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End the Coarsening of Civic Discourse

A Commentary By Tony Blankley

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

As the town hall meetings on health care started in early August, the Democratic Party's talking points accused the attending citizens of being "demonstrators hired by K Street lobbyists." Then they started calling them a "mob." Getting into the spirit of his party, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called those who oppose Obamacare "evil." Then House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called the dissenters "un-American." For good measure, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused them of being Nazis.

Former Democratic President Jimmy Carter followed with the assertion that "racism" motivates President Barack Obama's health care opponents. The culmination -- so far -- of this cataract of calumnies was voiced by Pelosi, who, after calling her opposition Nazis, audaciously and chillingly implied that their rhetoric might cause an assassination (as she alleged conservative homophobic rhetoric did in the 1970s): "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."

Then the president lamented the "coarsening" of the civic dialogue, observing over the weekend on CNN that "it's important for the media -- you know, not to do any media-bashing here -- to recognize that right now, in this 24-hour news cycle, the easiest way to get on CNN or Fox or any of the other stations ... is to just say something rude and outrageous. If you're civil and polite and you're sensible and you don't exaggerate the bad things about your opponent ... you might get on one of the Sunday morning shows, but you're not going to be on the loop. And, you know, part of what I'd like to see is all of us reward decency and civility in our political discourse."

I couldn't agree with the president more. And it is true that the media were able to spot a few similarly horrid messages on posters among the hundreds of thousands of anti-Obamacare dissenters at the town halls and the march on Washington.

But it is stunning to note that the foregoing list of outrageous and inflammatory rhetorical attacks came from the mouths of the most senior Democratic elected leaders in the country. No remotely similar language has been reported of any of the senior Republican officials. Of course, no party can directly control the language of the millions of its supporters. Indeed, it is no business of the government how the public talks. But both parties can -- and should -- lead by example.

The president should call on those most senior Democratic Party leaders -- Reid, Hoyer, Pelosi and Carter -- to apologize to the nation for their shockingly irresponsible language. Should any senior Republican leader ever use such language, he, too, should be called on to retract it.

But let this be said firmly: If the formerly mainstream media, or FMSM, were doing their job, that reckless and shocking language of the most senior Democratic leadership would be the cause of a major party scandal. But in the event, it caused barely a ripple of comment. In fact, many in the FMSM picked up the theme and parroted the unwarranted charges of racism, mob behavior and violence.

Meanwhile, the senior elected Republican congressional leadership -- Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl and Reps. John Boehner and Eric Cantor -- have maintained the decorum the president rightly expects from the leadership of the two parties.

The Democratic Party is playing with fire -- particularly its charge of racism. Once again, the president correctly rejected that rhetoric. I don't know whether those Democrats who wield that hateful charge -- from Carter on down -- have any sense of the outrage they are engendering.

Almost 60 percent of the public opposes the Democratic health care proposals. And rarely has opposition to a great issue so vividly and unambiguously been based on profound policy disputes -- not personalities or race or other bigotries.

We who oppose it are furious with what we believe is the intent to end private-sector health care and replace it with a government-run system that denies us our birthright of freedom regarding the precious matter of our families' health. We are also appalled at the trillions of dollars of new debt that the proponents of the plan would add -- even as our country, unbelievably, has been brought to the brink of bankruptcy. Whether we are right or wrong is a matter of policy debate.

But to feel these passions so profoundly and then to be accused of such a base motive as racism for our sincerely held views is almost too much to contain. No good can come from such a flagrant assault on the honor and decency of 60 percent of our people. The president should follow up his good instincts on this with firm leadership of his party and bring a swift end to his Democratic Party's malignant instigation of racial strife.

Tony Blankley is executive vice president of Edelman public relations in Washington.

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