The results of Republican rage

THE RESULTS OF REPUBLICAN RAGE…. It started with racist and anti-gay slurs on Capitol Hill. It led to a Democratic congressman being spat on. Before long, opponents of health care reform were vandalizing lawmakers’ offices. Then a gas line was cut at a lawmaker’s brother’s house. Yesterday, nooses were faxed to Democratic lawmakers. One Democrat received an anonymous voicemail message that said, “You’re dead. We know where you live. We’ll get you.”

If the goal of the Republican base was to send a terrorist-like signal to Congress, officials have heard it.

The pitched battle over health care has unleashed a rash of vandalism and attacks directed at politicians, with at least 10 House Democrats reporting death threats or incidents of harassment or vandalism at their district offices over the past week.

More than 100 House Democrats met behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon with representatives of the FBI and the U.S. Capitol Police. The lawmakers voiced what one senior aide who was present described as “serious concern” about their security in Washington and in their home districts when they return this weekend for the spring recess.

Usually only the congressional leadership has regular personal protection from the Capitol Police. But at least 10 lawmakers have been offered increased protection by law enforcement agencies, said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).

Asked whether members are endangered, Hoyer said: “Yes. [There are] very serious incidents that have occurred.”

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared on Fox News yesterday and briefly addressed the developments. He initially expressed sympathy for the enraged — saying “Americans are angry” because “Washington Democrats just aren’t listening” — but added, “[V]iolence and threats are unacceptable. That’s not the American way. We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change. Call your congressman, go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, make your voice heard — but let’s do it the right way.”

The sentiment was welcome, but arguably too weak and too late. Republican leaders, including Boehner, have whipped up the GOP base into a frenzy, pumping so many lies into right-wing activists that incidents like these aren’t even that surprising.

What do Republicans expect to happen? They’ve told confused, misguided activists that health care reform is a “totalitarian” scheme that attacks our “freedom” and represents the “end of America as we know it.” The policy breakthrough is, as several GOP leaders have put it, “Armageddon.”

It’s quite likely that most Republican lawmakers know that their over-the-top rhetoric is just a political gambit, and that their more insane attacks on the new law have no foundation in reality. But therein lies the point: their base doesn’t know that Republican officials are lying. When enraged activists are told by leaders they trust that health care reform will destroy America, these activists actually believe the nonsense.

When Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele demands that Pelosi get “ready for the firing line,” the GOP base gets the message. When Sarah Palin’s Facebook page shows 20 gun sights over Democratic lawmakers, some of whom are colored in red, the GOP base gets the message.

And now we’re seeing the results of Republicans’ irresponsibility.

The most farcical angle to this? The lunatics committing these crimes don’t even know what they’re so upset about. The things they think they hate about health care reform aren’t real. They’re lashing out violently to protest a law they don’t understand. Ironically, many of these same people and their families stand to benefit as a result of reform.

Republicans have quite deliberately exploited the ignorance and hatred of their own supporters to create a toxic political environment, which in turn leads to the violence we’ve seen over the last several days. Responsible GOP leaders, if any still exist, must do far more to lower the temperature before conditions take a more tragic turn.