They appeal to comity, defined as a friendly social atmosphere, social harmony. That was undoubtedly Barack Obama's greatest attribute as a candidate. He promised a new politics, a new cordiality. No more red state/blue divisions. He touted his Senate friendship with Oklahoma's Tom Coburn. It was genuine. On the campaign trail in 2008, Sen. Obama offered his sitting down with Tom Coburn as an example of how he could reach out to opponents and bring disparate groups together.
President Obama last February spoke eloquently last winter when a madman shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and killed several others in Tuscon. Then, he pleaded again for a more civil dialogue. Instantly, "Choose Civility" sprouted on a million bumper stickers.
So what are we to make of last weekend? The President of the United States spoke on the same platform with Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., the president of the Teamsters Union. You've all read by now what Hoffa bellowed to the hooting crowd.
[We see a] war on workers. And you see it everywhere, it is the Tea Party. And you know, there is only one way to beat and win that war. The one thing about working people is we like a good fight. And you know what? They've got a war, they got a war with us and there's only going to be one winner. ... We're going to win that war. President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march. Let's take these son of bitches [sic] out...
Does that sound like an incitement to riot to you? Does it sound like an invitation to use violence? Of all the unions in America , the Teamsters, unfortunately, is the one most identified with corruption. Dues-paying members used to speak of "Dave Beck's Marble Palace," ruefully reflecting the fact that their dues had paid for their union boss's huge Washington headquarters. Many of the leaders of the Teamsters ended their terms in that marble palace only to begin their terms in cinder block federal correctional institutions.
It's worth comparing the Labor Day near-riot with the great March on Washington in 1963. Then, President Kennedy and his administration were deeply concerned that some of the more radical speakers would go over the top in their rhetoric and hurt the legitimate cause. Washington 's Cardinal O'Boyle strongly supported civil rights, but he drew the line on wild rhetoric. Young John Lewis, now a Georgia Congressman, had been whipping up crowds, calling on them to "burn Jim Crow to the ground nonviolently." (How does arson happen nonviolently?) Lewis said civil rights marchers should go through Dixie "the way Sherman did." Cardinal O'Boyle said if that kind of language was used, he would refuse to give the invocation.
Such violent speech was squelched. Instead, we had the unforgettable voice of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and the words on wings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Not a cigarette butt, not a coke can, not a coffee cup was left on the Mall. And President Kennedy warmly greeted the leaders of the great March on Washington in the White House that very afternoon.
President Obama appeared on the same platform that Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. had just soiled with his rant. No words from Mr. Obama about civility now. His increasingly harried press secretary, Jay Carney, nervously fended off questions about Jimmy Hoffa's language. Maybe they're planning to make him the new Civility Czar.
Leaders have a responsibility not to unleash their mad dogs. Bill Clinton shrewdly figured he could slap down Sister Souljah -- a rap singer who crooned about murdering white cops. But the cops have a union -- which had endorsed Clinton -- and Sister Souljah didn't.
Long ago, in 1884, the Republicans got in trouble when their presidential nominee, James Gillespie Blaine, sat placidly on a platform while a Presbyterian minister assailed Grover Cleveland's Democrats as "the party of rum, Romanism, and rebellion." Blaine never disavowed the partisan parson's remarks. And he paid for it in November as Catholics, Southerners, and not a few others who liked their tot of rum rushed to back Cleveland for president.
Nobody in the Tea Party has used language like Jimmy Hoffa. For that matter, nobody in the Tea Party uses language like Joe Biden. We're still hunting for that Tea Party member who allegedly called Congressman John Lewis the "N-word." Big Media rebel Andrew Breitbart offered a reward for information leading to.... But no one has claimed the money yet.
President Obama should repudiate Hoffa's degrading language now. If the Teamsters start talking about "war" and "taking out" the SOBs fifteen months ahead of the 2012 elections, what will we descend to on election day?