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Healthcare reform's politics of anger: GOP fights back

Some Democrats have been attacked or threatened over passage of healthcare reform. Now, GOP leaders are fighting back against suggestions that their party is somehow responsible.

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Last weekend, tea party protesters gathered in Washington to agitate against final passage of healthcare reform, and some ugly scenes ensued. Minority and gay members of Congress say they heard epithets, and one member was spat upon.

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The danger for Republicans is that the actions of a few tar the party. The same danger holds for the tea party movement. The two are not synonymous, although 74 percent of tea partyers self-identify as Republican or independent but leaning Republican, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. Democrats have blamed Republicans for not doing enough to discourage violence.

The verbal sniping continued Thursday. After Cantor’s press conference, the office of Representative Van Hollen (D) of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), responded.

“Today, Mr. Cantor had the opportunity to join Mr. Van Hollen in calling for restraint. Instead, he chose to use his press conference to level false accusations,” spokesman Doug Thornell said in a statement. “This is straight out of the Republicans’ political playbook of deflecting responsibility and distracting attention away from a serious issue.”

Cantor’s office quickly fired back.

“With all due respect, perhaps the DCCC chairman should listen to Mr. Cantor’s statement where he repeatedly called for restraint and condemned violence,” Cantor’s spokesman, Brad Dayspring, said in a press release. “It’s very simple. If Chairman Van Hollen misspoke, he should correct the record, and if not, he and the DCCC should accept responsibility for their actions.”

Complicating matters for Republicans is the rhetoric of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), a favorite of tea partyers. On a Twitter feed Tuesday, Ms. Palin called on conservatives not to retreat, but to “RELOAD!” On her Facebook page, she posted a US map with cross-hair targets on the states where she plans to campaign against Democrats who voted for healthcare reform.

In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona defended Palin, his running mate in the 2008 presidential campaign, saying that such “battleground” language is typical for political campaigns.