By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 2009
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday said she worries that the protests of President Obama's health-care legislation may be of a similar nature to anti-gay rhetoric in the late 1970s in San Francisco, which culminated in the assassinations of two of her home town's political leaders.
Pelosi, responding to a question about anti-Obama sentiment, said that partisans on all sides of an issue have the right to voice their opinion. But after pausing, she added: "I have concerns about some of the language that is being used, because I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco. This kind of rhetoric was very frightening, and it created a climate in which violence took place."
Republicans rejected this assertion and accused her of likening protesters to Dan White, a member of the city's board of supervisors who killed Harvey Milk, the first openly gay member of that board, and Mayor George Moscone in 1978.
"The speaker is now likening genuine opposition to assassination," said Rep. Pete Sessions (Tex.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Such insulting rhetoric not only undermines the credibility of her office, but it underscores the desperate attempt by her party to divert attention away from a failing agenda."
Pelosi was a local Democratic Party leader at the time of Milk's and Moscone's deaths, and the usually stoic speaker appeared to fight back tears as she recalled the killings.
She warned that sometimes the "ears that it is falling on are not as balanced as the person making the statement."
Pelosi took care to say that she does not think the debate has crossed into dangerous territory. "Our country is great because people can say what they think and they believe. But I also think that they have to take responsibility for any incitement that they may cause," she said.
"The speaker's verbal assault on voters accomplishes nothing other than furthering her reputation for being wildly out of touch with the American people," Sessions responded.
Pelosi had already infuriated Obama critics last month when she said opponents of his health-care plan were carrying "swastikas and symbols like that" to town hall meetings. Conservatives excoriated Pelosi for her implicit labeling of them as Nazis.
The nature of Obama's opposition has taken center stage in recent days, after weeks of angry protests of the president and his policies. Last weekend, conservatives marched to the Capitol, some carrying signs that showed a picture of Obama sporting a Hitler-style mustache and others depicting the president's face as that of the "Batman" villain the Joker. Former president Jimmy Carter and leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus have suggested that some of Obama's opponents are racist, saying that Rep. Joe Wilson's shout of "You lie!" at Obama last week grew out of those protests.
That issue had settled down after a Wednesday vote to reprimand Wilson (R-S.C.), before Pelosi referenced the Milk and Moscone murders.