Six months ago, on a beautiful June morning just a few miles from here in Alexandria, Virginia, a man with a gun opened fire on me and several of my Republican colleagues.
In the chaotic aftermath of that awful morning, the gunman’s purpose slowly became clear. Because of our beliefs and political affiliation, this individual believed my colleagues and I deserved to die.
Since that day, I have struggled to understand this thinking. How could any American look out onto a field that June morning where a bunch middle-aged men were playing baseball, and somehow see “the enemy.”
Some of the bombastic rhetoric being offered in response to the tax reform bill passed this week has given me pause though.
If you listen to some of the hyperbolic vitriol that opponents of this bill are producing, the attitude that nearly killed my friend Steve Scalise, and threatened many more lives, begins to make a perverse kind of sense.
When respectable public figures go on television or take to Twitter and announce that thousands, if not millions, of Americans are going to die as a direct result of the passage of a tax reform bill, what impact do we expect this to have on the thinking of many Americans?
If a person takes these outlandish statements as truth, attacking Members of Congress who supported the measure almost appears to be a moral action.
This horrifying logic could lead someone to believe that killing a few legislators might save the lives of “millions of Americans.”
Beyond the physical danger of promoting such misinformation, these claims also do grave harm to the legislative process.
How are we expected to work together to achieve anything if one side’s position is viewed as the end of America as we know it?
One my colleagues called this tax reform bill, “the worst bill in the history of Congress.”
Upon the bill’s passage, one media pundit went so far as to encourage young Americans to flee their country and declared, “America died tonight.”
Full-throated and passionate debate should always be encouraged. We all love arguing the merits of supply-side economics, but this is not that.
This is demonizing of the worst kind.
It leaves all of us in this body unable to engage in the kind of negotiations and compromise Congress was created to foster.
To be clear, this is not a problem of one party or one moment.
During the public debate over the Affordable Care Act, members of my party engaged in similar tactics.
I was in the House Chamber when one of my Republican Colleagues stood and yelled “You lie!” at the President of the United States.
The accusation that passage of healthcare reform would result in so-called “death panels” was promoted far and wide by many Republicans.
One conservative commentator suggested the government would begin educating seniors on how to end their own lives.
A Republican legislator claimed the bill would put seniors in the position of being “put to death by their government.”
This rhetoric was wrong then and it is wrong now.
The threat posed to all of us, and to the democratic process from giving in to extreme rhetoric is not theoretical.
Some of us faced it on that baseball field in Alexandria in June, and all of us have witnessed its corrosive effect on Congress.
I urge my colleagues, all of us, let us end this practice where raw politics drowns out the supplications of the better angels of our nature. Let us all be a little more humble as to our predictive powers when it comes to placing a value on the work we do here.
In reality, this legislation will probably not turn out to be as good as its proponents assert, nor as bad as its opponents contend.
The country is watching. It is my hope that we, all of us, can eschew contempt and vitriol in our speech, and be more measured in our tone.