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Teamsters Union President James Hoffa fired up the crowd Monday in Detroit. (Getty Images)

Teamster Hoffa's Anti-Tea Party War Cry Fires Up Not Just Labor But Foes

Sep 6, 2011

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Reported by

Frank James

Teamsters union president James Hoffa's intent was to get people fired up at a Labor Day rally in Detroit at which President Obama was the main attraction. His was a mission most definitely accomplished.

Of course, some of those he riled up were on the other side of the ideological spectrum. Hoffa created what looks right now at least like a tempest in a Tea (Party) pot by using some undeniably belligerent, anti-Tea Party language.

Saying that the Tea Party and Republicans had launched a war on workers, Hoffa said workers needed to return the favor.

"Let's take these son of bitches out and give America back to America where we belong."

Tea Party activists and conservatives have jumped on this, accusing Hoffa of inciting violence against them. They're demanding that Obama and other Democratic officials, like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, repudiate Hoffa.

Several points. Hoffa made his indelicate comments at the end of what he described as the Tea Party's war on workers. He also clearly led into his final war cry by talking about workers taking political action.

So, in fairness, taking out the SOBs is just as easily interpreted as a call to vote out Republicans as anything else.

Also, if Hoffa really meant to incite violence, it would be odd for him to do it at a rally attended by thousands of people covered by news cameras as well as all those cell phone cameras, with all that law enforcement, including members of the Secret Service.

Of course, Hoffa's words resonated in a way they wouldn't have if he were the president of, say, the National Education Association, because of the Teamsters' checkered history.

It's a past that included violence, some of which infamously touched his own family with the disappearance and presumed murder in the 1970s of his father who also once led the union.

It doesn't hurt that the gruff Hoffa looks and sounds like a guy who could actually take you out.

But you really have to want to believe that Hoffa was inciting violence to actually reach that conclusion, given the full context of his remarks. Of course, I'm not a Teamster. Maybe there was a dog whistle there only they could hear though that doesn't seem likely.

Still, it's clear that some conservatives believe Hoffa wielded a rhetorical baseball bat which they have now wrestled from him and hope to use against Obama and other Democrats.

As some of the president's critics rightly point out, Obama has called for civility. Hoffa was anything but civil.

But anyone waiting for Obama to apologize or repudiate Hoffa will likely have to wait a long time. Obama needs all the political friends he can get right now, especially a top union leader who can get working class people to go out in battleground states when the time comes to canvas for the president.

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