A reader asks…
“John McCain and Paul Ryan have corrected constituents who spout conspiracy theories about the President. Should this Republican have left this town hall comment unchallenged?”
The incident referenced is on view here:
That’s Oklahoma congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) who listens as a woman says, “Obama is not president, as far as I’m concerned. He should be executed as an enemy combatant…I can’t tell you, or I can’t say because we are in a public place, this guy is a criminal,” and then answers by saying that “everybody knows the lawlessness of this president,” without addressing her more outrageous assertions. “The only way I see out of this is to overwhelmingly change the Senate, so that we can then impeach the SOB,” another woman says. “You know, you look so sweet…” says Bridenstine, deflecting.
The second woman’s statement is crude, but doesn’t require a response. Advocating impeachment may be a foolish position, but it is not one that demands a rebuke. “SOB”? I would favor a politician who told a supporter that such personal attacks undermine productive civic discourse, and that the office of the President demands more courteous treatment, but I don’t think such a response is ethically mandatory. The first woman’s statement, however, should have been rejected on the spot, and any criticism that Bridenstine receives for not doing so is well deserved.
I have written about the duty to confront objectionable statements in such contexts before, most recently in 2011, when the entire Republican presidential field failed twice to reject offensive, mean-spirited or hateful reactions from the friendly crowd watching their debates:
“The failure of any one of the assembled candidates, nine in the first two debates, ten this week, to clearly and emphatically condemn the offensive reactions and the “thinking” underlying them suggests that none of the candidates possess the integrity, courage, confidence and values required to be a trustworthy leader of the United States. Each of them had a duty to confront and reject these embarrassing audience responses. There were 28 opportunities, among all the candidates in the three debates, to do so. None were taken.”
On an earlier occasion similar to the Bridenstine incident, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA.) changed the subject to Obamacare after an elderly supporter asked, “Who’s going to shoot Obama?” accompanied by laughter in the room. I wrote in part…
“Broun had a duty to confront the man, and say, “Sir, however much we may disagree with the President, he is the elected leader of the United States of America, and deserves our respect and allegiance. We do not settle our disagreements by murder or riots in this country, but by reason, debate and elections. …Assassination isn’t funny, and we should not make light of it. I’ll accept your apologies on behalf of the United States of America. And I don’t want to hear anything like that again at one of my town meetings.”…Rep. Paul Broun, by trying to curry favor with the worst of our citizenry and failing his duty to confront calls to violence that are antithetical to free political discourse and American values, has thoroughly disgraced himself.”
All of that applies with equal force to Rep. Bridenstine.
Spark and Pointer: Fred