Neither Republicans nor Democrats have a monopoly on incivility

“If you listen to fools.
The mob rules.”

--Black Sabbath, “The Mob Rules”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is challenging the left.

He’s had harsh words for former Attorney General Eric Holder, who told Democrats to “kick ‘em” when Republicans “go low.”

McConnell characterized the Democrats’ tactics after the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as “toxic, fringe behavior.” He warned that such ploys from “the new Democratic Party” could result in violence, like last year’s shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.

“It’s not entirely surprising, given the outright embrace by many on the left, including elected officials, of radical concepts like open borders and socialism,” McConnell said. “We will not let mob behavior drown out all of the Americans who want to legitimately participate in the policymaking process.”

Someone sent the wife of Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., a text message embedded with the video of a beheading.

“This is not who we are as a country,” Gardner warned. “When it comes to calls for violence and assassinations, it has gone too far.”

Authorities arrested Jackson Cosko after he doxxed a number of Republican senators, releasing personal information and details about their families. Cosko had been an unpaid intern for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. He previously worked for Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. Police increased their focus on Cosko after he improperly gained entry into Hassan’s office after hours and was discovered working on a computer he no longer had permission to use.

Democrats have long been on the march when it comes to protests. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., incentivized demonstrators to harass Republicans in restaurants and other public venues. Those who’ve faced hectoring while dining or have been turned away at restaurants include Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Has the left crossed a line?

It wasn’t long ago when the right stoked similar embers. In 2009, conservatives were fighting back against an environmental bill called “cap and trade,” an economic stimulus package and generally anything engineered by President Obama and then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Republicans made a point of disrupting “town halls” where Democratic lawmakers fielded questions from constituents. Many on the right, festooned in tri-cornered hats and representing the then-powerful tea party, attended the forums to heckle Democratic lawmakers.

It culminated in vigorous protests as House and Senate Democrats - then in the majority – passed ObamaCare into law in late 2009 and the first quarter of 2010.

Demonstrators hurled invective and racial epithets at members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they walked between the Capitol and the Cannon House Office Building. Some cursed and jeered Democrats, yelling anti-gay slurs at then-Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. One protester spat on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.

“It surprised me that people are so mean and we can’t engage in a civil dialogue and debate,” said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a central figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Lewis noted he hadn’t heard language like that directed at him “since the March to Selma.”

When someone spat on Cleaver, an ordained Methodist pastor, the congressman initially stopped and visibly tried to control his rage. U.S. Capitol Police initially arrested someone for allegedly assaulting the congressman.

“The man who spat on the Congressman was arrested. But the Congressman has chosen not to press charges,” Cleaver’s office said in a statement at the time.

“I feel sorry for those people who are doing this nasty stuff,” Cleaver said. “They’re being whipped up. I decided I wouldn’t be angry with any of them.”

Of course, the question now is whether Democrats are also “whipping up” demonstrators on the left to attack Republicans. If so, where is the line?

The purpose here is not to simply point out that conservatives sometimes went too far with some demonstrations in 2009 and 2010, just as liberals push the limits today. The point is that both sides can be ultra-energized sometimes. The concern is what the sides do with that engagement.

In 2010, then-House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., said he had “been directly threatened.” Someone cut the gas line at a home belonging to a relative of then-Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va., A vandal fired a brick through the office of the late Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. Someone else deposited a coffin in the front yard of then-Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo. Former Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who engineered a major provision on abortion that proved crucial to passing ObamaCare, received death threats.

During the ObamaCare debate, a score of House Republicans filed out onto a Capitol balcony just off the speaker’s lobby to rile up the crowd. Current Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin was then a Republican congresswoman. After her turn ginning up the masses, Fallin described the experience as “kind of fun.”

Certainly Democratic lawmakers have been involved in all sorts of protests of late. The Capitol Police even arrested Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., after she took part in a demonstration in the Hart Senate Office Building during the summer.

Even before the Kavanaugh battle, congressional security officials were seeing levels of demonstrations and arrests on Capitol Hill not seen since the era of Watergate and Vietnam.

Both the Kavanaugh confirmation episode and the health care saga are combustible, incendiary political events. People are going to get worked up. The question is, how far do they push it? And what do political leaders do to help lower the temperature?

Republican leaders did very little to dial things back in 2009 and 2010. Democratic leaders have done very little amid the current furor.

“Words have power,” Pelosi said when she was House speaker in 2009, not long after Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., hollered “You lie!” at President Obama during a joint session of Congress on health care.

Pelosi spoke about how political tumult in San Francisco in 1978 resulted in the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and city Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to win a major elective office in the U.S. (The murders led to current U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., becoming mayor of San Francisco.)

“(Words) weigh a ton,” Pelosi added. “They are perceived differently by people, depending on their, shall we say, emotional state.”

It may have been that the political right was inflamed in 2009-10. It’s the left now.

Certainly, there is space for robust debate. Some Democrats tried to vilify the anti-ObamaCare protesters at the Capitol eight and nine years ago. But most were there exercising their First Amendment rights. The same with the loud crowd outside the Capitol during the Kavanaugh vote. Republicans may try to condemn some of them. But again, most were there to make their voices heard under the First Amendment.

There is a difference between spirited activism and a mob.

And as politicians on both sides can attest, the line of separation is rather thin.