Government workers witnessed a scene yesterday horrifically reminiscent of the Oklahoma City terrorist attack the last time a Democrat occupied the White House. A suicide attack was launched in Austin, Texas by a man who chose to assault government workers as an expression of his rage against government policies. While it is easy to see this as an act of a deranged individual, it is not unreasonable to consider the role rhetoric against government workers plays in fueling this rage.
When Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) sees a government worker in uniform such as a TSA Officer or U.S. Capitol Police Officer he sees a potential threat. These officers, sworn to protect and serve are potential ‘union bosses’ in his mind and may use the right to collectively bargain as a tool to control security.
TSA officers continue to organize as they serve the American people while they await the fulfillment of President Barack Obama’s promise to permit them collective bargaining rights. Sen. DeMint successfully obstructed the confirmation of Errol Souther as TSA Administrator saying the appointee “has not been forthcoming about whether he’ll give union bosses control of our airport security, which is one of the most important decisions he’ll make as head of the TSA.” While Sen. DeMint may not realize that ‘union bosses’ come out of the workforce and are elected unlike corporate bosses, the recent Supreme Court decision provides millions of reasons to continue to oppose the right to organize.
But what if this rhetoric suggesting that government workers are a threat if they organize puts these workers in danger from anti-government extremists? Terms such as ‘bureaucrats’ are used to dehumanize those who serve the America people each day. It is this dehumanizing rhetoric that makes it easier to morph the person into the policy. Thus an attack on the person becomes an attack on the policy and can be justified in the mind of a terrorist. Sen. DeMint is presumably opposing TSA collective bargaining rights as a fundraising tactic (although he is protected by officers with those rights).
Yesterday that tactic, that hate speech against government workers may have contributed to a tragedy in Austin.
This article originally appeared in the Washington DC Examiner on February 19, 2010. Reprinted with permission.