Much of the right, including the chairman of the Republican National Committee, threw quite a fit yesterday over comments about civility made by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. The accusation is that Wasserman Schultz cast “blame” on the Tea Party for last year’s deadly shooting in Tucson. Since this is making the rounds, let’s take a moment to set the record straight.
The DNC chair appeared at a breakfast in New Hampshire and was asked by a voter about “the lack of civility” in Congress. “What do you think can be done to bring that faith back and then we can start thinking that they’re doing their job instead of just fighting with each other?” Wasserman Schultz replied:
“Well, as someone who spent 19 years as a member of a legislative body, I really agree with you, that we need to make sure that we tone things down, particularly in light of the Tucson tragedy from a year ago where my very good friend, Gabby Giffords, who is doing really well by the way, and I know everybody is so thrilled, as I am, to hear that, making tremendous progress.”
The audience applauded, and the congresswoman added some additional thoughts:
“[T]he discourse in America, the discourse in Congress in particular, to answer your question, very specifically, has really changed.
“And I’ll tell you, I hesitate to place blame, but I have noticed it take a very precipitous turn towards edginess and a lack of civility with the growth of the Tea Party movement.
“After the 2010 elections, when you had the Tea Party elect a whole lot of their supporters to the United States House of Representatives and you had town hall meetings that they tried to take over and you saw some of their conduct at those town hall meetings, you know, in the time that I’ve been in my state legislature and in Congress, I’ve never seen a time that was more divisive or where discourse was less civil.”
I realize there’s a political benefit to the right clutching their pearls as they reach for the fainting couch, but this is really weak tea. A voter asked about civility, and Wasserman Schultz’s first thought related to her recovering friend. As Todd Gregory added, “It shouldn’t be surprising that Wasserman Schultz would think of her friend Giffords in response to such a question — there was a national debate about incendiary rhetoric afterward.”
And after that, Wasserman Schultz reflected on the question itself, and commented on the excessive rhetoric from right-wing lawmakers and their allies. No fair reading of the transcript suggests she was blaming Tea Partiers for the Tucson shootings.
Indeed, Fox News’ Brit Hume — a prominent Republican media figure, and hardly an ally of the DNC — conceded on the air last night, “I don’t think that’s fair” to say Wasserman Schultz blamed the Tea Party for the violence.
These manufactured outrages sure do get old after a while.