By Brett Gall
By now, most of us have read numerous columns and articles decrying the recent threats and displays of anger and racism against numerous politicians, most notably Democrat politicians who voted in favor of health care reform. This condemnation is completely warranted in that these actions are both contradictory to the intended spirit of American democracy and in opposition to any notion of free government. Yet while condemnation of these hateful actions is certainly appropriate, it must be directed and justified. In seeking a scapegoat, the media and condemners of these actions have quickly attributed this behavior as unique to the entire collectivity of the Tea Party Movement and Republican Party, without any respect for what each group stands for and the individual nature of the actions.
Let’s first examine whether this is behavior that either of the aforementioned groups actually endorses. According to an article posted last week by the Huffington Post, GOP House Minority Leader John Boehner repeated the message of condemnation that Republicans have been spreading all week:
I know many Americans are angry over this health care bill, and that Washington Democrats just aren’t listening. But, as I’ve said, violence and threats are unacceptable. That’s not the American way. We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change. Call your Congressman, go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, make your voice heard - but let’s do it the right way.
As for the Tea Party Movement, it is not a formally structured national organization, but rather an ideological movement. Nevertheless, I have yet to see an organized group of Tea-Partiers or any collective group affiliated with the Tea Party Movement that officially endorses any of the perpetrations. While one group does not speak for the whole, the Roanoke Tea Party, one of the more notorious Tea Party groups, released a statement on March 25th opposing the threats:
The Roanoke Tea Party does not suggest, condone, promote, incite, overlook or tolerate acts of violence towards any persons or property. The Tea Party movement believes in, and abides by the rule of law as embodied in the Constitution of the United States. It is that very Constitution which provides for the proper and peaceful means for the expression of political opinion and the transition of political power.
Clearly both groups oppose the threats. Despite this fact, Republicans have frequently been cited as “contribute[ing] in part to this anger by wildly mischaracterizing the substance and motives of health reform to condemn these acts is entirely appropriate.” The provision of information or misinformation does not seem to justify laying the blame of violent action by isolated individuals at the hands of a national organization. Even supposing the worst, that Republicans and Tea Partiers have completely lied about health care reform during the past year, one cannot justify placing the blame on Republicans or Tea Partiers. If I tell Joe that Sally wants to take his bike from him that does not mean that I am responsible for Joe beating up Sally for fear of losing his bike.
This leads to the key point: Individuals must be held responsible for their actions. A few crazy individuals do not accurately represent a group, much as Rod Blagojevich doesn’t represent all Democrats, nor does Pacman Jones accurately represent all NFL players. This sentiment is echoed by Republicans and Tea Partiers alike: “I absolutely think it’s isolated,” Amy Kremer, the grassroots coordinator of the Tea Party Express, told Fox News, “it’s disgraceful and the people in this movement won’t tolerate it because that’s not what we’re about.”
Much as Democrats and the American Left weren’t to blame for the violent protests in opposition to the American war in Iraq, nor were such groups held liable for the frequent death threats against George W. Bush at many rallies across the country, Republicans and Tea Partiers are not responsible for these vile actions. Responsibility lies at the feet of individuals. As Americans, we may disagree on death panels, government mandates, the role of the private sector, and more, but we certainly can agree that responsible adults are liable for their own actions.
Brett Gall is currently pursuing a degree Political Science and philosophy at the George Washington University. He focuses primarily on political theory, ethics, and domestic issues.