In 1995, House Majority leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) referred to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) as “Barney Fag.” He quickly apologized calling his verbiage a “slip of the tongue.”
Fifteen years later, the obstreperous Tea Party movement that Armey is behind showed no such restraint, with members boldly calling Frank a “faggot” during the healthcare debate, while the crowd stood by and laughed. They also used the N-word to taunt civil rights hero, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), as he entered the Capitol to vote.
Can the media please stop pretending that the Tea Party is an amalgam of small government conservatives and anxious Americans concerned about their families? What we just witnessed was not spontaneous, nor was it a genuine outpouring of anger towards Washington. It was privileged DC Republicans shilling for the insurance industry while posing as populists. To obscure their genuine goals, they mobilized racists and riff raff to throw tyrannical tantrums in an effort to intimidate lawmakers.
If you think I’m wrong, watch almost any interview with Tea Baggers on the healthcare bill. They display a shocking lack of understanding about what they were actually protesting. Many condemn “socialized” medicine while not realizing that Medicare is a government program. These “good folks” have consistently regurgitated stale and misleading GOP talking points about “death panels” that they heard on FOX News.
Sure, there are some Tea Baggers who don’t fit this unflattering description. But one would have to be intellectually dishonest to deny the role extremists are playing in this movement. It is also worth noting that those who are reportedly not fringe ideologues are nonetheless eerily comfortable protesting alongside the more fanatical goons.
The thuggish tactics – from the ugly August “town brawls” to the race-baiting rallies on Capitol Hill – were grotesque and anti-democratic. Many of these so-called “patriots” were not putting forth real arguments in the interest of America – but simply arguing loudly to bully opponents and drown out genuine debate.
It was disgusting to watch Republican members of Congress egg on this unruly behavior. Several grandstanding politicians encouraged the mob from a second story balcony on the Capitol, as the empowered crowd yelled slogans through bullhorns such as, “Nancy Pelosi, you will burn in hell for this.” These grossly irresponsible lawmakers even encouraged anarchy by cheering a protester who was ejected from the House chamber for a disruptive outburst.
In my view, Republicans have crossed a dangerous line that threatens the fabric and cohesion of this nation. They are courting and catering to crazies and now call them a core constituency. The GOP leadership is consistently communicating in illogical, apocalyptic terms to reach “Values Voters” who are excitedly awaiting Armageddon.
The very strategy of today’s conservative movement is an affront to this nation. They incite their most fervent and fanatic followers by questioning the legitimacy of America’s leaders and institutions. They engage in legislative obstruction. And, many of these zealots believe that God commands them to rule, while anyone else is a usurper of the natural political order.
Republicans are also fanning the flames of regionalism and trying to balkanize this nation for political gain. When asked if passing the bill would help democrats politically, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) replied, “Someone at Harvard or in San Francisco may think that, but not the rest of the country.” This rhetoric mirror’s that of Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) who spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month and derided liberals for supposedly hanging out at “Chablis-drinking, Brie-eating parties in San Francisco.”
At the anti-healthcare rally, cantankerous protesters yelled, “kill the bill.” But, there is a true concern that the overheated rhetoric will lead to the death of real people. Republicans and Tea Baggers can only shout “fire” in a crowded theatre for so long before an unbalanced individual moves decisively to extinguish the alleged conflagration.
The GOP and the Tea Bag crowd need to stop polarizing America and dial back the rhetoric before it is too late.
As far as the politics of healthcare, the GOP will suffer. Obama proved he can be tough and get things done in Washington – and everybody loves a winner. In the end, the public will appreciate their new benefits and the GOP is now in the position of trying to deny health insurance to people with preexisting conditions. Good luck on that.
Finally, the gloom and doom scenarios painted by overwrought phonies, such as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), will not come to pass. This is no different than when social conservatives claimed that civil unions in Vermont and marriage equality in Massachusetts would destroy the world.
Obviously, this did not happen, the public saw legalizing LGBT relationships was no big deal and our opponents lost credibility. The same will happen with healthcare. The sooner the public sees the sky is not falling, the faster the polling numbers will plummet for Republicans who voted on wrong side of history.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”