What happened to civility?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

This is not a post about health care. We’ve discussed that issue in the past, and I understand and celebrate the fact that there is a diversity of opinion about reform. Though I support a public option, I respect those who have concerns that the plan being considered in congress might actually raise cost and reduce quality. These are legitimate concerns that should certainly be considered in every discussion.

But this is not a post about health care; it’s a post about civility.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the video footage coming out of the recent town hall meetings on health care. Opponents of the democratic proposal have taken to filling the halls with protestors, screaming and yelling, displaying swastikas, starting fights, and shouting over speakers to the point that security has had to shut the meetings down.  Outside the venues, protestors carry signs in which devil horns are superimposed over pictures of their congressmen and congresswomen and in which President Obama is depicted wearing Hitler’s mustache.

Conservative action groups and radio/TV hosts are fueling the fire. Last week Rush Limbaugh called Speaker Nancy Pelosi a Nazi and compared Barack Obama to Hitler. (Imagine how hurtful and frustrating such statements must be to Jewish Americans, many of whom had relatives who were actually killed in an actual genocide…a situation unspeakably more serious than a political difference!) Sean Hannity encouraged his viewers to “become a part of the mob” through a banner ad on his Web site. A strategy memo circulated by Tea Party Patriots urged protestors to “pack the hall…Yell out and challenge the Rep’s statement early. Get him off his prepared script and agenda. Stand up and shout and sit right back down.”

Sarah Palin and others have started rumors of an Obama “death panel” in which the elderly and mentally handicapped will be sentenced to death as a result of a public option, rumors that every reputable news organization and independent analysis group has denounced as ridiculous. (See FactCheck.org – Also, having worked in PR for a local hospital myself, I personally designed brochures and wrote copy about “advanced directives” and end-of-life planning; it’s just basic information about how to make a will, plan ahead, etc. And I don’t consider myself a Nazi.) 

With all the hateful rhetoric and misinformation floating around, I am genuinely beginning to fear for President Obama’s life. (I have friends who refer to him as "Obama Bin Laden"!)

Now, I understand that these folks do not represent all Republicans. I know that not everyone is this extreme.

But here’s what has surprised me the most about this whole situation– Not a single prominent Republican leader has come out against these actions and denounced the hateful rhetoric. Not Mike Huckabee. Not Mitt Romney. Not Sarah Palin. Not Bobby Jindal. Not John McCain. Not Michael Steele.

I genuinely expected that someone from the Republican Party would call a press conference and say, “Listen, although we do not support the president’s plan, we can dialog about this issue in a respectful way. Our ideas are strong enough that we don’t have to yell over our representatives, start a mob, or make Hitler references. We are better than this. We are smarter than this. And we are more self-disciplined than this. We may disagree with the democrats, but we acknowledge that our disagreements need not make us enemies. At the end of the day, we will triumph because our ideas are better, not because our voices are louder or our rhetoric more extreme.”

But such a press conference has not happened, probably because Republicans hoping to run for president in 2012 don’t want to “alienate their base.”

And so, it has become clear to me that, right now, the true leaders of the Republican Party are indeed Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. (James Carville was right!) These are the guys calling the shots. They represent the party. And they are the ones making Hitler references and encouraging mob scenes.

I didn’t used to be a democrat. I voted for Bush twice, and then voted for Obama in 2008. Until now, I assumed that I would be open to considering a Republican in 2012. But unless a strong, principled Republican emerges soon, the party will be seen by moderates (like me) not only as the “party of no,” but as the party of ignorance, fear, and hate. If Republicans aren't careful, they might inadvertently create some lifelong democrats. 

Okay, I want to hear from my conservative, liberal, and moderate readers. What the heck is going on here? Why the sudden breakdown of civility? Who would you say is the current “face” of the Republican Party? Do you know of any Republican leaders who are speaking out against the mob scenes and Hitler comparisons? Are there any Christian leaders speaking out agaist them?

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