has been some legitimate debate over Carter's comments - see this for example by David Brooks in the New York Times, and the Mail carried a sensible piece by Gavin Esler - but the rhetorical tone, the toleration of protesters with guns and the inclusion (rather than exclusion) of people who are not only openly racist but also people saying that violence is legitimate?

As Maddow points out, where are the voices of the right trying to deescalate? And where is the Daily Mail?
Politicians have a choice. They can use their influence and the megaphone of their stature to further escalate the rhetoric, to try to stoke it further, to just see what might happen. Or they can use that influence, that megaphone, to try to deescalate. To get the threats of force out of our political debates. To use leadership, to ask everyone to take a deep breath before someone gets hurt. Whose doing that right now on the American right?

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