Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate is condemning signs carried by pro-labor protesters that compare Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Hosni Mubarak and showed the governor with a cross-hairs rifle sight over his face.
In an interview with CNSNews.com, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Press Secretary Graeme Zielinski said that Tate and the party “absolutely” condemn the inflammatory signs but says that they are not representative of the majority of the protesters who have taken to the streets in opposition to the Governor’s plan.
“This is absolutely not representative of what the protest is that’s out there,” said Zielinski. “Frankly it’s offensive to a lot of the protesters, average working men and women who are out here with their families peaceably demonstrating and exercising their first amendment rights.”
Protesters jammed the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison on Thursday, sitting in the hallways and chanting slogans to express their displeasure with Walker, the Republican governor, who wants lawmakers to approve a budget bill that would cut benefits to most public employees and curtail some collective-bargaining rights in an attempt to solve a $137 million budget shortfall and a looming deficit.
Shortly after the protests commenced, the state Republican Party released a video entitled “Rhetoric vs. Reality” in which rally attendees can be seen carrying signs that contain inflammatory messages -- including calls for the governor’s death.
The video also shows one Democratic lawmaker, state Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), comparing the governor’s proposals to actions taken by Hitler in the early 1930s.
A caption beneath the video on the State GOP Web site reads: “Which side is engaging in uncivilized rhetoric?”
Mark Jefferson, the executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, told CNSNews.com Friday that the caption is a reference to Democratic calls for increased political civility and a toning down of the political rhetoric after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in January.
He said the Wisconsin GOP released “Rhetoric vs. Reality” partially to combat misconceptions that evolved in the days following the Giffords shooting.
“There were a lot of conservatives around the nation who were upset about all of the talk coming out of Arizona about how it’s the Right that engages in hurtful rhetoric and like other conservatives around the country,” Jefferson said.
“I was personally very troubled by that because that’s not the way we see it at all. And the proof was demonstrated this week at the capitol and continues to be. You hear a lot of nasty things from the Left and we documented it. We got it out to people.”
Jefferson also said that the signs that they have seen both inside the Capitol building and in the streets have led many to fear for the safety of the governor and Republican supporters of the legislation.
“There is fear for Scott Walker’s safety but also for that of the Republican legislators as well,” said Jefferson. “We’re very concerned when we see signs out there with crosshairs over Scott Walker’s photo, when we see the disgusting comparisons to Hitler. Right now there is a sign hanging in the Senate wing of the Capitol with all of the photos of the entire Senate Republican Caucus and it says ‘Republican Senators Want to Take Your Rights. Don’t Continue to Let Them Walk Through the People’s House Unnoticed.’”
Jefferson said that he was trying to confirm reports that union protesters were attempting to figure out if there were escape routes that Republican legislators might try and use to get away from the Capitol.
Democratic Party spokesman Zielinski, meanwhile, blamed Republicans for attempting to vilify protesters by focusing on what he claims are only a small number of signs containing inflammatory messages.
“It’s a very selective view by the Republican party that’s not representative of what’s out there.”
Though the state Democratic Party distanced itself from the controversial images in the GOP video, in a Web site press release, the Dems did voice support for the protesters and defended the overall tone of the protests.
“Only the blindest and most selective eye cannot see that not only have the crowds been peaceful but, in the face of the biggest insult to the middle class in generations, the tone has been boisterous, clamorous, but also proper. Headed into a weekend of more protest, including at the homes of elected officials, I urge those exercising their right to peaceably assemble to continue to honor the best traditions of our First Amendment."
The GOP's Jefferson disagreed.
“I think the mood inside the Capitol right now--and what we’re seeing--is anything but proper,” he said.
Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the Media Research Center the parent organization of CNSNews.com, praised the State Democratic Party for condemning the signs and agreed that those wielding them make up only a fraction of the protesters.
However, Graham also pointed to what he said was a double standard when it came to the media’s coverage of inflammatory behavior depending on which side of the political spectrum was involved.
“The big difference is that throughout the last couple of years with the Tea-Party movement the media and the Democrats made an enormous big deal out of the tenor of signs,” said Graham. “Whether they were Obama with a Hitler mustache or Obama in a Witch doctor outfit or violent imagery.”
“The real double standard here is that while the media was constantly harping on tea-party, they’re not harping on signs this time around. We’ve seen some of these signs going by in the stories but there’s no commentary on them. So you might see a sign saying “Hosni Walker” flash on your screen, but there’s nobody saying “extreme,” Graham told CNSNews.com.
“Nobody’s worried about the tenor of the rhetoric and that’s a double standard. What the media was trying to do to the tea-party was suggest that they were, as a whole, a group of freaks. In this case they’re basically describing them as poor teachers who are being denied their rights.”
The bill passed the legislature’s budget committee on Wednesday night and was to have been debated on the floor of the state Senate on Thursday, but several Democratic legislators fled to neighboring Illinois to ensure the lack of a quorum.
Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the Legislature, but without a quorum, no vote may be taken.
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