Mon, Jan 10 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Carlos R. Davalos
Anyone who knows Rep. Bob Filner (D-51) knows the congressman from Chula Vista keeps a frenetic pace that can exhaust staffers even half his age. The 68-year old keeps busy, often times going from one public event to another from the break of day until well past sundown.
Meeting the public and shaking hands is the foundation of democracy and representative government, he said Sunday morning. As much of the country discovered the day before, these days it’s also a way of putting yourself in harm’s way.
While federal and Arizona law enforcement officials try to pinpoint why 22 year old Jared Lee Loughner attempted to kill Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Filner spoke briefly about the perils of politics in the era of the Tea Party, extreme right wing conservatives and the vitriol that permeates some of today’s media.
“We’re in a risky business,” Filner said of being a politician. “These days you don’t just have political opponents, you have enemies.” He should know.
It was just slightly more than two months ago that Filner was stalked and cornered by a pack of angry people at San Diego’s Golden Hall on election night. A contingent of mostly white and mostly male voters had wanted retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Nick Popaditch, not the incumbent congressman, to represent the 51st District. When it became apparent that Filner was going to win yet another term in the House of Representatives, they took after him like, well, a lynch mob. (see related video by clicking here).
“I could be shot in the next few days,” Filner recalls thinking at the time. The threat of violence was so real that Filner’s convinced had San Diego police officers not intervened he would not have left the hall unharmed.
In some ways, today’s political climate mirrors that of another tumultuous period in U.S. history, the civil rights movement. Politically active at the time, Filner said he’s seen his share of mobs. As a young man in college, Filner was physically attacked and arrested for his role in fighting for desegregation.
But where the civil rights movement was characterized by a community trying to bring about social change, today’s social movement appears to be rooted in anger and hate.
For a lot of people, there’s a pervading sense of alienation. There’s a feeling that they are losing their ability to make it in America.
“People want their country back,” Filner surmises. But instead of fostering the notion that in a pluralistic society everybody has something to contribute, extremists present and nurture the idea that the only way to get ahead is by eliminating your enemy. Case in point, during last year’s election cycle former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin identified 20 congressional races that were important to the Republican Party. The districts were placed in gun sights. It’s also been noted that Palin, who has a large following because of her conservative politics and television show, once urged Republican’s not to retreat during the 2010 elections, but to “reload.”
Where reasonable people might view Palin and the like’s exhortations as political hyperbole and empty-headed sloganeering, those who precariously straddle the line between sanity and delusional suggestibility may take it as a literal call to arms.
In the days that followed Filner’s re-election a number of blog and internet posts blasted Filner and suggested that a revolutionary purging of government was long overdone. Some of the writers and detractors even took care to note that Filner is Jewish, giving the rhetoric a tone that called to mind the age of the master race and the Holocaust.
Filner says he remains concerned about his, his staff’s and his congressional colleagues’ safety. Given that the congressman isn’t provided with a security detail when he interacts with the public, he says that in the future he may work with local police to take whatever precautions they might suggest. But he doesn’t see himself using a bodyguard. He will, however, be looking over his shoulder more often.
That's a sad commentary on the state of politics today. And us.
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