Tom Coburn tried to rationalize the threats of violence and the anger at these town hall protests on Meet the Press today and was called out by Rachel
August 17, 2009

Tom Coburn tried to rationalize the threats of violence and the anger at these town hall protests on Meet the Press today and was called out by Rachel Maddow for it. Dick Armey chimed in as well and tried to say that was just as bad for running an ad comparing Bush to Hitler. As Rachel points out, they never ran that ad, not that it stopped Dick Armey from trying to say it again a bit later in the show. Coburn's statement was far enough over the top that even David Gregory refuted him.

MR. GREGORY: All right. But let’s talk about the tone of the debate. There have been death threats against members of Congress, there are Nazi references to members of Congress and to the president. Here are some of the images. The president being called a Nazi, his reform effort being called Nazi-like, referring to Nazi Germany, members of Congress being called the same. And then there was this image this week outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town hall event that the president had, this man with a gun strapped to his leg held that sign, “It is time to water the tree of liberty.” It was a reference to that famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” That has become a motto for violence against the government. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, had that very quote on his shirt the day of the bombing of the Murrah building when 168 people were killed.

Senator Coburn, you are from Oklahoma. When this element comes out in larger numbers because of this debate, what, what troubles you about that?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): Well, I’m, I’m troubled anytime when we, we stop having confidence in, in our government. But we’ve earned it. You know, this debate isn’t about health care. Health care’s the symptom. The debate is an uncontrolled federal government that’s going to run--50 percent of everything we’re spending this year we’re borrowing from the next generation. You...

MR. GREGORY: That’s—but wait, hold on, I want to stop you there. I’m talking about the tone. I am talking about violence against the government. That’s what this is synonymous with.

SEN. COBURN: The, the—but the tone is based on fear of loss of control of their own government. What, what is the genesis behind people going to such extreme statements? What is it? We, we have lost the confidence, to a certain degree, and it’s much worse than when Tom was the, the, the leader of the Senate. We have, we have raised the question of whether or not we’re legitimately thinking about the American people and their long-term best interests. And that’s the question. The, the mail volume of all the senators didn’t go up based on the healthcare debate, the mail volume went up when we started spending away our future indiscriminately. And that’s not Republican or Democrat, that has been a problem for years. But it’s exacerbated now that we’re in the kind of financial situation and economic situation.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Armey, FreedomWorks, your organization, advocacy organization getting together a lot of folks, coordinating a lot of the efforts to get people out for the protests. Do you bear some responsibility for the tone of the debate?

FMR. REP. DICK ARMEY (R-TX): Not, not whatsoever. Not when you see the kind of extreme thing you just saw, the—you know, I had my differences with President Bush, George W. Bush, there’s no doubt about it. They were well aware of that. But when ran those ads that compared President Bush with, with Adolf Hitler, I thought it was despicable.

MS. RACHEL MADDOW: They never did that.

REP. ARMEY: They did do it. I’ll show you the ad.

MS. MADDOW: They didn’t do that. They never ran an ad that compared...

REP. ARMEY: All right. Anyway. All right.

MS. MADDOW: MoveOn never ran an ad that compared Bush to Hitler.

REP. ARMEY: All right.

MR. GREGORY: Well, hold on, hold on. Finish your thought and then...

REP. ARMEY: What, what, what, you’re going to get your chance to talk. Well, I, I, I just looked at the ad again this morning, and it, it was a horrible thing. You know, it’s horrible to see this. But I have had town hall meetings since 1984. There are always a lot of colorful people that show up with town hall meetings, a lot of people with a lot of colorful statements. When FreedomWorks encourages people to go to town hall meetings, we encourage them to go and make their points clearly, assertively and with good manners. So I’m not—I don’t know who these folks are. We certainly bear no responsibility for...

MR. GREGORY: But you say good manners; the, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, wrote an op-ed this week during which she said, “Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts”...

REP. ARMEY: Well...

MR. GREGORY: ...”drowning out the facts is how we failed at this effort for many decades.” Un-American, Rachel?

REP. ARMEY: Well...

MS. MADDOW: I—well, I, I think that anytime you’re trying to stop discussion, I think that’s un-American. But I, I mean, I take issue with the idea that the government has done anything to earn the kind of threats of violence that we have seen.

SEN. COBURN: I didn’t say that.

MS. MADDOW: Well, you—well, David, I...

SEN. COBURN: What I, what I said is what—it is indicative of the loss of confidence. And when people are afraid, they do all sorts of things that they normally wouldn’t do.

MR. GREGORY: All right.

MS. MADDOW: I don’t think...

SEN. COBURN: And we have undermined, by our actions—whether it be earmarking and corruption and, and disconnection between integrity and character in what we do and what the people expect, and this—these are just symptoms...

MS. MADDOW: But whether...

SEN. COBURN: ...of a lack of confidence in what we’re doing.

MR. GREGORY: Go ahead, Rachel.

MS. MADDOW: Whether or not, whether or not the government has acted in a way that you feel is defensible, I don’t think the government has done anything to earn, in your words, the, the, the threat of—that the blood of tyrants must run in the streets, which is what the literal threat was from that man with the gun strapped to, strapped to his leg in New Hampshire. I also don’t think that, that there is an equivalence between what has done and with the comparisons of the president to Hitler that we’ve seen so often in this debate. I mean, some of the major organizations who are organizing these events, like Americans for Prosperity, a group that has some similarities to FreedomWorks but definitely a different group, they’ve had speakers going around the country not only comparing healthcare reform to Hitler, but comparing them to Pol Pot and Stalin, saying “Put the fear of God into your members of Congress.” I don’t think the government has done anything to earn that.

Can you help us out?

For nearly 20 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.