Stark raving

There was in interesting discussion over at Firedoglake about Pelosi’s public rebuke of Pete Stark for his intemperate language during the SCHIP debate. Jane Hamsher, Digby and Scarecrow weigh in with their opinions laying out the situation as follows:

Scarecrow v. Jane v. Digby: A Debate on Pete Stark & Nancy Pelosi

http://tinyurl.com/2xjy5mpete-stark.JPG(This debate was triggered by Nancy Pelosi’s public rebuke of Pete Stark, and the rumor that Republicans will move on Monday to condemn Stark’s remarks in the House — jh)

JANE: Jesus Christ. What is wrong with her? She keeps doing stupid things like this and these McCarthy-ite resolutions will never end.

SCARECROW: Here are two scenarios:

1. During the debates over SCHIP, a member claims that the President enjoys blowing up US soldiers for the fun of it.

2. During the debates over SCHIP, no member makes any such claim but sticks to the merits of SCHIP.

I don’t have any problem saying I wish we were dealing with Scenario 2.

If you are the leadership, and you realize that under scenario 1, the member has just handed the Republicans a convenient distraction and a way to beat up on the image of your party, what should you do?

0. Commend the member for getting off a good one, because the other side is a bunch of jerks.

1. Ignore this.

2. Distance yourself/Party from the member’s remarks

3. Other?

In my opinion the discussion uses the wrong frame when analyzing Pelosi’s options. Instead of buying into the Republican frame that assumes that the Speaker is/was responsible for every word uttered by a member of her caucus and should be ready to leap to apologize if some Republican claimed to be offended by something said by a Democratic member of Congress, the Speaker should have taken a page from the Republican playbook. Pelosi should have re-framed the issue and done a adroit pivot to return the discussion to the urgent need for passage of the SCHIP bill and her intention to focus on that goal.

Here is the statement that Pelosi should have issued:

“I have known Pete Stark for a long time. He sometimes uses heated language in debate, particularly when talking something he cares deeply about, like the SCHIP bill. Members on both sides of the aisle sometimes use strong rhetoric in discussing issues on the floor of the House. We must remember that the important issue here is the passage of this crucial bill which is supported by a majority of the U.S. Congress and also a majority of the American people. The SCHIP is a bill which enjoys broad bi-partisan support in both houses of Congress. The SCHIP program has been successful in providing health insurance coverage to children in every state in the Union ever since it was first passed during the Clinton administration with the cooperation of a Republican-led Congress. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in finding a way to pass this vital bill with sufficient margin to override the President’s veto. ”

UPDATE:  In an unscientific CNN poll 88% said Stark did not need to apologize.  The consensus of the public at large seems to be contrary to Pelosi’s namby-pamby apologetic disavowal of Rep. Stark’s heated remarks on the House floor.

http://tinyurl.com/2572lc

CNN is reporting that 88% of those voting in their Friday morning online poll say there is no reason Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) should apologize for remarks blasting President Bush on the floor of the House of Representatives.

In the course of debate on expanding SCHIP funding, Stark told Congressional Republicans (video, story), “You don’t have money to fund the war or children. But you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people, if we could get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their head’s blow off for the president’s amusement.”

House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner quickly issued a statement demanding a retraction and apology, in which he said, “Our troops in Iraq are fighting against al-Qaeda and other radical jihadists hellbent on killing the people we are sent here to represent. Congressman Stark’s statement dishonors not only the Commander-in-Chief, but the thousands of courageous men and women of America’s armed forces who believe in their mission and are putting their lives on the line for our freedom and security.”

There has predictably been support for Stark on the left, along with endorsements of Boehner’s outrage on the right. A thread at the liberal Democratic Underground site asked members to “DU this CNN poll!” but also expressed amusement that the sentiment in favor of Stark was already running at 87% to 13%. One commenter suggested that “the poll has been Freeped, it was 89% before, now it’s 87%,” to which another replied “amazing what consitutes freeping these daze.”

“Freeping” is a reference to the practice initiated at the conservative Free Republic message board some years ago of sending members to overwhelm online polls with indications of support for right-wing policies and politicians. Liberal sites like Democratic Underground and Daily Kos then began countering this strategy with similar exhortations of their own.

The lopsided result of the CNN poll is striking, especially since the mainstream consensus seems to be that even if Stark was just shooting his mouth off, as he has many times in the past, he may have crossed a line of bad taste in suggesting that the president actively enjoys seeing American soldiers’ heads blown off.

For example, when Keith Olbermann indicated on his program that he felt there was “something refreshing about his at least refusal to back down,” guest Jonathan Alter responded that Stark’s comments were “silly and counterproductive, and the best thing for him to do would be to apologize and move on.”

MSNBC’s “First Read” blog eneumerated Stark’s history of inflammatory remarks: “On another occasion he publicly questioned the provenance of J.C. Watts’ offspring, comments that so enraged the former Oklahoma quarterback that he angrily marched up to Stark on the House floor and had to be restrained from beating the living daylights out of the 70-something liberal. Also, during a gun control debate some years back, Stark suggested that opponents of gun control were phallically challenged. And not too long ago, he called a GOP opponent on the Ways and Means committee a ‘fruitcake’ during committee proceedings.”

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