East Bay Has Seen Vitriol Evident In Arizona

Opponents of Rep. Pete Stark, like the man standing above, talked down the congressman July 24 in Hayward.

By Steven Tavares

When shots rang out in front of a Tucson Safeway last Saturday, the anger and discontent exemplified by the aftermath following the heinous act by a seemingly deranged shooter has now provided a much-needed pause in the level discourse between Americans. Members of Congress have been spat upon by detractors. Others have had racial epithets hurled upon them along with allusions to Adolph Hitler. In hindsight, what happened in Arizona was a powder keg ready to go boom.

In two waves of Tea Party discontent over as many years in the East Bay, I have covered numerous events and spoken to dozens of Americans who attend these gatherings with genuiune concerns for their country, others though, have shown some of the same flourishes of anger fueled with paranoia, simplistic observations and downright racial and ethnic prejudice.

The hyperbolic spectacle surrounding Rep. Pete Stark over the past two summers is the closest example we have locally to the rancor exhibited against Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The level of vitriol contain within Stark’s monthly town hall meetings is difficult to fathom if not in the room to hear the full-throated insults and threats cascading from constituents. Stark has long viewed the back and forth with voters as a prime duty of his role as congressman. In the day after the shooting of Giffords, Stark reiterated his belief in Americans having unfettered access to their representatives. “Rep. Giffords was performing the most fundamental duty of a Member of Congress – she was making herself available to her constituents,” Stark said Monday. “It is something we all do – and something I strongly believe we must continue to do.”

They belittled him because of his age, perceived senility or alleged Marxist leanings. They called him stupid to his face. Called him an idiot. One man obliquely threatened to hit Stark over the head.

Opponents of Stark say the anger against the long-time congressman is merely his constituents reflecting his own insults back against him. Tea Party activists and conservative pundits have used his infamous YouTube clips to demonize Stark to which he said yesterday, “We can have differences of opinion on policy and still treat each other with humanity.” While it is true, Stark’s personality lends itself to hurling diatribes back at frothy-mouth questioners, the level of disrespect towards the polite discussion of ideas is nearly non-existent from his detractors. A town hall July 24 in Hayward was a prime example of a town hall reeking of irrational exuberance and bullying. Watch a clip from the event here. During the entire 90 minute meeting, Stark barely spoke. There was hardly a spectator who did not have the urge to stand and shout down Stark. They belittled him because of his age, perceived senility or alleged Marxist leanings. They called him stupid to his face. Called him an idiot. One man obliquely threatened to hit Stark over the head.

When you ask them directly about their anger, you get the same ridiculous, beyond belief expanations such as, Stark only gets re-elected because illegal immigrants stuff the ballot boxes. Many exude contempt for Stark’s role in health care reform, but when you ask them about their health insurance situation, they somehow finesse their own need for Medicare as different from those who may have the wrong color skin or too lazy to help themselves. Not only do Americans of different political persuasions need to respect each others difference of opinions, but both sides to need to better understand the incoherence of their own arguments and correct them before we can move towards melding each ideas and beliefs into solid compromise and prosperity.

The only reaction needed from lawmakers does not include  arming themselves or erecting barriers between them and their constituents, as has been broached recently. Instead, they should follow the lead of leaders like Stark and continue business-as-usual. He says his next town hall is Jan. 22.

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