Political bullying is in vogue now and the question you can hear bubbling up throughout the country is, “Who will stand up to the bullies?” Michele Bachmann is only the latest in a line of political bullies roaming our streets, and she was on full display following her win in the Iowa straw poll. I watched Bachmann on a series of news programs this past Sunday morning, including Meet the Press, where host David Gregory asked the congresswoman about her past comments about gays and lesbians, including this one:
"[Being gay] leads to the personal enslavement of individuals. Because if you're involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it's bondage. It is personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement. And that's why this is so dangerous... We need to have profound compassion for people who are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction in their life and sexual identity disorders."
Gregory then went on to ask her what this comment really meant, to which Bachmann replied: "I ascribe honor and dignity to every person, no matter what their background." Gregory then pressed her on whether her comment was a reflection of such honor and dignity, to which she stonewalled, "I am not anyone's judge... I'm running for the presidency."
I don’t always like how the Sunday morning news shows play gotcha with their guests, looking for the misstep, the misstatement, where the program hosts strain to “make news.” But, in this case, I think Gregory got it right. He was asking Bachmann to account for her views on gays and lesbians, a record that is long and consistent with her comment above.
Bullies have a way of diminishing others, pushing others around, mocking others, and making declarations that they then refuse to take accountability for. Isn’t that what Bachmann was doing? Isn’t that what some Republican congressional members and presidential candidates do when they refuse to talk about how they would deal with the debt and deficit crisis? For instance, if they really believe the path to prosperity involves making drastic budget cuts, then they should tell us which programs they will abolish or deeply cut and how we will deal with the ramifications.
There is a clear difference between bullying others and standing up for what one believes in. Nowadays, we have too much of the former, and not nearly enough of the latter. Too often political bullies are allowed to have their way; they are given a “pass.”
Let me be clear: responding to bullies is not about bullying them back, where we invoke the notion of “an eye for an eye.” Rather, we must be brave enough to call them out and to offer an alternative. We must stand up for, and own, what we are for. At times, I fear the president and his Democratic colleagues give in to bullies or only want to complain about bullying, rather than offering such an alternative. In fact, just last week I wrote about how Obama operatives said they are making plans to “destroy” Mitt Romney.
The problem with bullies is that they believe they can say what they want, push others around, escalate fear, and denigrate others – all without having to be accountable. If we want to move the country forward, then we must say no to bullying.
It’s time to put a stake in the ground and own what we are for.