Vitriol in the Capitol

Hyperbolic rhetoric poisons productive deliberations in Congress.

Editorial board

Ethics watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint last week against Rep. Michele Bachmann, RâÄìMinn. CREW contends that Bachmann violated House rules by failing to get a permit for her âÄúSuper Bowl of FreedomâÄù rally and used her taxpayer-funded Web site to promote the rally against health care reform legislation. Bachmann and Republican leaders addressed a crowd that held aloft signs comparing DemocratsâÄô health plans to the Holocaust, complete with photographs of Dachau, and passed downtime by chanting âÄúweasel queenâÄù in reference to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Bachmann and her colleagues are of course entitled to criticize and demonstrate as they see fit. But such hateful rhetoric âÄî aside from being profoundly offensive to the legacy of the Holocaust âÄî dehumanizes and disrespects political opponents, polarizes the public and erodes the possibility for genuine dialogue. Unfortunately, such vitriolic politicking is characteristic of the current state of dialogue on both sides of the aisle in Washington. Rep. Alan Grayson, DâÄìFla., for his part, claimed recently that his oppositionâÄôs idea of a health plan was for sick patients to âÄúdie quickly.âÄù Disagreements over policy are expected and should be encouraged in a healthy democracy. However, once these differences begin to take the form of deeply oversimplified, hyperbolic or ad hominem attacks that routinely apply extreme labels like un-American, Communist or Fascist, we step down the dangerous road that once led us to McCarthyism. Such senseless aggression has no place in the halls of Congress, nor anywhere in our public debate. If politicians set the bar so low, it is up to citizens and the media to set it higher.