WHEN people in high places abuse their power to influence and use highly charged rhetoric to further provoke an already inflamed public, then heated political debate can be pushed from vitriol to violence.
Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, for example, frequently stokes the fire with alarmist bombast meant to feed anger. The U.S. representative has said she wants Minnesotans "armed and dangerous" about President Obama's plan to reduce global warming because "we need to fight back."
The risk, of course, is that those who are already angry may be pushed over the edge.
Since health-care reform became law, legislators report an intensification of hate mail and threatening phone calls. A California man has been arrested for allegedly making dozens of intimidating calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at her homes in Washington and California, and at her husband's business.
A Washington state man, apparently seething about health-care reform, was arrested on charges of threatening to kill Democratic Sen. Patty Murray because of her support for the law. She received recorded messages with warnings such as, "there's a target on your back," and "You are signing my death warrant, so I want to sign yours."
House Republican Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia says it's not only Democrats who have been victims of threatening e-mails and phone calls. A suspect, who prosecutors say is not mentally competent to stand trial, is accused of threatening on YouTube to kill the minority whip. But he says Democrats are just exploiting what he depicted as routine incidents of hate missives to implicate conservative rhetoric in a rising tide of violence in the wake of the Democrats' win on health care.
There is nothing routine about threatening the life of a lawmaker. And there is nothing redeemable about "call to arms" rhetoric that practically invites violent conduct.