RATIONALIZING BIGOTRY…. Perhaps I spoke too soon. This morning, a variety of key Republican officials denounced the right-wing activists who engaged in disgusting, bigoted behavior yesterday as part of conservatives’ opposition to fixing the dysfunctional health care system. I was heartened to see there were some things the unhinged Tea Party crowd can do that GOP leaders were willing to denounce.

But Republican criticism was not universal.

This morning on C-Span’s Washington Journal, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) justified the disturbing racist and homophobic epitaphs that angry tea baggers hurled yesterday at Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), and other House Democrats. Nunes insisted that everyone has a right to “smear” whoever they want and that the tea baggers’ behavior was understandable given the “crazy totalitarian tactics” that he alleges Democrats are engaged in.

When the host noted that protestors verbally attacked his own colleagues, Nunes responded, “Yeah, well I think that when you use totalitarian tactics, people, you know, begin to act crazy.” (He went on to say use of the “n” word is “inappropriate.” How gracious of him.)

A few things. First, Nunes is right that in a free country, odious racists are allowed to say offensive things, even to elected officials. The point, though, isn’t that these Tea Party activists did something illegal — although, in the case of one activist spitting on a congressman, this is a crime — the point is that they did something morally outrageous. Decent people, regardless of politics, should have no qualms about condemning such ugliness.

Second, when an elected majority tries to pass legislation that they promised voters they’d pursue, this is not an example of “totalitarian tactics.” I realize Devin Nunes isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but if he sees the elected Democratic majority acting in a dictatorial fashion, he’s lost his mind.

And third, people of strong character and sound values don’t try to rationalize bigotry. For Nunes, there seems to be some kind of reflex at play — some Tea Party thugs used some deeply offensive language, and in one case even spat on a member of Congress, so it must be Democrats’ fault.

It’s pathetic.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.