Last week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recalled how vitriolic language and extremist rallying cries escalated an atmosphere of political tension to the point where the San Francisco mayor and city councilman Harvey Milk were murdered in cold blood. Milk was the first openly gay man to win elected office in the United States, and the murderer was not a deranged member of the lunatic fringe, but a former colleague.
Speaker Pelosi teared up as she recalled the tragedy, and urged everyone involved in today’s political disputes to “curb our enthusiasm” and refrain from using language that might suggest recourse to violence to people who might be “not as stable” as those speaking assume. The press sought comment from Republican House minority leader John Boehner (R-VA), whom they expected would second the Speaker’s call for civility and to refrain from the language of incitement.
But Rep. Boehner’s response was perhaps the most scandalous comment made by any politician in Washington, DC, in recent years. The House minority leader, one of the most influential politicians in the nation, when asked to call for restraint in language that might incite extremists to violence, answered by calling for open “rebellion” against the government run by Pres. Obama.
At rallies around the country, an increasingly hateful tone, complete with visual and rhetorical references to racist slurs against Pres. Obama, has emerged. From hanging the president in effigy (a rhetorical ‘lynching’) to portraying him as an African tribal witch-doctor, a monkey or an old-time minstrel show performer, extremist elements have penetrated conservative rallies against proposed healthcare reforms.
Boehner’s refusal to denounce violent rhetoric, and in fact, to reiterate the call for “rebellion”, suggests a moral and intellectual corruption that disqualifies him from any legitimate claim on political leadership in a society governed by the rule of law. Boehner’s response was far beyond disrespectful (to the Speaker, the Congress, conscientious conservatives, political progressives and the American people broadly); it was a sign of a deliberate will to sow hate and unrest in order to profit politically.
The House of Representatives could initiate ethics hearings against the minority leader for willing participation in a criminal act, incitement to insurrection, and formally request that the Republican party remove him as leader. If found to have violated ethics rules, or his sworn oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, the minority leader could also be stripped of his elected office, by his colleagues, in the interests of protecting and serving the nation’s Constitution.
He has also opened himself up to potential criminal prosecution, should any extremist elements sympathetic to his political views cite his words as justification for violent acts they claim are part of a nationwide “rebellion”. The scandal of the minority leader’s chosen words is only beginning to seep through the Washington echo chamber, much of which seems deaf to the moral bankruptcy of such irresponsible and dangerous claims.