"Lets Take These Sons of Bitches Out"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 6 2011 8:01 AM

"Lets Take These Sons of Bitches Out"

There is a certain pleasure, a sense of everything in its right place, when watching Jimmy Hoffa share a stage with Barack Obama and use the phrase "Mr. President" within five seconds of "sons of bitches." Jimmy Hoffa is being over-the-top and threatening. Of course he is. Why would he defy his reputation (some of it inherited from his father, sure, fine) just because the president of the United States is with him?

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Hoffa's remarks come after Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., said that some in the Tea Party want to "lynch" blacks, and after Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Ca., told the Tea Party to "go to hell." One, two, three -- we have a trend, folks. Progressives have figured that the downside for "violent rhetoric" is pretty minimal, because as far as they can tell, the Tea Party keeps doing it, then getting what it whats. Now, that's not quite how it works. The conservatives who use the harshest rhetoric to attack Democrats get dinged for it -- think of Sharron Angle becoming an unelectable laughingstock after she warned of "Second Amendment remedies" if she didn't win. But in the aggregate, they see the Tea Party getting what it wants. Solution: Copy them. They're doing it poorly, and with incorrect assumptions (unions and radical members of the CBC have certain disadvantages with the electorate that elderly white people don't have), but they're doing it.

Was Hoffa "inciting violence," as the conservative meme factory seems to be saying? Whether you think so depends on your evidence that unions will interpret some tough-talking bullshit as a call to literally beat people up. An hour or so before Hoffa spoke, I saw Michelle Malkin run down the top 10 moments in "union thuggery" from 2011 so far, and counted some shoving, a lot of yelling, but, thankfully, no murders. Progressives are probably going to take Hoffa for what he meant. Let's all re-read Jack Shafer:

For as long as I've been alive, crosshairs and bull's-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such "inflammatory" words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I've listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I've even gotten angry, for goodness' sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge.
From what I can tell, I'm not an outlier. Only the tiniest handful of people—most of whom are already behind bars, in psychiatric institutions, or on psycho-meds—can be driven to kill by political whispers or shouts. Asking us to forever hold our tongues lest we awake their deeper demons infantilizes and neuters us and makes politicians no safer.

Talking about kicking your political enemy's ass is uncivil, but it's as old as politics. Can we skip this little drama where conservatives pretend that Hoffa was ordering goon squads into action to pull Republican congressmen out of their homes and break their knees? It's going to be followed, eventually, by some talk radio host sharing a stage with a candidate* and saying something about ass-kicking or showing-those-bastards or what have you. If we're going to do this, can we maybe set up a voucher system, where progressives and conservatives can trade the right to insult one another?

*I suppose the argument is that there's no equivilent to saying this next to the president of all the people. I don't much buy into the cult of the presidency, though, and on the other six days of the week, the president's opponents are perfectly comfortable saying he's not representing them.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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