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Shawn Vestal: Cathy McMorris Rodgers and GOP ‘snowflakes’ shouldn’t confuse dissent with violence

FILE - Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers speaks at the MLK Day march, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, at the Spokane Convention Center. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s a sad sign of our mollycoddled age.

Too many people have been swaddled and softened in echo chambers of approval. Too many have been made to feel entitled and special and deserving of adulation – “snowflakes,” if you will. A lot of them have been scrambling away lately from the scrum of public debate, seeking out “safe spaces” where they are protected from the “violence” of attitudes that conflict with theirs.

We call these people “representatives,” and they seem terrified of the “represented.”

But as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and others in Congress duck and swerve to avoid the intense opposition to their Faustian bargain with the president, they are making a mistake – misreading the depth of opposition and dismissing people they are supposed to represent.

In the face of impassioned protests, Republicans in Congress are scurrying out the back doors of town halls while lobbing weak, dismissive insults at the protesters. After being shouted down in Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz – a Benghazi obsessive who finds nothing worth investigating in the Trump-Russia connection – asserted the demonstrators were paid outsiders. A GOP official in Florida, who roused the ire of a crowd with an attempt to fly the “death panel” lie about Obamacare, called the audience members “children.”

McMorris Rodgers convened a closed-door congressional session with fellow Washington Rep. Dave Reichert to discuss security concerns with lawmakers, while her spokeswoman invoked fears of “violence” as a rationale for choking off protesters’ access to her office.

“The congresswoman wants to hear from everyone,” Molly Drenkard told the S-R. “Where freedom of speech is answered with more speech, and not with violence.”

Has the congresswoman been answered with violence? She has not. Nor were Chaffetz or the death-panel guy or Mitch McConnell or any of the others facing critical responses from the people they represent. What they have been answered with is chanting and booing and raised voices, with disruptive and sometimes rude behavior – actions it would be more accurate to describe as “democracy” than “violence.”

To mischaracterize the wave of citizen activism right now is to grossly misread the moment. There have been a couple instances of rioting and property damage at street protests in Berkeley and Washington, D.C. Locally, there was the case of spray-paint vandalism at the Spokane GOP office, which local party leaders portrayed as a hate crime.

But the nation is seeing a vast wave of peaceful protests right now, from marches to airport demonstrations to the massive rally in support of refugees Sunday in Spokane to the smaller crowd that picketed McMorris Rodgers’ office this week.

Some of it might be messy, but it’s not violent. And I don’t think it’s going away.

McMorris Rodgers got a taste of “opposition constituency” when she spoke before the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in Spokane in January: she had to endure some booing and chanting. An event organizer strenuously chided the crowd afterward.

I was there that day, and it was, all-around, a humdrum and exaggerated bit of “controversy.” Some of McMorris Rodgers’ supporters seemed to think it was an egregious offense that she was a wee bit interrupted. And some of the congresswoman’s opponents seemed to consider it an egregious offense that she was even invited – turning their backs to her like petulant children. Boo-hoo to both of them. It doesn’t hurt anyone to stand in a room and be disagreed with.

The key difference is that it is McMorris Rodgers’ job to listen to what the people in her district think, and the lives of the people in her district are affected by the decisions she makes. When she turns her back, she’s failing as a representative.

The snowflakification of GOP lawmakers is supremely ironic, given that the right has thrived on a continual nattering about the oversensitivity and entitlement of others.

So, sure, these lawmakers should take appropriate security measures, by all means. But they should stop demonizing dissent, leave their fainting couches at home, and heed a refrain that is so common in their echo chamber: Toughen up, buttercup.

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