UPDATE, Friday Aug. 28, 9:45 AM: Rammell released this: “Due to the large amount of press concerning his statement Dr. Rammell would like to clarify his comment: ‘Anyone who understands the law, knows I was just joking, because Idaho has no jurisdiction to issue hunting tags in Washington D.C.'”
You’ve probably heard that Jared Hopkins, reporter from the Twin Falls Times-News, reported in another one of his scoop-them-all stories that at a Republican fundraiser Wednesday in Twin Falls, Idaho Republican candidate for governor Rex Rammell gave a speech.
Hopkins wrote, “After an audience member shouted a question about ‘Obama tags’ during a discussion on wolves, Rammell responded, ‘The Obama tags? We’d buy some of those.’”
Rammell told Hopkins it was a joke.
Let’s start with some basics. What would Rammell’s mother say? Mine would have said, “Threatening the President is a felony, and you will never say anything like that again. Clear?”
What would Rammell’s father say? Mine would have said, “I expect you to take this matter seriously. And if you ever hear anyone make a statement threatening the President, you will loudly object and then call the police.”
Dad meant the law enforcement experience to make an impression on the person who threatened the President and thought it was funny, not to have the threatener arrested.
Lifelong Democrats except when it came to President Eisenhower, my parents would have said this no matter which party elected the president, just like the McCain-supporting Whoolerys of Rexburg, who were suitably alarmed when kids chanted “Assassinate Obama” on a school bus:
A couple named Whoolery found out about it when their second and third graders got off the bus and reported the chanting. The Whoolerys weren’t Obama voters, but they were astonished and contacted the school. According to a Twin Falls TV station, the Whoolerys “just don’t like people joking about a serious matter concerning any leader of the country.”
In north Idaho, also during the 2008 presidential campaign, Ken Germana put up a sign advertising a “free public hanging” of President-elect Barack Obama and several other politicians.
“‘That’s a political statement,’ Germana told the Bonner County Daily Bee. ‘They can call it whatever they want, a threat or whatever.'” A rope noose – a symbol used by the Ku Klux Klan and other racists, hangs down the middle of the sign.
Germana said he wouldn’t lose sleep if the president-elect came in harm’s way.”
There was silence from McCain supporters in Idaho.
Where are the other Whoolerys in the Idaho Republican Party? Why didn’t any of them condemn Germana’s sign and attitude? And why haven’t any Idaho GOP leaders or members at least sent out a press release denouncing Rammell? Have any of them called Rammell (208-716-2053) to say his words were disgraceful, illegal and wrong? Rammell is running in the Republican primary for governor. The event was a GOP fundraiser.
There were several state legislators at the event when Rammell made his statement. One of them, Rep. Steve Hartgen (R-Twin Falls) told NewWest.Net/Boise that he was off to the side of the arena talking with other legislators and didn’t hear it. “I’ve heard Rex many times so I wasn’t paying attention.” He thinks the remark was “very inappropriate and ill-advised” but “I accept Rex’s explanation that it was a lame joke.” Hartgen said that after Rammell’s speech, he wasn’t aware of anyone confronting Rammell.
Hartgen, former publisher of the Twin Falls Times-News, has a Ph.D in American history. He thinks Rammell’s words are an example of the change in American rhetoric – “and it isn’t a good change.”
“Words have the power of persuasion. If words point someone in one direction, and it’s a dangerous one – of course we have freedom of speech but that doesn’t mean you can shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre. There are things you can’t say and shouldn’t say.”
Hartgen should be commended for recognizing that language can influence behavior. His tone clearly indicated he was very unhappy with Rammell, but his acceptance of Rammell’s explanation that the statement was a joke is disappointing.
Tossing a serious matter like this off with a simple “Rammell, what part of ‘that’s not funny’ don’t you understand?” isn’t good enough. Calling the remark “tasteless” “unfortunate” or “inappropriate” isn’t good enough, either.
This isn’t about silencing anybody’s voice. Standing up to threats, no matter the intention of the speaker, doesn’t mean the speaker’s opinions should be silenced. Rhetoric encouraging any sort of violence, especially toward the president – any president – is the issue.
Right after the 1995 bombings in Oklahoma City, President Clinton said:
“In this country we cherish and guard the right of free speech. We know we love free speech when we put up with people saying things we absolutely deplore. And we must always be willing to defend their right to say things we deplore to the ultimate degree. But we hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable.”
Howard M. Halpern, former president of the American Academy of Psychotherapists, wrote this to the New York Times in 1995:
Social psychologists and demagogues have long known that if ordinary citizens are to be provoked to violent actions against individuals or groups of fellow citizens, it is necessary to sever the empathic bond with those to be attacked by painting them as different and despicable.
We are unlikely to harm a friendly neighbor because she has strong views about equal rights for women, but if we call her a “femi-Nazi,” she becomes “the other” — evil, dangerous, hated. We are unlikely to harm the couple down the block who are active on behalf of protecting endangered species, but if we call them “environmental whackos,” they become “the other” — weirdos who must be vilified and suppressed as enemies to “normal” Americans.
When our shared humanity with those with whom we disagree is stripped away, it becomes acceptable to blow them up. The answer is certainly not to censor such speech, but those who recognize this danger must challenge it wherever it exists, even in those with whom we politically agree.
What they said.