But as ever with this debate, many seem less concerned with the propriety of this particular example and more concerned with the supposed double-standard involved. This is what liberals do, they have said — suggesting that the left has some sort of monopoly on this type of tactic. Just imagine if the roles were reversed, they say.
They’re neglecting plenty of recent history.
Republican pollster Patrick Ruffini tweeted to that effect, pitching someone, somewhere to do “an academic paper or 3,000 word breakdown on why people who are politically right of center don’t do this.”
The National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke imagined a hypothetical world in which this was indeed done by the right:
If, instead of a left-winger berating a moderate Democrat in the loo, a right-winger had berated a moderate Republican, it would have been the biggest news of the year. Within minutes, the incident would have had a name — the “Arizona Attack,” perhaps. Within a day, it would have been deemed to be representative of everything that was wrong with the American Right — and with the United States itself. Within a week, we would have been drowning in breathless TV segments, tendentious op-eds, and mawkish lectures about the sanctity of democracy in the United States.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald declared, “If this were done to [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], CNN would demand FBI impose martial law & a national mourning period.”
The thing is, though, we don’t really have to try too hard to imagine such a scenario, because something similar happened. And the culprit was not some unknown protesters, but someone who now serves alongside Ocasio-Cortez in Congress: Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.).
CNN in May reported that since-deleted video showed Greene taunting Ocasio-Cortez from outside her locked congressional office, calling her “crazy eyes” and telling her to “get rid of your diaper.” Once in Congress, reporters witnessed Greene this spring aggressively confronting Ocasio-Cortez over the Democrat’s supposed sympathies for terrorists. And a few years ago, Greene also accosted school-shooting survivor David Hogg as he was on Capitol Hill to meet with senators.
There were, in fact, no cable news calls for a national mourning period or a declaration of martial law. There was criticism, to be sure, but it was far from the “biggest news of the year” or even the day, for that matter.
Also, to the point raised in the National Reivew, there are indeed recent examples of right-wing protesters confronting GOP senators who, like Sinema, declined to toe their preferred party line. Trump supporters chanted “traitor” while on an airplane with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Jan. 5, as Romney was opposing Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) was treated to similar heckles at an airport a few days later, after he differed with Trump’s tactics that presaged the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
The Capitol riot itself would also seem a worthwhile comparison. This was right-wingers quite literally breaking into congressional members’ workplaces while talking about killing them. Their targets included then-Vice President Mike Pence who — you guessed it — wasn’t toeing the line to their liking. Even if you consider that to have been hot air and ignore the fact that people literally died that day, at the very least this was an effort at intimidation that goes quite a bit further than following someone into a bathroom.
It’s at this point where some will say, “Well, these weren’t in the bathroom.” And that’s true. But even drawing the line there when it comes to saying “the left does this and Republicans don’t really” doesn’t really add up.
During the 2016 convention, a delegate from Utah reported that Trump supporters harassed her in a bathroom and wished death upon her over an effort to force a roll-call vote on Trump’s nomination. As recently as 2018, a long-shot GOP congressional candidate videotaped herself confronting a transgender woman in a bathroom as the woman was in a stall. (The candidate wasn’t wearing a MAGA hat, but she was wearing a Trump sweatshirt.) And there are plenty of other allegations of confrontations in bathrooms over transgender rights — particularly as states have pursued so-called “bathroom bills.”
The point isn’t that what happened to Sinema is okay; it’s that the efforts to pretend this is a unique affliction of the political left or that the reaction to the same thing happening on the right would dominate the media involves some real tunnel vision.
These things are difficult to quantify because each situation is different when it comes to the protesters, the person being pursued, and the circumstances, including where it takes place and what is said. Greene didn’t confront Ocasio-Cortez in a bathroom, but those she has pursued have cited security concerns. She even told Hogg — who, again, was the victim of a school shooting — that she carried a gun, which for quite understandable reasons he said he felt threatened by. And this, unlike the protesters who confronted Sinema, was someone who would soon become a member of Congress partaking in this form of political ambush.
Maybe the point is that this kind of thing happens from time to time — often thanks to random people (but sometimes not) — and having a debate over what’s appropriate is a valid exercise. That doesn’t mean the media always gets that debate right. But to pretend this would be the apocalypse if the roles were ever reversed — or that the roles haven’t been reversed, period — is to disregard plenty of recent history.