Seditious Words From Republican Who Believes Democrats Are Anti-American
Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while (especially during the latter stages of the November 2008 elections) will know that I have a love-hate relationship with Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota). I hate the things this idiotic Congresswoman has to say and I love to blog about how stupid and hurtful those things are (see Republican Congresswoman Follows Palin's Lead and Calls for Investigation Into Anti-Americans in Congress, Bachmann Misreads Herself! Huh?, Another Republican Accuses Liberals of Being Unpatriotic, and Bachmann Calls Her Own Comments an "Urban Myth"). Well, now Rep. Bachmann has really outdone herself.
First, before I get to her newest statement, I think that it is absolutely critical to contemplate her words in the full context of her prior accusations. During the campaign, she said that the "people that Barack Obama has been associating with are anti-American, by and large" (she was, in part, referring to Bill Ayers, the 60s-era terrorist who bombed American installations and advocated violence against the government) and she expressed concern that then-candidate Obama "may have anti-American views." And, of course, her classic plea: "[N]ews media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish they would, I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out are they are pro-America or anti-America." And so, with those statements firmly in mind, here is what Rep. Bachmann said on a radio program this past weekend:
And really now in Washington, I’m a foreign correspondent in enemy lines. And I try to keep everyone back here in Minnesota know exactly the nefarious activities that are taking place in Washington.
I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us, having a revolution every now and then is a good thing, and the people — we the people — are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States....
(Emphasis added; you can listen to her comments over at Think Progress) These statements were made in the course of a discussion about President Obama's proposed "cap and trade" environmental legislation (now being spun as an "energy tax" by Republicans).
Think for a moment about what Rep. Bachmann has really said. In response to proposed environmental legislation with which she disagrees, she has suggested that her constituents be "armed and dangerous," be ready to "fight back," and called upon the words of Thomas Jefferson advocating a "revolution every now and then". In other words, a sitting member of Congress has, essentially, incited other citizens to armed rebellion to defeat the will of the democratic majority.
Now, to be totally fair, Rep. Bachmann's spokesperson told a Minneapolis newspaper that Rep. Bachmann was speaking metaphorically and only meant that she wanted people to be armed with information. Furthermore, at the point in the interview when she made her inflammatory comments, she was urging people to come hear a speaker and learn more about the issue. But still...
I'm sorry. Any adult, let alone an elected official, let alone a sitting member of Congress, let alone a sitting member of Congress who has expressed concern about the possibility that other members of Congress and/or the President might be "anti-American," should recognize the danger of speech that could be perceived as an incitement to violence. The words that Rep. Bachmann used are the sort of words that we would expect to hear from a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi, not from a member of Congress. And words, whether spoken metaphorically or otherwise have consequences. Just look to the bombings of abortion clinics or the Oklahoma City federal building. Or look to the Middle East and the violence to which influential Muslim leaders (clerics, in particular) lend tacit if not overt approval.
As anyone who has read what I've written in the past knows, I'm a firm believer in free speech, even speech that I don't like. But there are limits (and not just crying "fire" in a crowded theater to borrow an over-used cliche). Incitement to violence and advocating for armed revolution certainly seem to approach that line, if not cross it (and not just barely...). And just for reference, 18 U.S.C. § 2385 (for the non-lawyers, that is Title 18, Section 2385 of the United States Code) states:
Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government ... Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.
So let's compare, shall we? Rep. Bachmann accuses then-candidate Obama and other members of being "anti-American" (because Obama "associated" with a person who advocated and used violence 40 years ago and on the basis of economic views -- oooh, socialism, remember? -- that she disagrees with) but is herself willing to "metaphorically" incite people to take up arms in revolt against the American government. So you tell me, who is the real "anti-American" of the bunch? It seems to me that Rep. Bachmann isn't really so far removed from Bill Ayers...
I don't think that Rep. Bachmann should necessarily be indicted for sedition (though can you imagine what Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh would be saying if a Democrat had suggested armed rebellion?) but I do think that Rep. Bachmann's statements -- at best careless and at worst dangerous -- are the exact type of speech that I've been writing (and worrying) about for months. I think that jailing people for what they say or think, rather than for what they do, is generally a bad idea and not in furtherance of our democratic principles and ideas. But at some point speech crosses a line from being protected and in furtherance of those democratic principles and becomes ... oh, I don't know ... it becomes something else, something dangerous, something that civil society cannot condone. I don't know if Rep. Bachmann's speech reaches this level; after all, she was only speaking "metaphorically," right? But even if her speech isn't seditious or even if sedition itself should not really be punishable, in our democratic system, the electorate certainly has a chance to "punish" Rep. Bachmann the next time that she stands before them.
The people of Minnesota still only have one senator because of the ongoing Franken-Coleman litigation. Rep. Bachmann is one of their elected representatives in the House. I would have to say that the people of Minnesota are not presently being very well served. And I think that the people of Minnesota need to have a real conversation with their Congresswoman about the outer bounds of what is and is not acceptable political speech. And I think that "we the people" need to demand more, much more, from our elected officials. If she wants to express her opposition to a particular proposal, she is certainly welcome to do so. After all, that is the beauty of democracy. But when she voices that opposition, she should have a competing proposal and she should voice her opposition with facts to back up any position that she may take (she continues to claim that science shows that global warming is not caused by human activity). But under no circumstances should a member of the United States Congress advocate, even metaphorically, for armed insurrection against the government. That way lies danger.