Stay Classy, Right Wingers

By Jamilah King Mar 26, 2010

As the violent and racially-charged fallout from last week’s passage health care reform continues, so does the finger-pointing. Over the past week, the mainstream media’s been reporting that mostly Democratic Congressional members have been targeted with bricks, spit, racial and homophobic epithets, bullets, and threats against their children. Here’s a rundown of some of what’s happened so far: * Healthcare protestors hurled racial epithets at Civil Rights stalwart Rep. John Lewis and Rep. Andre Carson on Saturday. * They also tossed a few homophobic words at Rep. Barney Frank for good measure. * Rep. Emanuel Cleaver was spat on. * Nooses and Nazi insignia were sent to Rep. Bart Stupak after his last-minute support of the bill. * Bricks were thrown at Democratic Party offices in Kansas, upstate New York, and through the office windows of Rep. Denise Slaughter and Gabrielle Gifford. * The right wing extremist taking credit for the brick throwing is a former Alabama militia member who says that broken windows are one step closer to baring arms. * The FBI’s investigating reported threats to assassinate lawmakers’s kids. * Republican Whip Eric Cantor said that the bullet that was shot through his window was no big deal, and accused Democrats of "fanning flames" by suggesting the incidents be used as a "political weapon." Good move on his part, since the ballistics report says the bullet wasn’t aimed at him anyway. While right wing media hasn’t been shy about calling for riots, Republican leadership has publicly denounced the violence — even though their actions may say otherwise. Brave New Films has a new video up calling for Republican leadership to take responsibility for Tea Party racism. But Cantor does bring up an interesting point on political framing. The threat of extremist racial violence is very real — and has been for at least as long as it was first reported that a Black man had a legitimate shot at the White House. As Ben Smith noted over at Politico:

The flickers of racism and threats of violence were real — as they are now — and the decision to downplay them was a political one. Obama was selling himself to the nation as a unifying figure. He was selling America to skeptical Democrats and, particularly, African-Americans as a country ready to elect a black president, and soothing concerns that his candidacy would trigger racial conflict. A freak show of division would have badly undercut that. And one large reason that the storyline never caught on was that the campaign, in its extremely disciplined way, refused to participate in it.

On a similar note, Te-Nehisi Coates over at The Atlantic writes that it may come down to an issue of right wing quality control:

I hear GOP folks and Tea Partiers bemoaning the fact that media and Democrats are using the extremes of their movement for ratings and to score points. This is like Drew Brees complaining that Dwight Freeney keeps trying to sack him. If that were Martin Luther King’s response to media coverage, the South might still be segregated. I exaggerate, but my point is that the whining reflects a basic misunderstanding of the rules of protest. When you lead a protest you lead it, you own it, and your opponents, and the media, will hold you responsible for whatever happens in the course of that protest. This isn’t left-wing bias, it’s the nature of the threat.

All this begs the question: Is white extremist violence more prevalent these days? Or is it just being framed that way? I personally think the jury’s still out. But there’s certainly something to be said for the visceral anger that comes from not seeing someone who looks like you holding power. That’s not to say, of course, that these folks are powerless. But spit bombs and bricks don’t usually count at the ballot box.