US at risk of political violence, says Pelosi


NANCY PELOSI, the Democratic Speaker of the House, became emotional at her weekly press conference on Thursday when she warned that the present climate of incivility in US politics risked leading to violence.

Alluding to the fatal shootings of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk on November 27th, 1978, Ms Pelosi appeared close to tears. “I saw this myself in the late ’70s in San Francisco,” she said, referring to anti-gay laws and demonstrations. “It created an environment in which violence took place.”

Ms Pelosi was the Democratic chairman for northern California when Milk won a seat on the San Francisco board of supervisors, becoming the first openly gay politician to win public office in the US.

In recent days, Democrats have criticised Republican politicians for failing to distance themselves from the more extreme opponents of President Barack Obama’s policies.

Ms Pelosi said it was important “to take responsibility for our actions and our words . . . this balance between freedom and safety is one that we have to carefully balance”. She was concerned “about some of the language that is being used . . . So I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made . . . understanding that some of the people – the ears it is falling on – are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume.”

America “is great because people can say what they think and they believe”, Ms Pelosi said. “But I think that they have to take responsibility for any incitement that they may cause.” Memories of the assassination of Moscone and Milk were revived by the 2008 biopic Milk, for which Seán Penn won the Oscar award for best actor. Many in the gay community believed Milk’s assassin, a disgruntled former policeman, former fireman and former city supervisor named Dan White, was convicted of manslaughter rather than first degree murder because of anti-gay bias on the jury.

After Ms Pelosi’s statement, US television stations broadcast archive footage of a visibly shaken Diane Feinstein, who was then president of the San Francisco board of supervisors, announcing to a stunned press conference: “Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed.” Ms Feinstein replaced Moscone as mayor and was later elected to the US Senate.

Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, lashed out at Ms Pelosi in a statement. “The Speaker is now likening genuine opposition to assassination,” Mr Sessions said. “Such insulting rhetoric not only undermines the credibility of her office, but it underscores the desperate attempt by her party to divert attention away from a failing agenda.”

Opponents of Mr Obama’s policies have carried guns to political rallies and compared America’s first black president to Hitler, Marx and Lenin. Earlier in the week, the House passed a resolution condemning Congressman Joe Wilson for shouting “You lie!” at Mr Obama during his address to a joint session of Congress on September 9th.

House majority leader Steny Hoyer said the debate on healthcare has been the most vitriolic since 1993-94, the first two years of the Clinton administration.