New York Times columnist Tom Friedman recently expressed concern about the level of violent discourse aimed toward President Barack Obama. Friedman likened it to the atmosphere in which Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995.
Friedman's column caused Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele to ask the question for which I've been dying to find an answer.
"Where do these nut jobs come from?" Steele asked.
I think it is a very important question at time such as this. But, unlike Steele, my curiosity is not directed toward New York Times columnists, but rather the nut jobs on the ground who feed on hatred.
It would be funny, were it not so tragic, to watch individuals who could not distinguish between the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and Green Eggs and Ham lamenting about the original intent of the Founders at their "tea parties" and town hall meetings.
It is even more tragic to see those masquerading as journalists, promoting the tag line "fair and balanced," serving as official cheerleaders at these events, whipping attendees into a frenzy.
Steele went on to say, "[They're] saying, because you disagree with the president on policy, that all of the sudden we're going to make this leap into, you know, assassinations and all this other stuff," Steele said.
I'm not really certain who comprises the vaunted "They Committee," but I'm saying there is an unhealthy climate being created in this country.
That someone felt comfortable posting an assassination poll question about the president on Facebook is alarming. Assuming it was intended to be humorous, where is the comedy in "Should Obama be killed?"
Of the 43 men who have occupied the White House, four have been assassinated, Lincoln, McKinley, Garfield and Kennedy. If we add to that list the 13 confirmed attempts, America has attempted to take the life of roughly 40 percent of its leaders.
That more presidents have not been assassinated can be attributed to circumstance and just plain luck.
Were it not for a double misfire at 13 feet, Richard Lawrence would have shot President Andrew Jackson. Giuseppe Zangara fired five shots at Franklin Roosevelt, but instead killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who was seated next to Roosevelt in an open car.
In September 1975, President Gerald Ford had two attempts made on his life. Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme drew a loaded Colt .45-caliber as the president reached to shake her hand in Sacramento. Fortunately, the firing chamber was empty.
Later that month as Ford was leaving San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel, Oliver Sipple grabbed the arm of Sarah Jane Moore causing the shot she fired from approximately 40 feet away to miss.
On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley, Jr., very nearly added Ronald Reagan to the tragic list of assassinated presidents just 69 days into his presidency. Reagan became the only president to survive a gunshot wound.
The historical frequency with which assassinations occur and the fact that we are a more heavily armed nation makes one wonder whether there is one among us who believes, as did Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, that shooting the president is tantamount to doing the nation a service.
But the failure of mainstream Republicans -- members of the House of Representatives, Senate, and the chair of the RNC -- to meet the outlandish charges by the fringe with unequivocal disassociation, offers them the cover of tacit approval.
Perhaps this right-wing fringe element represents one of the few groups where the Republican brand is still viewed positively, but too many GOP stalwarts prefer to examine this phenomenon by how "reasonable people" see it.
But this has nothing to do with how "reasonable" people see it; quite the contrary. It is the fringe element that willfully clings to a false narrative of America to justify unreasonable behavior that is making its way more and more into the public conversation.
If the Republican Party wants to return from the political wilderness, it must reject any association with the nut jobs. As Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., recently stated, the Republican Party must say to those who advocate that Obama was not born in the U.S., is a closet Muslim, is Hitler, or worse, that he should be assassinated, "That's crazy!"
Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site: byronspeaks.com