Fighting talk in count­down to vote

Cam­paign­ing for the midterm elec­tions has de­scended into a dirty war of words, writes Lau­rie Kell­man

Weekend Herald - - World - The leader

There’s a lot of scold­ing about smack talk in Wash­ing­ton these days, and whether “ci­vil­ity” in pol­i­tics is pos­si­ble — or even de­sir­able — ahead of the Novem­ber 7 midterm elec­tions.

Lots of Amer­i­cans got riled up over Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings. Party lead­ers are busy brand­ing op­po­nents as “mobs” gone mad, and worse. Then there is Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, an in­no­va­tor in the field of broad­cast­ing deeply per­sonal and some­times ef­fec­tive in­sults.

It’s not likely to get bet­ter soon. A look at the talk about how to talk:

Trump kicked off his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2015 by say­ing many Mex­i­cans are rapists and mur­der­ers. He scorned his Repub­li­can chal­lengers as “ly­ing”, “lit­tle” and “low-en­ergy”. He called women ugly, hys­ter­i­cal, even “a dog”. Crit­ics hated his ap­proach, but Trump is walk­ing, tweet­ing ev­i­dence it can be ef­fec­tive. Af­ter all, as Trump re­minds ev­ery­one, he won.

Now, the Pres­i­dent is back at it in the af­ter­glow of Ka­vanaugh’s Supreme Court ap­proval, call­ing con­fir­ma­tion op­po­nents an “an­gry mob” of Democrats, some of them plain “evil”.

More than mean talk?

Much of the back-and-forth is re­ally about what role, if any, the nasty talk plays in real-life vi­o­lence.

Repub­li­cans are cir­cu­lat­ing video of Eric Holder, former Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s At­tor­ney Gen­eral, is­su­ing a new take on Michelle Obama’s mantra, “When they go low, we go high”. “No,” Holder says in the video, re­port­edly shot at an event in Ge­or­gia. “When they go low, we kick them. That’s what this new Demo­cratic Party is about.”

Pub­lished re­ports say Holder later added that he’s not ad­vo­cat­ing do­ing any­thing in­ap­pro­pri­ate or il­le­gal.

Trump said yes­ter­day on Fox News that such talk is “very dan­ger­ous”, even though the Pres­i­dent as a can­di­date ad­vo­cated for se­cu­rity to throw out protesters at his ral­lies, in­clud­ing “on a stretcher”.

Sen­a­tors, Ka­vanaugh and his ac­cuser, Chris­tine Blasey Ford, have re­ceived threats. A year ago, a man shot up a GOP base­ball prac­tice and badly wounded Con­gress­man Steve Scalise of Lou­i­si­ana. In 2011, a gun­man shot then-Con­gress­woman Gabrielle Gif­ford in the head and crit­i­cally wounded her.

“Those who are ratch­et­ing up the con­ver­sa­tion . . . they have to re­alise that they bear some re­spon­si­bil­ity if this el­e­vates to vi­o­lence,” Repub­li­can Se­na­tor Rand Paul said on WHAS, a Ken­tucky ra­dio sta­tion, this week.

Trumpier pol­i­tics

Repub­li­cans try­ing to keep the en­ergy flow­ing from the vic­tory of the Ka­vanaugh con­fir­ma­tion are try­ing to de­fine Democrats and their al­lies with one three-let­ter word: a “mob”. The im­pli­ca­tion is that Democrats are too an­gry — over Trump, Ka­vanaugh and Repub­li­cans — to be given con­trol of any part of govern­ment in the Novem­ber 7 elec­tions.

Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell said on the Se­nate floor yes­ter­day that re­cent protests and rhetoric by

Democrats, lib­eral writ­ers and oth­ers are only the first phase of their “melt­down”. It was an ex­tended ver­sion of an elec­tion-sea­son ac­cu­sa­tion that Democrats are con­don­ing “mob” rule af­ter rau­cous de­mon­stra­tors ha­rangued Repub­li­cans ahead of the Ka­vanaugh con­fir­ma­tion.

McCon­nell said only one side is “happy to play host to this toxic fringe be­hav­iour”.

Push­ing back

Con­gress­woman Max­ine Wa­ters, one of Trump’s favourite tar­gets, bris­tled at sug­ges­tions riled-up Democrats are the same as an an­gry mob.

“This Pres­i­dent is the poster boy for what a mob pro­tester looks like,” the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat said on MSNBC. “He’s the one who has been vi­o­lent in his speech. He’s the one in his ral­lies has said things like this, ‘I’d like to punch him in the face’.”

Dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Trump voiced that thought about a heck­ler. He also urged his sup­port­ers to “knock the crap out of ” protesters who might throw things and vowed to pay any re­sult­ing le­gal fees. In the old days, he told a rally, protesters “would be carried out on a stretcher, folks”. “That is vi­o­lent talk,” Wa­ters said. “We don’t have that kind of talk that’s come from the women who are protest­ing.”

Don’t hold your breath

Hil­lary Clin­ton says Democrats have to be even tougher. “You can­not be civil with a po­lit­i­cal party that wants to de­stroy what you stand for, what you care about,” she said on CNN. “That’s why I be­lieve, if we are for­tu­nate enough to win back the House and/or the Se­nate, that’s when ci­vil­ity can start again.”

She likened the rhetoric dur­ing Ka­vanaugh’s con­sid­er­a­tion to other

Repub­li­can at­tacks in­clud­ing “what they did to me for 25 years” as first lady, Se­na­tor from New York, Sec­re­tary of State and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Two years af­ter Trump’s vic­tory, she notes, he still brings her up, call­ing her “Crooked Hil­lary”.

“You can be civil but you can’t over­come what they in­tend to do un­less you win elec­tions,” she said.

Repub­li­cans are driven by “the lust for power”.

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