In Capital's Rhetoric Wars, 'Sorry' Is a Temporary Pause

Rep. John N. Hostettler (R-Ind.) accused Democrats of
Rep. John N. Hostettler (R-Ind.) accused Democrats of "demonizing" Christians. (By Daniel R. Patmore -- Associated Press)
By Dana Milbank
Sunday, June 26, 2005

Perhaps we could arrange for a group apology. It would certainly save time.

The capital has been racked by a bipartisan barrage of incautious remarks this year -- a bull market in over-the-top rhetoric -- as Democrats and Republicans take turns expressing outrage that the other side has crossed the line.

Thursday, it was the Democrats' turn to be outraged, after they learned that President Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, said in a speech Wednesday night that "liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers."

That blast -- which the White House defended as accurate and fair -- took the heat off Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who apologized Tuesday on the Senate floor for saying, a week earlier, that what Americans had done to detainees was similar to what was "done by Nazis."

The Durbin mea culpa, in turn, moved the spotlight away from Rep. John N. Hostettler (R-Ind.), who accused Democrats of "denigrating and demonizing Christians."

As the nation's political culture grows ever coarser, it has been a big year for vituperative partisan rhetoric.

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean set the pace early in the year, calling Republicans "evil" and "brain-dead." More recently, he described the GOP as "pretty much a white Christian party." And Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) apologized for calling Bush a "loser" but recently reiterated his view that the president is a "liar."

Meanwhile, the Terri Schiavo case brought Republicans to rhetorical excess. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said of U.S. judges: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." A week later, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) made a similar point on the Senate floor. He wondered about whether an "unaccountable" judiciary leads "up to the point where some people . . . engage in violence."

Not to be outdone, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said Democrats were using a parliamentary maneuver "to kill, to defeat, to assassinate these [judicial] nominees."

Even before Durbin's troubles, analogies to Nazi Germany had proliferated. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) likened Republicans to Nazis when he said, "[W]itness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends."

Among those outraged was Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) -- at least until Santorum made a similar goof, saying Democrats' parliamentary actions were "the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942."

While Rove's rhetoric now has Democrats pouncing and Republicans squirming, one Republican has reason to smile. Rep. Deborah Pryce (Ohio), chairman of the House Republican Conference, should be relieved that hardly anybody noticed her statement Wednesday that Democrats represent the interests of "foreign criminals" and "would-be terrorists."

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