"Even opposition lawmakers who have spent the last six years fighting his every initiative have expressed deep worry for his security."
So wrote the New York Times' Peter Baker in the lead paragraph of a story on the congressional hearing on the Secret Service.
Baker is an excellent reporter and a good writer, and so it's useful to consider the implications of his framing of the story. And let's leave aside his hyperbole about Republicans opposition "every initiative" — some presidential initiatives are uncontroversial and widely supported — and look at that word "even."
Contained within that word and in the snarky tone of the story is the assumption that if you are politically opposed to a president, you won't mind seeing him or his family murdered. After all, you're against him, so why would you feel "deep worry for his security"?
A good writer always has in mind the characteristics of his readership. The conclusion I draw is that Baker assumes New York Times readers think it's unremarkable for political opponents to wish for a politician's death.
Not all of them do, of course. Baker quotes Paul Begala, former Clinton aide and tough Democratic partisan, as saying Republicans were asking questions out of genuine concern. "This is totally on the level," Begala says. "They're acting like real human beings."
I have known Begala for 20-some years, and I have no doubt that back in 2006, when the British TV film "The Death of a President," envisioning the assassination of George W. Bush, debuted at the Toronto Film Festival to applause from a capacity crowd, Begala was appalled. Similarly, with Nicholson Baker's 2003 novel, "Checkpoint" about people planning to murder Bush.
To encourage people to contemplate the assassination of a president is despicable. A strong desire to ensure the safety of the president, however much you disagree with him, is a natural and healthy impulse for every citizen.
So it shouldn't be surprising that Republicans are just as angry as Michelle Obama is reported to have been about the Secret Service's failure to keep an intruder out of the White House, and its four-day failure to realize that a sniper's gunshots hit the first family's residence.
Not everybody evidently feels this way when a Republican is in the White House. The New York Times movie critic's verdict on the 2006 movie: "'The Death of a President' is, in the end, neither terribly outrageous nor especially heroic; it's a thought experiment that traffics in received ideas."
I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it doesn't sound like something Paul Begala would say.
If Baker thinks many of his liberal readers are not disturbed by threats of violence or even murder directed at political opponents, that is unfortunate — even more unfortunate if he is correct.
Consider the protests in Wisconsin against the law restricting the bargaining perquisites of public employee unions passed by the Republican legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker. I have not seen any evidence that Walker's opponents expressed regret for the many death threats he and his family received during that wild time. One hopes that some liberals did speak out against them, and that most or all regretted them in the privacy of their thoughts.
I am reminded here of the official name of the organization that fought to the U.S. Supreme Court the Michigan constitutional amendment banning racial discrimination in, among other things, university admissions: Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigration Rights and Fight For Equality By Any Means Necessary. You can find it inscribed in the Supreme Court reports.
"By any means necessary," a common phrase of the hard Left, carries a threatening implication, a whiff of violence — one particularly vivid, perhaps, in a state whose largest city has suffered a devastating riot and some of the nation's highest rates of violent crime.
Enraged and self-righteous, some liberals seek to abridge opponents' basic human rights — by shutting down opponents' speech, campus speech codes, illicit investigations such as the one to which Gov. Walker was subjected and other limitations on the First Amendment. But do they find it natural that one side would wish actual violence upon the other?
Perhaps Peter Baker thinks many New York Times readers will find it surprising that Republicans don't wish the death of a Democratic president. Let's hope he's wrong.