Lay Off Eric Cantor! (Sort Of)

An angry Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) lashed out at Democrats yesterday, claiming they were shamelessly using threats against lawmakers to make political hay. In fact, the minority whip said, someone had a shot a bullet at his own office in Richmond, Va. But an investigation found that the bullet was probably a random shot, fired from as far as a half-mile away, police said today. It appears it wasn't fired at Cantor's office, which is minimally marked and in a city with serious gun violence problems. 

Cue furious blog pushback. Josh Marshall at TPM: "It wasn't quite as bad as showing up this morning with a backwards B scraped on his cheek. But even so, it doesn't look like anybody's buying Eric Cantor's nonsense." Jed Lewison at Daily Kos: "Cantor simply lied." Adam Serwer at The American Prospect: "[I]n the midst of accusing Democrats of 'using these incidents as media vehicles for political gain,' Cantor misrepresented a random incident as an act of political intimidation or harassment, which it does not appear to have been."

Leaving aside the obviously scary fact that random bullets are flying around Richmond, Cantor deserves a little bit of back-up—but only a bit: there's no reason to believe that Cantor knowingly misled anyone. Put yourself in his shoes: many of your colleagues have been subject to terrifying threats—envelopes of white powder being mailed to their offices, pictures of nooses faxed to them, death threats delivered to them, slurs hurled at them. The people are angry; you're on edge. And then you hear that there's a bullet hole in one of your offices. It's bound to make you even more scared. And you're likely to talk about it, whether it's been fully verified or not. To bash Cantor just for mentioning the incident shows a severe lack of empathy.

Incidentally, that's Cantor's problem too, and the reason he doesn't get off the hook. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we should assume he honestly believed his office was shot at. That makes it all the more puzzling that he would make so callous a statement as to accuse fellow elected officials of "dangerously fanning the flames"—you'd think he might understand where they were coming from. Cantor is fair game, but it's his hypocrisy, and not his reasonable fear, that should be criticized.

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