Let’s be clear, if a member of Congress or one of their staff is seriously assaulted, the blame will squarely lie with the Republican Party and its leadership in particular. I say seriously assaulted because Rep. Cleaver was spat upon on Sunday and that constitutes assault. But it will not be a legal culpability that the Republicans will have to bear it is the moral responsibility that they as people elected to represent and lead this nation.

We have seen some back peddling from a few Republicans, softly decrying the actions of their supporters as “nuts” or a “ few isolated incidents”. This, of course, completely ignores the years of ever growing rhetoric which paints their political opponents as traitors or baby killers or Socialists or Nazi’s.

This is the problem with maximalist rhetoric. When your opponent and or their policy is compared, without caveat, without any nuance to the worst of the worst of humanity, it takes the social limiters that a civil society depends on off line. If one group of people is really trying to destroy America, then why isn’t it okay to take up arms against them? If one political party is actually voting to kill your grandmother, isn’t that an imminent danger that demands an extreme response?

"Originally posted at Squarestate.net

The Republicans will say that it is the heat of this particular debate on Health Care Reform that has brought things to this level, but that is disingenuous at best. While elected Republicans may have only come to the level of insane rhetoric that toes right up to the level of incitement, they have been more than happy to benefit from decades of this kind of screeching from Fox News and Conservative Talk Radio.

The people they are egging on today have been primed by the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to believe that Democrats are actually evil. There is an entire generation of far right voters who have been told this, over and over and over. There is no acceptance of the idea of loyal opposition; anger has become a way of life for these people.

As long as the insane rhetoric was not publicly embraced by the leadership of the Republican Party, this was merely an unfortunate dumbing down and coarsening of the national debate on policy. The nuts were many, but they were the hoi poli they did not really represent the Republicans as a whole, or at least that was the fig leaf that could be held up.

Things have now changed. With Representatives like Virginia Fox (R-NC) saying that Health Care Reform is more dangerous than terrorism or Rep. Bachman saying she is “behind enemy lines” we have seen the Republican Party give official sanction to the worst of the crazed rhetoric. Since no member of leadership would challenge this insane rhetoric, it gives those who really believe such things license to act and act violently.

There are some who like the idea of anger as a motivator for political action. The thinking is that if you are red faced at the perceived injustice of the current situation you will actually get off your ass and do something about it. I have never been a fan of this as a motivator. There are problems with anger; it is like a fire, it constantly needs new fuel if it is to be sustained. There must be fresh outrages, more actions that can no be born to keep it hot and motivating. This leads to a cycle of needing greater and greater offenses if you are to keep them going. What started out as “ Government is the problem”, eventually leads to “Our nation is being destroyed by traitors”.

The other problem with anger as motivator is that if you are defeated (as often happens in politics) it morphs in one of two ways, it either completely de-motivates your base, leaving them apathetic and demoralized or it leads to thoughts of violence and aggression. If the system is rigged, if the righteous can not prevail, then the system must be torn down. This is the kind of thinking that leads to acts of violence. Those acts of violence will be focused on the people who have been vilified by insane rhetoric.

This is where we come to the responsibility of the Republican Party. They have chosen to stoke those fires of anger, they have lied to try to score political gains and those lies were aimed squarely at the people who had been primed to be angry. We can only fervently hope that it will calm down now that the HCR debate is over. We will hold our breath with crossed fingers that the Tea Party activist and others will be more demoralized than enraged. However, if the worst comes to pass and some member of Congress or their families or their staff is injured or killed, then we must be ready to say, to have been saying that the moral responsibility it on the Republican Party and its Leadership.

They will never face any criminal charges, but they must be made to pay a cost all the same. Political violence is an existential danger to a democracy. It can lead to a tit-for-tat cycle of reprisals that can bring down civil society and lead to the collapse of any government. We must not let the Republicans be in a place to claim their hands are clean. They have sown the Dragons teeth for political gain, but it is all of us that may reap the whirlwind if we do not make them take responsibility for their actions.

The floor is yours

Bill Egnor

Bill Egnor

I am a life long Democrat from a political family. Work wise I am a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and Freelance reporter for Govtrak.org