The elephants didn’t so much parade yesterday, as they did stampede. Keynoting her own “Superbowl of Freedom,” honest-to-god sitting US Representative Michele Bachmann stood before roughly 4,000 of her frothy minions and once again urged them, as she had last week, to get all close and personal with their congressmen and women so that they could spit in their faces and “see the whites of their eyes.” (Well, at least the ones inside who were, you know, actually “takin’ care of business”; the numerous GOP reps standing with Michele at the lectern were presumably exempt.)
The metaphor—whether born of intent or ignorance—was bad enough. Anyone who was doing something other than drawing pony pictures in their 6th Grade civics book will recall that you don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes. As in, fire your gun. It is a command, attributed to American officer William Prescott, from the Battle of Bunker Hill. It is about shooting at your enemy from a distance where you can be more sure of actually killing them. And the metaphor was made a little too fleshy when Bachmann instructed her adoring rabble to flood the halls of Congress and confront her opponents—which, to Bachmann’s mind, is pretty much all Democrats, and a goodly number of Republicans, too.
And, flood they did. While there were no muskets leveled, there were plenty of reports of harassment. Bachmanniacs crowded congressional offices, yelled at staff, interfered with business, and, in at least one case that I have heard about, physically accosted a member of the House. (The Representative declined to press charges and would prefer to move on and focus on the people’s business, so I will leave the story there.) All this, remember, at the urging of Rep. Michele Bachmann and other congressional colleagues that joined her rally “press conference”—US Representatives such as Rules Committee member Virginia Foxx, Minority Whip Eric Cantor, and Minority Leader John Boehner.
Stupid and ugly by itself, but here’s a simple, broader point: Ms. Bachmann is a member of Congress. Boehner and Cantor are leaders of the House Republicans. They all have the power and position to confront other members of Congress any day of the week. If they want to debate about the merits of health care reform, they not only have the ability, they have the proximity, access, permission, and responsibility to do just that. . . in Congress!
But—and I hope this point is indeed simple, simple enough for the Democrats in Congress and the White House to notice—Bachmann’s super bowl of nuts chose not to engage in deliberative debate and neighborly negotiation. Instead, Bachmann, Boehner, Cantor, et al.—with the ready help of Dick Armey and the astroturfing organizers at Americans for Prosperity—have chosen to implore others to terrorize their political opponents. The strategy is to scare the other side into inaction, to politically paralyze with fear, to keep angry, indeed violently angry, people who don’t have the position or power that the Republican Representatives have, up in the faces of public servants who are actually trying to get something done.
If you are a Democrat, say, in the House, and you know that the leadership of the GOP, in the House, has organized a mob with the express purpose of terrorizing you, well, how inclined would you be to work with them? Hell, how inclined should you be? They, the Republicans, are making it publicly clear, they don’t want to work with Democrats; they want to make their lives miserable, and throw enough garbage onto the path of progress so that the Democrats eventually trip.
So, loyal Democrats, true public servants, elected representatives of the people’s will, keep this in mind (because I hear you say stuff like this all the time): you don’t negotiate with terrorists. The GOP is out to unravel the system; I am counting on you, members of the Democratic caucus, and all lovers of democracy, to defend it. Ignore the stampede, don’t step in the dung, keep your hand on Constitution (preamble and all), and your eyes on the prize. Pass healthcare reform with a robust public option, and you can say: we didn’t let the terrorists win.