Horrendous attack on Paul Pelosi highlights hypocrisy and political opportunism

The fact that an elderly man suffered a horrible assault took a quick backseat to those all too willing to drive a divisive conversation that advanced their point of view.

When news broke Friday that Paul Pelosi, 82, was attacked by a hammer-wielding man who had broken into his San Francisco home, it didn’t take long to ignite the fire of conspiracy theories and overwrought political rhetoric. 

The fact that an elderly man suffered a horrible assault took a quick backseat to those all too willing to drive a divisive conversation that advanced their point of view.

The victim in this situation happens to be married to one of this country’s most powerful Democratic politicians – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was not home during the attack – and so suddenly everyone has an opinion about what happened and why.

It strikes me as offensive and sad that we can’t take a moment to simply feel compassion for a fellow human being – regardless of who's his spouse or what's his political persuasion.

'I’m praying for Paul Pelosi’s full recovery'

House Republican whip Steve Scalise got it exactly right when he tweeted, “Disgusted to hear about the horrific assault on Speaker Pelosi’s husband Paul. Grateful for law enforcement’s actions to respond. Let’s be clear: Violence has no place in this country. I’m praying for Paul Pelosi’s full recovery.”

The Louisiana congressman knows all too well about political violence. More on him in a bit.

The attack immediately spawned strange conspiracy theories on the right about Paul Pelosi's relationship with his attacker, in addition to others who mocked and downplayed what happened. 

There's no excuse for any of that. 

This incident, however, has also highlighted a double standard in news coverage and Democratic response. News reports quickly connected the violence to “demonizing” of the House speaker. 

On Friday, President Joe Biden was quick to point blame at Republicans.

“What makes us think that one party can talk about ‘stolen elections,’ ‘COVID being a hoax,’ ‘this is all a bunch of lies,’ and it not affect people who may not be so well balanced?” Biden asked

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband,  Paul Pelosi, in 2019.

The president was joined by many other Democrats in condemning the violence (which is fine) but also calling out Republicans as being responsible (not so fine). 

“A far right white nationalist tried to assassinate the Speaker of the House and almost killed her husband a year after violent insurrectionists tried to find her and kill her in the Capitol,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., the next day. “And the Republican Party’s response is to either ignore it or belittle it.”

Are Republicans 'semi-fascists'?:Biden’s ‘basket of deplorables’ moment won’t play well.

That’s a lot to assume, and there’s still much we don’t know about the man accused of carrying out the attack, David DePape, 42. 

What we do know is that DePape seems like a seriously troubled man with a long history of drug abuse, mental illness and delusional behavior, according to those close to him

The incivility and tribalism that surround us comes from both sides. With the midterm elections only one week away, Americans have been inundated with campaign ads in recent weeks painting the opponent – whether Republican or Democrat – as dangerous and untrustworthy.

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Pass political blame around equally 

If Republicans are to “blame” for the lone, deranged Pelosi attacker, then Democrats ought to equally take the blame for the assassination plot against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in June. The impending court decision on abortion reportedly motivated the man from California to travel to Kavanaugh’s home, where he was thankfully arrested before carrying out his plan. 

The rhetoric on the left against conservative Supreme Court justices was at a fever pitch in the weeks before and after the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Yet I don’t recall any national reckoning about divisive debates after that news broke. In fact, Biden didn’t even personally respond to the threat against a sitting justice. 

And newspapers like The New York Times buried the story far from the front page. 

Then there's Rep. Steve Scalise. Scalise was critically injured in a 2017 shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice by a man who identified as an avid supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and as someone who viewed former President Donald Trump as a “traitor.” 

Again, at that time, there was no concerted outcry from Democrats about violent political rhetoric, nor did we have the media handwringing, tying political beliefs so directly to the assault. 

Rather, it was portrayed as an isolated incident by someone who was not in his right mind. 

I think it’s very possible that’s the case this time, too, but the truth is likely to be trumped by political opportunism.

USA TODAY columnist Ingrid Jacques

Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at or on Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques

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