Commentary: When Tea Party rhetoric goes too far

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverApril 19, 2010 

Last Thursday's "tea party" demonstration in downtown Raleigh, although attendance fell short of what organizers had hoped (police estimated 1,000 attendees), featured much of the anti-government, anti-tax sentiment expressed at similar events around North Carolina and all over the United States, for that matter. The rhetoric here and at other rallies on "tax day" was decidedly negative and in some cases over the top.

Nothing in Raleigh seemed to come close to her, but then again, when it comes to inflammatory, ridiculous exaggeration, few can top Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann. Speaking to a Washington tea party rally, Bachmann said the Obama administration was "the gangster government."

Former President Bill Clinton calmly responded when he heard of those comments. "They are not gangsters," he said. "They were elected. They are not doing anything they were not elected to do." Clinton also had some appropriate cautions regarding the tea party protesters and others who rally to the anti-government battle cry.

The former president was speaking in Washington the day before a symposium on the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, which occurred in 1995, 15 years ago tomorrow.

"There can be real consequences when what you say animates people who do things you would never do," he said. Timothy McVeigh and his cohorts in the bombing, Clinton noted to The New York Times, "were profoundly alienated, disconnected people who bought into this militant antigovernment line."

Much tea party rhetoric seems to treat government as the enemy (would the tea partyers, in cutting taxes and "shrinking government," also eliminate the expense of Medicare and Social Security?), and that sentiment is fed by the likes of Sarah Palin, who bailed out as governor of Alaska in favor of show business as she stokes her popularity on the right. But conservatives in general, while arguing for limited government, understand that neither the White House nor the Congress is an evil, conspiratorial institution.

Ronald Reagan, a tea party favorite and a president certainly on the right wing of his Republican Party, was tough on Democrats but did not declare war on all those who disagreed with him. John McCain, in a tough battle for the presidency in 2008, sharply corrected those in his town hall meetings who questioned Barack Obama's personal integrity.

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