Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gretchen Whitmer Speaks Out on the Violent Backlash to Health Care Reform

Senator Whitmer speaks for me.


“I had the privilege of speaking to youth in government this morning, and one of my messages was the importance of civility. Though they are bound to disagree this weekend — and robust debate is healthy for our democracy — I reminded them that you can disagree without being disagreeable. I urged them to learn from the awful stories in the press about how some fanatics have reacted to the Health Care Reform Bill in Washington, D.C. I did not mention — much less criticize the Tea Party — because political discourse is a valuable part of our democracy.

There are many thoughtful Americans who oppose the Health Care Reform bill and I respect their right to do that. Unconscionably, though, some fanatics associated with that movement have engaged in speech and action that harkens back to the violent and turbulent 1960s. Racial epithets were waged against Congressman John Lewis who marched in Selma, Alabama and was beaten within an inch of his life fighting for civil rights. A civil rights hero. These fanatics spit on Congressman James Clyburn. My children know you don’t spit on anybody. They hurled homophobic hate words against Congressman Barney Frank because he is gay.

Bigotry? Intolerance? Hatred?

These hateful words are used to intimidate, degrade and hurt people, and have no place in political discourse and debate. And we have worked hard to remove these prejudiced and degrading terms from our vocabulary, altogether. And now reports of death threats . . . cutting gas lines, delivering a coffin to the front lawn of a lawmaker. And even threats to KILL THE CHILDREN of Democratic legislators who supported the bill. This has gotten way out of hand, as this rhetoric and rancor is turning into violent action.

And in my view, perhaps the worst offense is that people in leadership positions are silent and astonishingly in some cases actually encouraging this horrifying behavior. None of us should take lightly this dangerous trend. We as leaders, as legislators should condemn behavior like this — Republican and Democrat alike. If we don’t quell this now, it will surely foment and as a society we will all pay as election tensions rise.

As John Nichols wrote in The Nation:

“Tea Party activists need to disassociate (themselves) from the behaviors that were on display (since) Saturday. Those behaviors discredit sincere activism and insult not just John Lewis but the memory of Ronald Reagan, who wisely declared 20 years after the March on Washington: ‘(The) long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights, once a source of disunity and civil war, is now a point of pride for all Americans. We must never go back. There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country.’”

Please join me in condemning this activity. I have a resolution condemning that behavior that I hope you will add your name to. I authored this resolution not to endorse the health care bill — because I know we don’t all agree. I wrote this not to criticize the Tea Party — again because that would be divisive.

I deliberately drafted this resolution merely so that statespeople of good will can stand together and condemn this dangerous trend that threatens real political discourse in our country.

I hope you will join me by adding your name to the resolution on my desk.”

And I hope that everyone will remember that there are people in our society who face this sort of threat every day from those who are intolerant of others.

The gay kid who is bullied and beaten. The woman walking into a Planned Parenthood. The doctor who serves those women, wearing a bullet proof vest. People of color, who have had to endure just about everything in the book. The atheist who faces condemnation. Heck, even political activists who are stalked and harassed, online and in person. We feel this wrath. And usually we are alone in our struggle; no police protection, no media to lead off with our story on the six o'clock news.

Remember us too, politicians, and speak out against this behavior. Senator Whitmer's resolution is not online yet; it will be interesting to see who stands with her.