This motherf----r, his whole job is to get people, convince Republicans to f---ing kick people off f—ing health care. I hate this motherf----r…. I’m glad he got shot, I wish he was f–ing dead. Covert recording of Phil Montag, Democratic Party volunteer in Nebraska

The Nebraska Democratic Party removed a party official from his post Thursday after he was recorded saying he was glad U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise got shot and that he wished the Louisiana Republican had died. Associated Press report, N.Y. Times, June 22, 2017

eems like a pretty straightforward story when it’s framed like that. Turns out there was a lot more going on, not all of it clear yet, and the Democratic Party leadership missed an excellent opportunity to exercise nuanced leadership instead of what appears to be mindless, kneejerk political correctness running scared.

This story apparently began to develop June 16, in the aftermath of the shooting of Scalise and others, including the killing of shooter James T. Hodgkinson. That’s when Chelsey Gentry-Tipton, chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party’s Black Caucus, took to Facebook to comment on video of the shooting scene:

Watching the congressman crying on live tv abt the trauma they experienced. Y is this so funny tho?...

The very people that push pro NRA legislation in efforts to pad their pockets with complete disregard for human life. Yeah, having a hard time feeling bad for them.

Within hours of the posting, Nebraska Democratic Party chairwoman Jane Kleeb, who is white, asked Gentry-Tipton to resign. Kleeb objected to media attention to what she called an internal party dispute. She said it distracted from the more important issue of gun violence, commenting simplistically:

Anyone who commits violence against anyone is wrong. Anyone who makes insensitive comments about gun violence is wrong. For me that’s the end of the story.

Gentry-Tipton posted again to Facebook, refusing to resign and writing a long response to a voice message from Kleeb, complaining that Kleeb called for her resignation without speaking to her first. Gentry-Tipton wrote: “As a victim of gun violence, I understand that today’s events are deeply troubling. I don’t condone or find the humor in what happened.” She criticized Kleeb for acting in haste without learning Gentry-Tipton’s point of view or the context for her remarks:

This is troubling.

It’s also troubling that gun violence affects the Black community in a way that you clearly don’t understand and you are slow to react. It’s also troubling that police violence affects the Black community in a way you clearly don’t comprehend and you are slow to react….

These are the issues. YOU DON’T REACT. What you choose to react to is some gossipy snippet of what I said and then call for my resignation. Where was your expediency and compassion when those tragedies befell our community?

A day or two later, apparently, Phil Montag met privately with Gentry-Tipton and her friend Destin Madison, who is apparently an “administrative lead” at Conagra Foods in Omaha. Madison secretly recorded the conversation for reasons that are unexplained (he did not respond to emailed inquiries). When Montag makes his expletive-laden comments about Scalise, Gentry-Tipton asks him to go public. “I’m not going to f—king say that in public,” Montag says. Gentry-Tipton asks him just to say something publicly. Madison asks him, “Why are you telling us, but not telling anyone else?” Montag stammers, trying to figure it out. At that point Madison reveals that he’s “been recording this conversation since you’ve come in, so I will publicly release it myself.” That’s the end of the recording. The conversation lasted perhaps half an hour, Madison’s YouTube post comprised only the last 42 seconds. But that was enough for Democratic chairwoman Jane Kleeb to fire Montag peremptorily from his volunteer position as co-chairman of the party’s technology committee.

Whoa, what just happened? First, it was a technological lynching. Montag’s remarks, however over-the-top, were spoken in private, presumably in confidence, secretly recorded, and then, without Montag’s permission, broadcast on the internet to create a minor media frenzy that, as it turned out, took the heat off of both Kleeb and Gentry-Tipton, at least for the moment.

OK, this is a familiar pattern of sleazy politics, except that ALL the people involved here are self-identified Democrats. This nasty little episode is an excellent paradigm of a Democratic Party that has no focus, no principles, no common sense. Whatever one thinks of Montag’s comments, he made them in private and knew better than to say them in public. That’s on the tape. Madison’s ambush of Montag is a betrayal that borders on the criminal (taping in Nebraska requires the consent of only one person, in this case Madison). Gentry-Tipton, whose initial response to Kleeb shows some character and decency, squanders her good will by taking part in the drive-by smearing of Montag. And Jane Kleeb and the rest of the party leadership manage to behave without dignity or discernible principle at every stage of the squalid show.

