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Democrats' Quest for Balance in 2009

A Commentary By Debra J. Saunders

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Democrats seem to have shifted their thinking on a number of issues since President Obama took the oath of office. Figure some Dems have more faith in government with a like-minded man at the helm, and besides, circumstances have changed. But also figure that some Democrats were just looking for sore spots -- and their anti-Bush rhetoric was based not on principle, but raw opportunism.

When Obama picked Eric Shinseki to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, the left applauded because they liked the contrast with President George W. Bush. Shinseki was their hero because he had told Congress that the Bush administration should send "several hundred thousand" U.S. troops to Iraq in 2003. Bush, Democrats used to argue, should have listened to the generals -- by which they meant Shinseki, not the other generals who suggested lower troop numbers -- and put smart military strategy before politics.

Now there is a push among top military personnel to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond the 68,000 planned by the end of the year.

Funny. You don't hear many Democrats demanding now that Obama put aside politics and give top brass the extra troops they say they need to succeed in Afghanistan.

Here's another difference. As The Chronicle reported Wednesday, U.S. helicopters swept into Somalia and killed al-Qaida operative Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. That's a good thing. But as of my deadline, the newspaper didn't receive a single letter to the editor complaining about U.S. imperialism, colonialism or military overreach.

Under Bush, I believe, the criticism would have been shrill. It's great to see Democrats talking about the need for civility in the Capitol -- so much so that the House passed a resolution reprimanding Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., for "a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings" when he yelled, "You lie," to Obama as the president addressed a joint session of Congress earlier this month.

You see, it is more civil when a number of lawmakers boo and heckle, as they did to Bush during his 2004 and 2005 State of the Union addresses, than for one man to shout out the president. (Just kidding -- as I in no way defend Wilson's rude behavior.)

At a press conference Thursday, a teary-eyed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she is worried that the language being used by the critics of Obama's health care plan will lead to "violence."

Here's the quote: "I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco. This kind of rhetoric was very frightening, and it created a climate in which violence took place."

Her office explained that Pelosi was thinking of the 1978 murders of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, as well as the riots that followed.

But as every San Franciscan knows, Dan White shot Moscone and Milk because Moscone would not give him his supervisor's post back and Milk supported Moscone.

Don't take my word for it. Sen. Dianne Feinstein told The Chronicle's Rachel Gordon last year: "This had nothing to do with anybody's sexual orientation. It had to do with getting back his position. Dan White was a troubled man under a lot of pressure."

So it is hysterical and disingenuous for Pelosi to equate tea-party protests with the murders of Moscone and Milk and the riots that followed. She knows better. She herself said Thursday that people should take "responsibility" for what they say and any "incitement" their words cause. She owes lawful protesters an apology.

Pelosi's performance was particularly irksome in light of the violent protests during the last administration. The worst protesters compared Bush to Hitler, hanged American soldiers in effigy, and carried signs that advocated killing Bush. Anarchists opposed to the World Trade Organization participated in a violent 2005 protest in San Francisco, where they fractured the skull of police Officer Peter Shields.

In those days, you heard the left talking about free speech more often than they cited the need for civil political discourse. In the Obama era, Pelosi is concerned, as only she can put it, that "this balance between freedom and safety is one we have to carefully balance."

As the Associated Press reported, Pelosi also said, "I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made." Some of the people hearing the message "are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume."

Hillary Rodham Clinton got all choked up when she thought she might lose the New Hampshire primary. Now Pelosi is verklempt. What goes around comes around.

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