Of course, he’s hardly the first president to experience withering personal attacks. Thomas Paine demanded that George Washington ask himself “whether you are an apostate or an impostor.” James Callender called John Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character.” Congressman Sherrard Clemens described Abe Lincoln as a “cross between a sandhill crane and an Andalusian jack—s.”
Still, the level of personal attacks has hit a new low. And, worse yet, they are tolerated and encouraged by Republican Tea Party members of Congress. Consider, for starters, this comment by a woman at a town hall meeting held last month by Oklahoma Republican Jim Bridenstine: “He’s not president as far as I’m concerned. He should be executed as an enemy combatant, really. But the Muslims that he is shipping into our country through pilots in commercial jets. What ... I can’t tell you, I can’t say because we’re in a public place that this guy is a criminal.” She continued: “And the other thing is too, with Congress doing nothing that legally allows this moron to make decisions.”
OK. So you’re a member of Congress who’s taken an oath to uphold the Constitution. And one of your constituents calls the president of the United States a criminal and a moron and says he should be executed. How do you respond? Do you admonish her? Correct her? Disagree with her? No, Congressman Bridenstine just laughed, before adding: “Everybody knows the lawlessness of this president. He picks and chooses which laws he’s going to enforce or not enforce.”
And Bridenstine’s not alone. In July 2013, a man asked Alabama Tea Party Republican Martha Roby: “What I need from you is to know what you can do, you and your fellow non-communist colleagues in the lower House, what you can do to stop these communist tyrannical executive orders laid down by this foreign-born, America-hating communist despot?” And Congresswoman Roby’s response? A big smile, and then this: “Thank you for your question — he said it loud enough that you all heard it.”
One more. When Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) was asked in August 2013 about the possibility of impeaching President Obama in order to “stop this runaway train that we have in the White House,” he readily agreed. “If I could write that bill and submit it, it would be a dream come true,” he told the crowd at his town hall.
And the list goes on and on. What is most shocking about these exchanges is not the comments made by members of the audience. Nobody can control what comes out of the mouths of nutty constituents. What’s shocking is the silence of the lawmakers. Because, in face of those personal attacks, silence equals assent. Not saying anything speaks volumes. It means they agree.
Certainly, as Members of Congress, you’d expect them to have a little more common sense, if not just a smidgeon of civility. Maybe they could learn a lesson from John McCain. When one woman told him at a 2008 campaign event, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him and he’s not, he’s not, uh — he’s an Arab.” McCain took the microphone from her and replied: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about.” Unlike his tea party colleagues, McCain’s a class act.
Even more shocking than the silence of Bridenstine, Roby and Bentivolio is the silence of their leaders. Did you notice? Not one word from House Speaker John Boehner. Nothing from Eric Cantor. And zip from GOP Chair Reince Priebus. Again, by not condemning that kind of hate talk against Obama, they are encouraging it and tacitly expressing their agreement, which would be just the opposite if those same kinds of comments were made about a Republican president at a Democrat’s town hall. Nancy Pelosi would strongly condemn that Democrat. And so would the media. Yet the media’s paid almost no attention to Bridenstine. Maybe because they’ve learned to expect nothing but hate-filled rhetoric from tea party members and their constituents.
Meanwhile, we can only hope that the Secret Service is knocking on Congressman Bridenstine’s door. Joking about executing any president is no laughing matter.
Bill Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show.