Leading Democratic Party officials plan to link Republican candidates to the vitriol and offensive behavior that was witnessed at Tea Party protests during the last days of the health care debate.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine accused GOP leadership of "trying to stoke anger" with "flat-out lies" about the president's health care reform policy. Asked about the racist and anti-gay epithets that were directed towards House Democratic lawmakers during the closing days and hours before they passed legislation, Kaine wasn't subtle in assigning blame.
"The Republicans knew all that stuff was completely false, but they tried to stoke public anger based on that, and the anger has taken some very, frankly, predictable forms that I don't think they can't walk away from and explain," he said.
"[Republicans] are going to own part of that," the DNC chair added. "They're going to own part of the slurs cast at members of Congress, people vandalizing members of Congress' offices. Twice Republican members of Congress, sitting in the well of the House, behaved in rude and outrageous ways, yelling at a president in one instance with Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), and then with [Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) yelling 'baby killer.'] When it's okay for leaders to do the rude, outrageous stuff like that, it sure sends a signal that the followers should do it too."
The comments from the DNC chair resemble a clear indication that Democrats will try to link the Tea Party protests that have erupted across the country and the Republican lawmakers who reside in Washington. The two, of course, are not one and the same -- though increasingly the lines of distinction seem unclear. While GOP leadership condemned the recent epithets, over the weekend a host of Republican lawmakers ventured outside the Capitol building to encourage the gathering of anti-health care activists. The more fringe members of the party suggested, in the days before the vote, that demons were roaming the halls of the nation's capitol and that a Velvet-Revolution-style uprising was needed to shut D.C. down. Only to be topped by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) who insisted that Armageddon could very well come with the passage of health care reform.
"To suggest that this is socialism, or the end of freedom as we know it, or Armageddon, is ludicrous," said White House senior adviser David Axelrod. "Their rhetoric was completely disproportionate with the debate."
Like Kaine, Axelrod sees the fury of the Tea Party crowd as a potential scar on the Republican image. But in reflecting on the health care debate shortly after the bill's passage, he pointed to the GOP's unbending antagonism to the president's agenda as its most profound political wart.
"I fully accept that principled opposition is not only expected but probably desirable in a democracy," he said, in an interview with the Huffington Post. "But obstruction as an ongoing tactic is not."
"I think that there are Republicans of good will who at some point will say, 'Do I want to be on this bus?' Because the bus is heading for a cliff. The unstinting, mindless opposition and hyperbole of the sort we saw on Sunday, may be helpful with some base of their party, but I don't think it is a strategy that is going to yield majority support. So I think they've got to think that through."
Ultimately, of course, the best pushback to GOP opposition is political success. And in getting health care reform into law, the Democratic Party (from the White House on down) essentially pushed the narrative that the Republicans can't even be trusted to do nothing. On Wednesday, for instance, the Boston Herald reported on dissatisfaction within the Massachusetts Republican ranks that Sen. Scott Brown wasn't able to deliver a health care defeat.
As the GOP now looks to campaign on repealing health care reform, the dynamics of the debate remain very much the same. Only now, Kaine argues, Democrats are blessed with tangible reforms on which to campaign.
"I think this issue is going to play a very sizable [role in 2010]," the former Virginia governor said. "I think that the condition of the economy and health care are probably going to be two of the big things. And I really do. I encourage the Republicans to run a repeal campaign just like Alf Landon did on Social Security in 1936, because the prospect of telling parents that, "Okay, now you can't keep kids on your policy," or telling seniors, "You've got to pay more for your prescription drugs," people getting kicked around by their insurance companies. How about this for a bumper sticker? 'Bring back preexisting conditions.' Oh my gosh, I want them to do that."