These people act as if they’d rather screw each other than take on the real enemies of the people in the Republican Party. It’s hard to imagine that Montag’s hatred of Steve Scalise was unique in the Democratic Party of Nebraska, never mind nationally. But those who had those feelings, including Montag, knew enough to keep them private, while publicly saying all the fake things they were expected to say, the sort of fake things Republicans rarely manage to say about the killings of unarmed black men, gay nightclub-goers, LGBT victims, or even the vulnerable people Republican healthcare is designed to kill. When someone shoots at a Congressman, the hypocrisy is seamless and Speaker Ryan can say without blushing, “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” which he would never say about any mere citizen, most of whom he has been more than happy to attack, continuously, for decades.

What should the Democratic leaders have done? How about acted with deliberation, care, thoughtfulness, and a focus on what the real horrors are when words are compared to deeds? For starters, all the words at issue here are constitutionally-protected free speech. Jane Kleeb might have started with that thought and then explored context and meaning, instead of betraying her anti-constitutionalism with mindless political correctness in support of speech policing:

Violent comments about anyone whether they are an elected official or a kid on the street are unacceptable…. The political rhetoric is so off the cliff of reality I fear where our body politic is headed.

This is the language of panic and fear, the language of someone who doesn’t have a clear understanding of what she’s dealing with. She doesn’t even manage to be clear that she heard an audio tape of Montag:

He made disgusting comments about a member of Congress, and we relieved him of his volunteer position of the party on Thursday morning as soon as we saw the video…. It’s a disturbing time in politics. I’ve worked in politics for over 10 years, and I’ve never seen such hateful rhetoric from both the right and left.

The party might well have wanted to disown Montag’s remarks, as well as Gentry-Tipton’s, but it could have done so in a mature and nuanced way. The public exposure in both cases involved Gentry-Tipton. Montag had exercised personal discretion in his choice of venues, if not in his choice of people to trust. The party could have made distinctions about what was said, and how it was said, and what was meant. Perhaps the party could have elicited apologies and explanations from Montag and Gentry-Tipton, both of whom could have added depth to the public debate. The party ran scared instead, as the Democratic Party has been running scared for decades now, afraid to take positions of principle even when they poll well.

And here was an opportunity to push back against a Republican Party that isn’t challenged on war, war crimes, torture, white phosphorous and cluster bombs, police murdering citizens, impoverishing the poor, destroying the middle class, and actually offering to kill people by the thousands with a healthcare bill that is actually a boondoggle for the rich.

That’s what Steve Scalise represents. And that is not a wish to see him dead. That’s a pointless desire, there would just be another inhumane Tea Party ideologue to fill his Young Gun shoes. A Democrat with displine and a willingness to fight back against the Steve Scalises of the world might have responded to this Nebraska hooha with arguments that show courage and a humane belief system. Such a Democrat might say that the party wishes Scalise no personal harm, but hopes that his period of recuperation might also include his recovery from his belief that life begins at fertilization, that God belongs in the public sphere (Constitution not withstanding), that marijuana is a gateway drug, or that women don’t need the protection of the Violence Against Women Act.

As Scalise has time to reflect on life lying in his hospital bed, he might wonder why he voted in support of mortgage foreclosures, voted against enforcing anti-gay hate crime laws, voted against green public schools, voted for more ocean oil drilling, voted against regulating greenhouse gases, voted for more nuclear power development, voted against supporting democratic institutions in Pakistan, voted for easier interstate gun sales, voted against regulating tobacco as a drug, voted against expanding children’s health insurance program, voted against removing troops from Afghanistan, or why he voted against investigating President Bush for lying the country into Iraq. Almost all of these votes have clear lethal consequences for someone, whether women, children, gays, Pakistanis, gun victims, Iraqis, climate change victims, Afghans, smokers, or victims of radiation.

There’s no point wishing him dead. Morally he’s been dead a long time already.