The Secret Service detained a man at a Maryland town hall yesterday carrying a sign reading, "'Death To Obama, Death To Michelle And Her Two Stupid Kids." Why don't Republicans at least say, "Don't threaten to kill the president"?
In all likelihood, the unnamed 51-year-old man carrying that sign wasn't an actual direct threat to the president's life. Neither was Gary Frago, the Atwater, California, city councilman who forwarded e-mails to his co-workers and friends joking about killing Obama (a fake letter, for instance, from John McCain to John Hinckley, Jr., explaining that he's about to be released and that Obama has been dating Jodi Foster). Neither was William Kostric, the asshole who brought a gun and a sign saying that it's time to "water the tree of liberty" to Obama's New Hampshire town hall earlier this week. None of these men presented an immediate, credible threat Obama. (Then again, people would probably have written off Hinckley as a harmless nut before he fired his shots.)
Kostric, we learned after seeing him interviewed on Hardball yesterday, was just a provocateur who sought to thumb his nose at authority and get on TV. But why did he want to get on TV? To spread his message and propagate his ideas. And what are his ideas? That it's time to shed the blood of our leaders.
These death threats aren't threats—they're challenges. They're attempts to inject into the public debate the sense that violence is a legitimate response to political defeat. As someone in the blogosphere whom we can't presently recall wrote yesterday, the appropriate response to a president who advocates rounding up the elderly and sending them before death panels is—if it seems like he's on the cusp of achieving that goal—to kill or rebel against him. And each publicized call for Obama's death adds to the public perception that we've reached a decision-point about whether it's time for killing. Every sign—even if the bearer is merely an angry loon who could never get close to Obama—is an inducement to someone who is willing to try. It's a message to fellow travelers, a signal that they are not alone in their rage, a promise of glory to come if they actually manage to get the job done. As we said before, there are always people who want to kill the president. The question is how many give it a shot. And the more of these signs there are in the background of Fox News' live report from some town hall in Missouri saying that someone should give it a shot, the more people actually will. And the more people that give it a shot, the more likely someone is to hit the jackpot.
This is not an idle concern: Obama gets 30 death threats every day, according to Ron Kessler, who recently wrote a book about the Secret Service. That's a four-fold increase over the number that George W. Bush—the most reviled president in modern history—received. Secret Service resources are stretched thin, and every threat has to be investigated not matter how harmless.
So what is the GOP's response so far to these threats? "Hey Democrats, They're Called The American People." "No Wonder Democrats Are Smearing Americans – They Read The Headlines." "AS CANDIDATE, OBAMA ENCOURAGED ANGER AND AGGRESSION AMONG HIS SUPPORTERS." Those are quotes from recent GOP press releases striking back at Democrats for calling a mob a mob. Where are the Republican politicians denouncing the violent rhetoric? Can we at least draw the boundary at threatening to kill his children?
If GOP politicians were to be outspoken in telling their supporters that strenuous political opposition is OK but that glorifying violence is not—how many signs have you seen reading "Sic Semper Tyrannis"?—it might go a long way toward tamping down the rage and decreasing the likelihood that someone actually becomes convinced that Sean Hannity will have him on the show as a reward for stopping Obama's march toward a "culture of death." But rage is all they've got, so rage it is. Not one GOP politician that we can find has distanced themselves from that rage. They've embraced it.