Questioning Pelosi's Emotional Appeal

The Speaker's eyes well up with tears, but most commentators are less than empathetic

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's emotional indictment of the current level of political discourse has sent the blogosphere spinning. Appearing at one point on the verge of tears, Pelosi's comments came in response to a question during a Thursday press conference. Addressing the tone of the health-care debate, she said:

"I think we all have to take responsibility for our actions and our words. We are a free country, and this balance between freedom and safety is one that we have to carefully balance. I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw-- I saw this myself in the late '70's in San Francisco. This kind of rhetoric was very frightening, and it gave, it created a climate in which violence took place, so I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made, understanding that some of the people, the ears that its falling on are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume."

One of Pelosi's aids later clarified that in her recollection of the 1970s, she was referring primarily to the 1978 murder of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay American to be elected to public office, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. But many bloggers weren't buying it, and they accused Pelosi of acting out political theater or suffering from delusions:

  • Say What!? "I'm not sure what Nancy Pelosi is trying to say in this video.  Is she furthering the largely unsubstantiated claim that the American right is planning a reign of terror?" wondered a thoroughly perplexed Megan McArdle.
  • Boys Don't Cry  Ann Althouse scolds Pelosi for embodying a gender stereotype: "I hope you will take responsibility for this embarrassing display. You haven't done your job and now you are crying in public — you, the first female Speaker of the House. Crying. Pretending to be afraid of violence when the talk that troubles you so hasn't even included threats of violence."
  • Blue Blood?  Ed Morrissey detects a double-standard: "The incitement is coming from groups supporting ObamaCare like HCAN, who trains their followers on how to disrupt town-hall forums and create turmoil. Is Pelosi all choked up about those groups, or calling for them to take responsibility for the violence, actual and potential, that they incited this summer? Of course not." Reacting specifically to the effort to link the current political climate to that at the time of Harvey Milk's murder, Confederate Yankee calls Pelosi out on her recollection of history: "It's also interesting that Pelosi only recalled the political violence from the late 70s that affected liberals. The Park Police station bombing in 1970 and the bomb plot against conservative California state senator John V. Briggs and dozens of other bombings, shooting, and robberies committed by left-wing terrorist groups don't seem to have troubled her at all."
  • Smoke and Mirrors  John Hindraker thinks it's little more than a tired distraction tactic from Pelosi's party: "I'm not sure whether many people have been repelled by conservatives' manners, as the Left intends, but I'm quite certain that a lot of people have been put off by the Democrats' inability to make coherent arguments in support of their plan(s)."
  • Nobody to Blame But Themselves Offering a similar analysis, Reason's Nick Gillespie thinks that the Democrats in general are far too self-pitying these days: "The Democrats control the government. If they can't pass their legislation, it's not because of Rush Limbaugh or even Joe Wilson, who were never on their team. It's easy to wave the bloody shirt of potential political violence, but in the end, when it comes to health care reform or whatever, the reason Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) or Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) or whomever isn't voting their way isn't because of Michael Savage or a latter-day John Brown."

Pelosi is not without her defenders, although, to date they are few and far-between.
  • Bad Apples  Slate's Mickey Kaus thinks Pelosi's cautionary words are justified: "It only takes one or two people to make a mess, and the way opposition to Obama is phrased will obviously have something to do with how many, if any, nutters come out of the woodwork."
  • It's Not Too Late  Rachel Maddow is outraged that conservative politicians aren't taking Pelosi seriously: "Who's doing that right now on the American right? Is anyone who is influential on the conservative side of American politics going to step up to do that? What are they waiting for?" Offering an even starker assessment is conservative commentator Rod Dreher: "Let me put it like this. If, God forbid, something terrible happens to the president, unless the attacker is an Islamic terrorist or in some other way clearly not part of the right, all conservatives will be blamed for it because of the hysterical and malicious rhetoric of the Limbaughs and the Becks. It doesn't matter whether it's fair to all conservatives or not -- this will happen."
    This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.