Let's hope this isn't actually what it looks like . . . the attempted murder of a congressman's brother.
In general, I think the portrayal of Tea Party protesters has been a bit exaggerated. From what I've seen, most of the people who attend the rallies just seem like run-of-the-mill partisan activists. A lot of the rhetoric that I've heard is outrageous, but most of it isn't bigoted or overtly threatening.
Of course, I don't work on the Hill, and many of the staffers with whom I've spoken have had to endure at least a few menacing telephone calls.
I realized that some Tea Party protesters have said and done things that are appalling. But I really do think that there is a way to condemn these few without asserting that the entire movement is composed of bigots and terrorists. Many of the protesters who I've seen strike me as frustrated partisans, who simply want to voice their disapproval with a Democratic government they regard as their ideological adversary.
In my view, they should be allowed to protest as loudly and fervently as they wish to, as long as their actions aren't directly causing or inciting violence. Writing something mean on a sign isn't the same as cutting someone's gas line. Protesters at anti-war rallies routinely wrote vicious, hateful, and even threatening things about President Bush. However, these rallies rarely provoked actual violence - and, unsurprisingly, they were rarely condemned by Democratic members of Congress.
This doesn't excuse any real act of violence or genuine threat of violence. But freedom of speech is essential, even if that speech strikes you as nasty and vitriolic.
What I'd really like to see is a bit more willingness on the part of Republicans to discourage violence and lawless conduct, and a bit more willingness on the part of Democrats to tolerate the anger displayed by members of the Tea Party movement.
They're allowed to be angry and say mean things and draw pictures of guns. They're not allowed to throw bricks through windows and cut people's gas lines.
Update: House Republican Eric Cantor says that someone shot a bullet through the window of his district office in Richmond, VA.
Cantor blames the Democratic leadership, arguing that they have used threats of violence against Democratic lawmakers to "fan the flames" of violence against Republican lawmakers.
This is getting very meta, isn't it?
I assume that the Democrats will soon respond that Cantor's wild accusations about the role that the Democratic leadership played in stirring up violence against Republican members could easily incite more violence against Democratic members . . . .
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