Preceding President Obama's final speech to galvanize House Democrats to vote for health care reform, thousands of Tea Party protesters gathered around the Capitol and shouted "nigger" to these congressmen and spat on them. (Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is gay, was called a "faggot.") I have been saying repeatedly here and elsewhere that while some of the Tea Party members may have legitimate concerns, the underbelly of the movement is racist. Their leaders Tom Tancredo and Mark Williams have both made racist statements. Tancredo's remarks were given at the Tea Party Convention to uproarious laughter.
Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, said "It was absolutely shocking to me. Last Monday, this past Monday, I stayed home to meet on the campus of Claflin University where fifty years ago as of last Monday... I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit ins... And quite frankly I heard some things today I have not heard since that day. I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus."
Rep Cleaver's office issued this statement:
For many of the members of the CBC, like John Lewis and Emanuel Cleaver who worked in the civil rights movement, and for Mr. Frank who has struggled in the cause of equality, this is not the first time they have been spit on during turbulent times.As usual, Republican leaders spoke at the Tea Party protest and as usual none of them have publicly come out and condemn their actions. On the floor of the House yesterday Congressman Ryan of Ohio denounced the protesters' behavior:
This afternoon, the Congressman was walking into the Capitol to vote, when one protester spat on him. The Congressman would like to thank the US Capitol Police officer who quickly escorted the other Members and him into the Capitol, and defused the tense situation with professionalism and care. After all the Members were safe, a full report was taken and the matter was handled by the US Capitol Police. The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested, but the Congressman has chosen not to press charges. He has left the matter with the Capitol Police.
This is not the first time the Congressman has been called the "n" word and certainly not the worst assault he has endured in his years fighting for equal rights for all Americans. That being said, he is disappointed that in the 21st century our national discourse has devolved to the point of name calling and spitting. He looks forward to taking a historic vote on health care reform legislation tomorrow, for the residents of the Fifth District of Missouri and for all Americans. He believes deeply that tomorrow’s vote is, in fact, a vote for equality and to secure health care as a right for all. Our nation has a history of struggling each time we expand rights. Today’s protests are no different, but the Congressman believes this is worth fighting for.
Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic Majority Leader, also issued a statement condemning the protesters' remarks and behavior:
Today's protests against health insurance reform saw a rash of despicable, inflammatory behavior, much of it directed at minority Members of Congress. According to reports, anti-reform protesters spat on Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, yelled a sexual slur at Rep. Barney Frank, and addressed my dear friend, Rep. John Lewis, with a racial slur that he has sadly heard far too many times. On the one hand, I am saddened that America’s debate on health care — which could have been a national conversation of substance and respect — has degenerated to the point of such anger and incivility. But on the other, I know that every step toward a more just America has aroused similar hate in its own time; and I know that John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, has learned to wear the worst slurs as a badge of honor.Historically, Republicans have long stoked racial division by using hate in their ads to get out the vote. (Remember the Karl Rove Willie Horton ad and the recent "Call me" Bob Corker ad?) By not speaking out against such despicable behavior, it is clear that nothing has changed. Throughout this health care debate the Republican Party, along with their fringe element--The Tea Party, without whom what would the modern Republican Party be?--have shown themselves utterly uninspiring, unless you count the fact that they have charged people of all races to fight bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head and denounce hatred. We, the people, are many but one.
America always has room for open and spirited debate, and the hateful actions of some should not cast doubt on the good motives of the majority, on both sides of this argument. But Members of Congress and opinion leaders ought to come to terms with their responsibility for inciting the tone and actions we saw today. A debate that began with false fears of forced euthanasia has ended in a truly ugly scene. It is incumbent on all of us to do better next time.