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The Break-In

Susan Estrich on

It's everyone's worst nightmare. The glass smashing. The patio door. Someone in the house.

He was quick enough to phone 911 before the intruder confronted him. The man was looking for his wife, planned to stay there until she came back.

How could such a thing happen at the home of the speaker of the House, literally one of the most powerful women in the world?

Easily, actually. No one was watching. There were security cameras in the house, but no one at the Capitol Police was monitoring them. The speaker was in Washington, with her security detail. Her 82-year-old husband was home alone. The police car that used to be parked in front wasn't there anymore. The intruder knew exactly whose house it was.

Threats to members of Congress have doubled in the last year, according to the Capitol Police, and the speaker receives more threats than any other member of Congress.

"The Santa Monica Observer" was the source of the phony right-wing conspiracy theories about the attack, cited -- and then later deleted -- by no less than Elon Musk on Twitter. I was shocked: I live in Santa Monica, and there is no "Observer." It is, according to all reports, a fake news site, which one of the kitchen cabinet around Musk could have checked before he got stuck in that muck.

Was the attack political? Of course it was. He was looking for the speaker of the House, the leader of the pack, he reportedly called her, with plans to break her kneecaps so that she would have to be wheeled on to the House floor. So others would realize there are consequences to their actions, as indeed there are, but not in the way he meant.

We live in what would, at work, be called a hostile environment. It is no longer a civil public space where the issues of the day are debated. Politicians and demagogues who play with matches start real fires. The rhetoric is out of control, and if the rhetoric has no limits, then neither will some of those listening to it. Speech is powerful, and speakers should be accountable and, more important, responsible. Which they aren't.

 

In the short run, the adequacy of security for the homes and families of those in the presidential line of succession must be reconsidered. The assault on the speaker's husband has taken her out of the action at a critical juncture in this election season, and that is of course the least of it.

Politics should not be a life-threatening occupation for the politician or her family. We saw this, painfully, as public health officials came under attack during the pandemic; we saw this with election officials, who came under attack during the height of Donald Trump's denial campaign. There is no privacy, and the threats are increasing as the rhetoric gets turned up.

"It feels like 5% of the people on the far right and 5% of the people on the far left control the entire political debate in this country," a friend insisted. More truth to that than either side would like to acknowledge.

But maybe it's because we let them. And then what happens?

It's not a blame game. It's not a game at all. Real lives are on the line when violent speech crosses the line to violent action. Paul Pelosi is lucky to be alive. The next victim of our political wildfires may not be so lucky. We can do better, and we should.

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To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate Inc.
 

 

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