When people in high places abuse their power to influence and use highly charged rhetoric to provoke an already inflamed public, then heated political debate can be pushed from vitriol to violence.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., frequently stokes the fire with bombast meant to feed anger. She has said she wants Minnesotans "armed and dangerous" about President Obama's plan to reduce global warming because "we need to fight back." The risk is that those who are already angry may be pushed over the edge.
Since health care reform became law, legislators report an intensification of hate mail and threatening phone calls. But House Republican Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia says it's not only Democrats who have been victims of threatening e-mails and phone calls. A suspect, who prosecutors say is not mentally competent to stand trial, is accused of threatening on YouTube to kill the minority whip. But he says Democrats are exploiting what he called routine incidents to implicate conservative rhetoric in a rising tide of violence in the wake of the Democrats' win on health care.
There is nothing routine about threatening the life of a lawmaker. And there is nothing redeemable about "call to arms" rhetoric that practically invites violent conduct.