As Dr. Denny so eloquently put it yesterday, “Political warfare by any name is still war.” That point was brought home to me this morning on the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Tim Pawlenty and Bobby Jindal were sent by the Romney campaign to steal Obama’s thunder in Parma, Ohio in yet another round of dueling campaign rallies. As is usual, supporters of the opposition showed up and confrontations ensued.
But on Thursday there was a confrontation that reminded me of the Tea Party supporters stomping on the head of a female member of the opposition. An Obama supporter, Al Neal, who was chanting, “Pawlenty go home” was accosted by a Romney supporter, Richard Brysac, who first shoved a plastic water bottle and then a handkerchief into into Neal’s mouth to shut him up.
Brysac’s explanation? “He seemed thirsty, so I tried to shove the bottle in his mouth. I thought it was wrong to interfere with [Pawlenty’s] freedom of speech.” [emhpasis added]
Now, granted, Brysac is reportedly a dentist, so perhaps he has special qualifications to detect the signs of thirst. But seriously, what was he thinking? At what point does someone cross the line from “I wish you would shut up” to “I’m going to shut you up by force if necessary?”
Brysac did offer a classic non-apology apology: “I acted out of character and I apologize if I offended anyone.” Not an acknowledgement of his action being wrong, but an apology for possibly offending anyone.
I’m waiting for Mitt Romney’s reaction to this. If I were a betting person, I’d almost put money on “no reaction.” Just another day on the campaign trail. Just another part of the base who has been stirred to action. Just another surrogate that those in charge will foreswear.
Granted, this did give me pause for a moment of schadenfreude. I imagined the embarrassment to the Romney campaign and the GOP and I was happy about that.
Then I thought ahead to the GOP convention in Tampa and the influx of Ron Paul supporters, and the tensions and passions that will be fanned to a fever pitch and I laughed out loud. “This is going to be fun to watch, ” I thought, “Maybe there will be punches thrown on live TV and streaming video.” No wrestling, unfortunately, as Linda McMahon is not attending the convention.
I am appalled at my train of thought, worried about the rest of this campaign season, and saddened that we are this divided again.
Look, it’s America. We’re good at being divided–it’s one of the hallmarks of our history. Not a good hallmark, but it’s undeniable: Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists, free states vs. slave states, gold standard vs. paper money, nativists vs. immigrants. But how far will it go this time.
As soon as I thought with glee about the upcoming spectacle of the potentially raucous GOP convention, I had another thought that sobered me. About 151 years ago, a number of inhabitants of Washington DC packed picnic lunches, climbed into their carriages and drove out into the country for an afternoon’s entertainment. It didn’t turn out the way they intended. Several hours later they made a panicked run back to the city. Seems that the first Battle of Bull Run/Manassas Creek with its 4,500 casualties was not the sort of spectacle they had in mind.
I don’t think we’re there. Yet. But I’m not going to pack a picnic for the Republican convention. And I’m going to be really vigilant in crowds at any political events I do attend. Seems you can’t be too careful these days when exercising your freedom of speech.