Politics is getting increasingly violent as Democrats desperately try to salvage their health care bill.
Rep. Brian Baird, Washington Democrat, said last week that public protest against the government health care plan "is close to Brown Shirt tactics." For Mr. Baird to characterize his constituents as Nazi storm troops is distasteful, to say the least. Yet it is fully in line with the tone set by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who misleadingly decried protesters "carrying swastikas." Closer examination revealed that in every case, the symbol was being used as a warning against the arrogance of power of which Mrs. Pelosi has become emblematic.
Democratic talking points characterize the spontaneous grass-roots opposition to the planned government takeover of the health care system as being organized by a shadowy cabal of lobbyists and insurance companies. However, the real storm troops are being deployed openly by organized labor in an attempt to squelch dissent.
On Aug. 6, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney sent marching orders to his members to confront concerned citizens at town-hall forums. In St. Louis, members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) reportedly attacked and beat Kenneth Gladney, who was passing out yellow flags outside a forum held by Rep. Russ Carnahan, Missouri Democrat. SEIU President Andy Stern has summed up his philosophy as, "We prefer to use the power of persuasion, but if that doesn't work, we use the persuasion of power." We expect to see his grim-faced "purple shirts" using intimidation at other events during the congressional recess.
This effort is fully consistent with the general contempt that the Democratic majority has shown for those who oppose its radical agenda. The promised era of bipartisanship is long gone. The government's new slogan is "sit down and shut up." In an appearance in McLean last week, President Obama advised opponents of his plan to "get out of the way" and said he didn't want them "to do a lot of talking." The Obama White House made history when it set up an e-mail snitch line for people to report on the "fishy" ideas of their fellow citizens.
The Democrats would do better to try to understand the root causes of this unprecedented spontaneous outpouring of public concern and frustration than to resort to intimidation tactics. There are many serious questions about the growth of government and the planned takeover of health care that need to be answered, not beaten down. Deploying thugs will only lead to violence, which serves no one's interest. If the people are shouting, it is because the politicians have stopped listening.
This editorial first appeared in The Washington Times on Monday, August 10, 2009.