More of the false equivalency game from John Avlon and David Gergen on Anderson Cooper 360. While both of them warn that this could get out of hand an
March 26, 2010

More of the false equivalency game from John Avlon and David Gergen on Anderson Cooper 360. While both of them warn that this could get out of hand and escalate to more violence, neither are willing to lay the blame squarely in the lap of the Republican Party where it belongs. When one party is using eliminationist rhetoric with no regard for the consequences and the other party is merely pointing out their bad behavior, the side pointing out the bad behavior is not the problem. I'd like to ask Avlon and Gergen if they blame the Civil Rights leaders of the sixties for the actions of the Klan since they seem to be buying into the argument that it's okay to blame victims for the actions of their attackers.

Transcript via CNN.

COOPER: Just to recap the breaking news, the House tonight approving the final piece of health care reform legislation, the final fixes, all that brinkmanship, all that maneuvering, passed by the Senate earlier today. When President Obama signs the fixes, that is it.

But, for some, especially angry opponents of the reform bill, the administration, the IRS, you name it, it is not over -- windows broken, death threats made, some scary stuff, and allegations that some are fanning the flames for political gain.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I believe that words have power. They weigh a ton. And they are received differently by people in -- depending on their, shall we say, emotional state. And we have to take responsibility for words that are said that we do not reject, that we do not reject.


COOPER: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decrying the threats over health care reform. Her Republican colleague, Minority Whip Eric Cantor, today accusing Democrats of using those threats for political gainful.

And, late today, GOP Chairman Michael Steele issued a statement condemning acts of violence directed at members of Congress. So, talk. Back now, let's dig deeper with senior political analyst David Gergen and John Avlon, Daily Beast senior writer and author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America."

So, David, a lot of this, the angry voice-mails, the letters, the protests, it does seem like the kind of thing that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle would usually face. I mean, everybody -- people on TV get these kind of voice-mails and these -- these calls.

Do you think this is just kind of the usual stuff, or -- or do you think what we're seeing now is unusual?

GERGEN: Well, Anderson, I think you make a good point. Most Americans don't know that a lot of people in the public eye get death threats over the Internet or whatever, you know, journalists and others.

But I do think that this has reached a new level of intensity, beyond what we have normally seen. It is more threatening. There are members on both sides of the aisle who are generally -- genuinely concerned about their families.

You know, they have got visitors coming to their homes. Their addresses are being put out on the Internet. There is a real chance of bloodshed here. So, both sides have -- I think have -- while they're trying to exploit this politically -- we can come back to how you do this -- but I think both sides have an interest, ultimately, in calming this down.

COOPER: But you really think there is a chance of bloodshed?

GERGEN: I do. I think there's a chance of an incident, isolated, to be sure, but I think there's going to be some wing nut out there on one side or the other of the political aisle, or somewhere, who is just out in Never Never Land, and a lot of guns out there. And I think there's going to be somebody -- I think there's a -- I think there's a growing risk that somebody is going to get shot before this is over.

COOPER: John, you wrote the book about wing nuts. You agree with that?


I mean, look, we're playing with fire, we're playing with dynamite when we demonize people who disagree with us. For a long time, we have been ignoring the real costs of using fear and hate to pump up hyper-partisanship. But that is what we're seeing.

You can only demonize disagreements so much before some unhinged soul takes it an extra step. And that is -- those are the stakes. I mean, the fact, both members of -- both parties in Congress should be condemning this clearly. The fact that there is an element of using this as a political football at all is just ghoulish. And it shows how dysfunctional Washington really has become, that they can't condemn in one clear voice an escalation of rhetoric and actions, bricks. We're not just talking e-mails and voice messages. We're talking about bricks going through walls, bullets being shot. You know, we have played with these forces before. It doesn't end well.

COOPER: David, then, is it appropriate for -- the Organizing For America, which is the president's political team, sent out an e-mail fund-raising off these threats to congressional Democrats -- Eric Cantor earlier accusing Democrats of fanning the flame. I mean, does he have a point there. Are politicians trying to kind of score political points with this?

GERGEN: People are trying to score political points.

And this fund-raising based on this, I think it's really -- is out of bounds. But the threats are obviously more out of bounds. Anderson, earlier tonight, I had an interesting conversation with a very wise historian, Jay Winik. As you know, he has written "1865," a bestseller about the Civil War, thought a lot about these questions.

And he had a wise comment. He said, you know, obviously, people have to condemn this in public life. And my hope would be the president would call in the leaders from both sides, and they could together try to calm this down.

But then Jay Winik said something else. Once they condemn it, then they ought to cool it. The -- the more conversation we have about this, the more the leaders talk about it, the more likely it is to inspire some nut out there to pick up a gun or pick up a knife or whatever it is and try -- and work mayhem.

So, in some ways, the notion is, condemn it and then cool it.

COOPER: That is the advice, John, you get from security consultants. I mean, when I have had situations like this, you know, you just don't really talk much about it, because if it's not the person themselves who gets excited that they're being mentioned or having their voice message played, it is somebody else, who then wants to get attention as well.

AVLON: But I do think we do need to confront extremism from wherever it comes, before it starts spiraling into violence.

We have a situation right now where the extremes have been subtly encouraged by both parties at different times for political gain. And that has an effect. This doesn't happen in a vacuum. And we have entered -- had a relative period of innocence in our politics, actually.

We have an escalation of rhetoric without elevation to actual violence, but we need to be aware of the forces we're playing with. They can easily get out of control. And that's why we should both condemn the cycle we have gotten into of pumping up fear and hate in the service of hyper-partisanship, and then confront it directly, before it escalates out of control.

COOPER: We have got to leave it there.

John Avlon, David Gergen, thank you. Appreciate the perspectives.

GERGEN: Thank you.

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