This story was going to be about the Republicans’ almost unprecedented step of injecting inflammatory, up-yours language right smack into the official title of a Congressional bill, as they did last week with the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." And it will be about that. But it’s hard to write about their new "job-killing" meme after the real killings in Tucson, which left Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life, six people dead and twelve others wounded.
No, I’m not jumping to the conclusion that the alleged shooter, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, was influenced by right-wing rhetoric. We don’t know enough yet. Whatever was in his mind—and from his YouTube videos, it appears to have been a mess of paranoid antigovernment conspiracy theories—it’s unlikely that this particular "job-killing" catchphrase contributed one iota to his crimes. Apparently, he had long been planning to assassinate Giffords.
But, here’s the but: the Tea Party and its more fervent Republican enablers have been marketing death rhetoric for quite a while now. It’s not just the obvious gun-happy talk, like Sharron Angle saying if Washington doesn’t change we might need "Second Amendment remedies," or Sarah "Reload" Palin placing Giffords and other Democratic reps who voted for healthcare reform in the crosshairs on a US map, or talk radio host Joyce Kaufman saying, "If ballots don’t work, bullets will." Or even Giffords’s Tea Party opponent inviting folks to "Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly."
The sorry truth is Republicans know that talk about death and killing works. Saying the Democrats represent a modern, science-based bureaucracy that can roll over in its sleep and crush the life out of you is their stock-in-trade. It began with the anti-abortion cries of "Baby killer!" which fringers used to justify the murder of abortion doctors like George Tiller, whom Bill O’Reilly called "Tiller the Baby Killer" for years. Just last week the term "death panel" rose from its crypt to scare Obama away—again—from recommending end-of-life consultations in the new health care rules.
Nasty nicknames began to really pop up in legislative language with the Gingrich Revolution of 1994 and one of its star phrases: "death tax," a k a the estate tax. Once relabeled by Republicans, "death tax" went on to appear in bill titles and text. The phrase chalked up a major victory just last month, when the Obama-McConnell tax deal cut the rate from 45 to 35 percent while allowing estates worth less than $5 million to skip paying taxes altogether.
So it made sense that when the Republican leadership needed to re-demonize health care reform in order to repeal it, they’d come up with a variation on the tried and true. Besides, they couldn’t very well call their bill the "Repealing the Government Takeover of Health Care Law Act." The fact-checking site Politifact recently deemed that catchy bit of propaganda the "Lie of the Year."