Amid raucous protests on health care, some worry about Obama's safety

SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson talks about concerns raised by the tone of rhetoric in the debate over health care reform.

By Lee-Anne Goodman
The Canadian Press

WASHINGTON - Death threats are part of the job for any American president, but Barack Obama has reportedly had more levelled against him than any commander-in-chief in history.

Concerns about his safety are mounting in the midst of a tense summer that has seen mobs of angry demonstrators showing up to protest Obama's health-care reform plans - including a man openly carrying a pistol on Tuesday in New Hampshire, where the president held a town hall meeting on health care.

It's legal to carry holstered weapons in the state, so long as they're not concealed. The man was also waving a sign that read "It Is Time To Water The Tree of Liberty," a reference to the Thomas Jefferson quote: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Footage of the protester with his gun in a leg holster rapidly made its way to various news websites in the hours before Obama appeared, alarming video in a country that has seen four presidents gunned down in public and attempts made on the lives of 11 others.

"There is, and rightly so, a growing concern about the tone in American politics right now," Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Tuesday.

"It started with Sarah Palin and the way the crowds responded to her last year, and continued with the tea party gatherings and now the town hall meetings on health care - there is an arc of rhetorical excess that I think is rightly worrying to people." . . .

Jillson says top Republicans are stoking some of the anger by making statements about Obama's health-care reform plans that are "demonstrably untrue."He pointed to Sarah Palin's recent Facebook message that alleged White House "death squads" would endanger the life of her disabled infant son.

"Any time you whip up people's emotions in a political setting, the result of that is uncertain and uncontrollable," he said.

"The Republican party is on a knife's edge here - they have certainly bloodied the Democrats politically on health-care reform, but they risk going too far."

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