The New Republican Civility

The end-game of the House passing the Senate health care bill brought to light a new level of hatred and vitriol, encouraged and in some cases apparently perpetrated by congressional Republicans.

The first salvo came on Saturday, March 20. As Democratic congressmen John Lewis (D-GA) and Andre Carson (D-IN) emerged from a Democratic caucus meeting in the Cannon House office building, a large crowd surrounded them and several shouts of "kill the bill" and the "N-word" were heard.

A tea partier also spit on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo).

On Saturday afternoon a similar scenario unfolded as Rep. Barney Frank, (D-MA) left a whip meeting in the Longworth House office building and made his way through a crowd of protesters, and elderly white man shouted "Barney, you faggot," as his fellow protesters erupted in laughter.

"Republican lawmakers are trying their best to show the tea party activists outside the Capitol that they're on their side," wrote Salon's Mike Madden. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind) walked through the crowd shaking hands, smiling, and thanking them. He condemned "the kind of language and statements that have been reported," but denied that the GOP shared any responsibility. "I think the American people are rising up with one voice and saying, 'Enough is enough.'"

Meanwhile Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky) and a group of Republicans borrowed a "Don't Tread on Me" flag from a tea partier, and displayed it from a balcony on the second floor of the Capitol, adjacent to the House floor.

Davis, who gained notoriety during the 2008 presidential campaign by referring to then-candidate Obama as "that boy" told reporters ""This is a demonstration of the people of our republic expressing, frankly, their fear of their own government, at the attempt to take over a system that belongs to the private citizens. I wish we had a million people here instead of the ones that we've got."

The ugly tone carried on to the floor of the House.

Sunday night, as two people from the House gallery yelled during the "debate" on the bill, which is prohibited by House rules, several Republican lawmakers stood and cheered. Police expelled the demonstrators.

In his summary speech near the end of the House "debate" Sunday night, Majority Leader John Boehner asked rhetorically if representatives could say the bill was written openly and transparently. With great dignity and decorum he answered his own question, "Hell no, you can't!"

As pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak spoke briefly against the Republican effort to kill the health care legislation by adding pro-abortion language that would require it to return to committee in the House, an initially unidentified member of the the Texas delegation was heard to shout "Baby Killer." Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) told reporters he was being told that the shouter was "a Texan," but did not divulge who. On Monday Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tx) admitted to the outburst, claiming that he was referring to the bill and not Stupak.

In his NY Times piece today, Paul Krugman sizes up the opposition to health care reform.

... [T]he emotional core of opposition to reform was blatant fear-mongering, unconstrained either by the facts or by any sense of decency.... And let’s be clear: the campaign of fear hasn’t been carried out by a radical fringe, unconnected to the Republican establishment. On the contrary, that establishment has been involved and approving all the way. Politicians like Sarah Palin — who was, let us remember, the G.O.P.’s vice-presidential candidate — eagerly spread the death panel lie, and supposedly reasonable, moderate politicians like Senator Chuck Grassley refused to say that it was untrue. On the eve of the big vote, Republican members of Congress warned that “freedom dies a little bit today” and accused Democrats of “totalitarian tactics,” which I believe means the process known as “voting.”

Without question, the campaign of fear was effective: health reform went from being highly popular to wide disapproval, although the numbers have been improving lately. But the question was, would it actually be enough to block reform...? And the answer is no.

... In the end, a vicious, unprincipled fear offensive failed to block reform. This time, fear struck out.


Beutler, Brian "Tea Partiers Call Lewis 'N****r', Frank 'F****t', At Capitol Hill Protest" TPMDC. 20 Mar. 2010

Marshall, Josh "'Baby Killer'" TPM. 21 Mar. 2010

Frumin, Ben "Boehner Yells 'Hell No You Can't!' On House Floor" TPM Live Wire. 21 Mar. 2010

Health bill opponents heckle top Dems Associated Press. 22 Mar. 2010

Birkey, Andy Barney Frank blasts Bachmann on Tea Party anti-gay slurs Minnesota Independent. 22 Mar. 2010

Madden, Mike Live from Capitol Hill: Healthcare vote nears 21 Mar. 2010

Sherman, Jake "Randy Neugebauer: I yelled 'baby killer'" 22 Mar. 2010