Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Glenn Beckers, check out HuffPo, Obama urges at Michigan

At the University of Michigan today, Obama took a shot at the fiery anti-government rhetoric dominating the nation's political debate. But calls for civility can come at a cost.

(Page 2 of 2)



She points to both Joe Stack, who attacked an IRS office in an airplane, and Sam Byck, who attempted to hijack a plane to fly it into the Nixon White House, as examples of people on the margin who, in their writings, expressed frustration with an inability to get their political arguments into the open. In his manifesto, Mr. Byck wrote that he "felt like a grain of sand on an endless beach."

Skip to next paragraph

Conservatives dispute that they've cornered the market on rhetoric in the last year, pointing out that liberals' hands are far from clean when it comes to political hyperbole.

While Rep. Michelle Bachmann has urged Americans to become "armed and dangerous" to fight back against a proposed cap-and-trade bill, conservatives cite snippets of Obama speeches where the President in the past has urged supporters to "punch back twice as hard" and "bring a gun to a knife fight," a statement he made during the election campaign.

One expert on the history of political violence says passionate street protest is one of the most effective safety valves society can offer at a chaotic time.

"The fact is, everybody is destabilized economically and marginalized politically, so the last thing you can do is take to the streets," says Thomas Palaima, a classics professor at the University of Texas-Austin. "The question is, if things are polarized as they now are … and people feel so marginalized and nothing-ized, made into nothing in society, then have we really passed the point to get back to polite political discourse?"

For his part, Obama didn't name names or urge a crackdown on political passion. In essence, he said, "America, take a deep breath ... then go over and talk to your neighbor."

"Phrases like 'socialist' and 'Soviet-style takeover,' 'fascist' and 'right-wing nut' may grab headlines," but such language "closes the door to the possibility of compromise," Obama said. He added that American politics "has never been for the thin-skinned or the faint of heart. ... If you enter the arena, you should expect to get roughed up."

Related:

Does 'tea party' populism verge into extremism?

Oklahoma City bombing: Is 1995 repeating itself today?

Permissions