Steele Dismisses Report That Obama Has Received 400 Percent More Threats Than Bush

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"Steele Dismisses Report That Obama Has Received 400 Percent More Threats Than Bush"

On CNN’s American Morning today, host John Roberts asked RNC Chairman Michael Steele about the Facebook poll that asked “Should Obama be killed?” — which the Secret Service is investigating — and whether it was “spawned by racism.” “No, I don’t think,” replied Steele, adding that he’s “always very careful about going down that road, you know, so blindly and so quickly.”

Roberts followed up by asking Steele if he agreed with Tom Friedman’s column this morning, in which he wrote that “Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.” “Where do these nut jobs come from? I mean, come on, stop this,” replied Steele. He then said that America didn’t have “this kind of conversation” when people were “complaining and protesting” about President Bush.

“Not to say that it’s about the color of his skin or his background, ethnic background or whatever, but threats against this president are at a level 400 percent higher than they were against former President Bush,” replied Roberts. “What explains that?” Steele was skeptical of Roberts’ numbers, saying “how do we know that?” When Roberts said it came from the Secret Service, Steele largely dismissed the concern:

STEELE: Well, I don’t — I don’t know — I don’t know that because I don’t have a report to compare that to. The Secret Service has it. I haven’t seen that publicly put out there statistically to show that.

But even if it is, this is my point. You know, I think that we need to be very smart and very careful about jumping, making these leaps on race and connecting dots that may or may not exist there. We are engaged as a country right now in a very important public policy debate, whether it’s the war in Afghanistan or health care cap and trade or what happens to be. There are passions that run deep and long on both sides of the aisle.

Don’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that, because someone says something vitriolic or hot that that’s necessarily from the right or necessarily from the left. It’s reflecting deep-seeded frustrations that people have. We don’t excuse it but I just — I want us to be very careful because I just — I see ugly things happening down the road if we’re not smart approaching these types of issues.

Watch it:

Roberts’ 400 percent statistic comes from Newsmax correspondent Ronald Kessler’s book, In the President’s Secret Service, for which he had unprecedented access to the agency. “A lot of those threats are racially based,” Kessler told the New York Daily News. “So there is a real basis for concern.”

Transcript:

ROBERTS: And Mr. Chairman, I want to ask you a little bit about anger in America. It was really driven home over the weekend by this incredibly tasteless Facebook poll that asked whether or not President Obama should be killed. You know, the choices were yes, maybe, if he cuts my health care, no.

We talked to Boyce Watkins from Syracuse University yesterday, who said that he thought this was emblematic of a larger problem of racism in this country. What are your thoughts on that? Do you agree? Was this spawned by racism?

STEELE: Well, you know — no, I don’t think. I’m always very careful about going down that road, you know, so blindly and so quickly. First off, let’s deal with the question that’s on Facebook, how stupid is that? Why would you even put something like that on Facebook? You know, it takes us to a place where we don’t need to be, quite frankly in the debate of any public policy issue, number one.

Number two, I think more to the point is, we’ve always had underlying everything we’ve done in this country, whether it’s, you know, the happiest times or the worst of times, race is a factor because all boats don’t rise equally. Everyone is affected differently, and their perceptions are driven by what people may tell them or what they know, in fact.

And I think cooler heads — I applaud the president on this front. He’s been out there saying look, let’s separate all of this into the appropriate pockets and not go down this road unnecessarily. And I think the Facebook is a bad example of — a good example of a bad practice, actually.

ROBERTS: Tom — Tom Friedman, of course, noted columnist with The New York Times, author of many best selling books, had something interesting to say on all of this anger surrounding the president and from the opposition. He said, Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.

Do you agree with that? I mean, we’re going down a road where there’s potential violence?

STEELE: Where do these nut jobs come from? I mean, come on, stop this. I mean, wait a minute.

ROBERTS: Wait a minute, Tom Friedman is a nut job?

STEELE: Well, I’m just saying to make those kinds of equations, you know, examples, and put that out there that way, to me is just crazy. And yes, I’m sorry, but if you’re going to approach this discussion, approach it from a rational position, you’re saying because you disagree with the president on policy, that all of a sudden we’re going to make this leap into, you know, assassinations and all this other stuff.

I mean, at the height of all this stuff on Bush and people complaining and protesting, and jumping up and down, you didn’t have this kind of conversation. Now all of a sudden you’re going to color it because of a public policy debate in terms of, because the president is black.

ROBERTS: But Mr. Chairman…

STEELE: And I just don’t — I just don’t think that’s necessarily where you need to go.

ROBERTS: Not to say that it’s about the color of his skin or his background, ethnic background or whatever, but threats against this president are at a level 400 percent higher than they were against former President Bush. What explains that?

STEELE: I mean, how do we know that? No one’s ever reported on what the threat levels were with President Bush or any other president.

ROBERTS: Secret Service has indicated that the threat levels against this president are 400 percent higher than they were against President Bush.

STEELE: Well, I don’t — I don’t know — I don’t know that because I don’t have a report to compare that to. The Secret Service has it. I haven’t seen that publicly put out there statistically to show that.

But even if it is, this is my point. You know, I think that we need to be very smart and very careful about jumping, making these leaps on race and connecting dots that may or may not exist there. We are engaged as a country right now in a very important public policy debate, whether it’s the war in Afghanistan or health care cap and trade or what happens to be. There are passions that run deep and long on both sides of the aisle.

Don’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that, because someone says something vitriolic or hot that that’s necessarily from the right or necessarily from the left. It’s reflecting deep-seeded frustrations that people have. We don’t excuse it but I just — I want us to be very careful because I just — I see ugly things happening down the road if we’re not smart approaching these types of issues.

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