By now you’ve probably read about the frothing Tea Partier whose inflamed tirade led Senator Claire McCaskill to ask for and receive extra security protection. In case you haven’t, though, it seems that one Scott Boston gave vent to some rather extreme emotions inspired by the mild, centrist Democrat:
We have to kill the Claire bear ladies and gentlemen,” Boston said, according to an audio tape of his remarks gathered by the Missouri Democratic Party and made available. “She walks around like she’s some sort of Rainbow Brite Care Bear or something, but really she’s an evil monster.”
Dispicable, sure, but nowadays not that unusual. Boston’s fulminations are, if anything, more notable for the inanity of the “Care Bear” comparison.
What’s even more disturbing, though, was the defense of Boston mounted by Sarah Steelman, who hopes to be the GOPer opposing McCaskill next fall. She tentatively disavowed his rhetoric, but endorsed his emotions, observing that she might “disagree with the words” but “I understand his frustration and I emphatically support his right to express his views.”
Steelman evidently thinks that rhetoric is all that is at issue, and that the implicit threat should be disregarded. She attempts to reduce the issue to media bias and claims the role of victim so beloved by conservatives:
Steelman mainly criticized the media. “When a conservative citizen makes a statement, the liberal press attacks it and spins it in the worst way,” she said, but it “applauds” comments like President Obama’s during the 2008 campaign when he said, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”
She also cited McCaskill’s remark during 2010 debate over renewing the Bush tax cuts: “If (Republicans) think it’s okay to raise taxes for the embattled middle class because they’re going to pout if we don’t give more money to millionaires, it really is time for people to take up pitchforks.”
“This is a typical double standard and why we conservatives are at war with the liberal establishment,” Steelman said
Strong metaphors are okay. What’s not okay are over the top threats directed at specific individuals, metaphorical or not. Obama, to use Steelman’s example, did not say he was going to take a gun to McCain, but that he would do political battle well-armed – a promise that I personally found reassuring. If he had said that he would shoot, kill or do whatever to McCain, I can only imagine the furor it would have – deservedly – ignited.
The real problem with these violent, right-wing flights of fancy, though, is that they are almost always in service of beliefs that are so divorced from reality as to boggle the mind. We are right to be concerned by metaphors threatening violence when they are coupled with paranoid and irrational beliefs.*
Consider, for instance, the similarities between this bit of bile, taken from the March Newsletter of the Republican Party of Greene County, Virginia (via DailyKos), and Mr. Boston’s outpourings:
The ultimate task for the people is to remain vigilant and aware ~ that the government, their government is out of control, and this moment, this opportunity, must not be forsaken, must not escape us for we shall not have any coarse but armed revolution should we fail with the power of the vote in November ~ This Republic cannot survive for 4 more years underneath this political socialist ideologue.
Is this just rhetoric, or a call to armed revolution? You tell me. And when you’ve split those very fine hairs, tell me what to think when folks like Steelman go out of their way to not only validate, but encourage the insane world view that animates these folks. Sadly, as Ed Kilgore notes, “encouraging ‘the crazy’ has become an extraordinarily regular feature of GOP politics these days.”
*Slightly edited for clarity.