An emotional Nancy Pelosi kicked up a new firestorm of sorts Thursday when she appeared to compare the anti-government rhetoric over health care reform to the violent debate in San Francisco over gay rights in the 1970s.
The usually stoic Pelosi, welled up at one point as she answered a question about Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" outburst.
Although she did not specifically refer to the murders of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, Pelosi said anyone voicing hateful or violent rhetoric must take responsibility for the results.
"I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco," Pelosi said. "This kind of rhetoric was very frightening" and created a climate in which violence took place, she said.
"I think we all have to take action and responsibility for our words — we are a free country and this balance between freedom and safety is one that we, um, have to carefully balance," she said.
Rep. Pete Session (R) Texas, said the comparison crossed the line and released the following statement:
"The Speaker is now likening genuine opposition to assassination. 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.During one of the most important policy debates of our time, the American people have been completely abandoned by those elected representatives under her control. Voters are justifiably frustrated with Washington, and the Speaker's verbal assault on voters accomplishes nothing other than furthering her reputation for being wildly out of touch with the American people."
Here's the history: Former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White was convicted in 1977 of the murders of openly gay supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Gay rights activists and some others at the time saw a link between the assassinations and the violent debate over gay rights that had preceded them for years.
During a rambling confession, White was quoted as saying, "I saw the city as going kind of downhill." His lawyers argued that he was mentally ill at the time. White committed suicide in 1985.
"I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made," Pelosi said Thursday. Some of the people hearing the message "are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume," she said.
"Our country is great because people can say what they think and they believe," she added. "But I also think that they have to take responsibility for any incitement that they may cause."
Pelosi's office did not immediately respond to a request from the Associated Press for examples of contemporary statements that reminded the speaker of the rhetoric of 1970s San Francisco.