To be sure, Obama has worked to open up the political process – a key to empowering citizens. Today, he urged the passage of the Disclose Act, which would force secretive campaign funders to show their face on political attack ads.
But University of Texas-Austin communications professor Dana Cloud, an expert on political activism, says that equally dangerous as fiery partisan rhetoric is when officials or politicians, by policy or even social pressure, try to impose civility on political protest.
"Uncivil behavior is not unconstitutional," she says. "Defining heckling, for instance, as censorship or any act of incivility as violence is bizarre."
She points to both Joe Stack, who attacked an IRS office in an airplane, and Sam Byck, who attempted to hijack a plane to fly it into the Nixon White House, as examples of people on the margin who, in their writings, expressed frustration with an inability to get their political arguments into the open. In his manifesto, Mr. Byck wrote that he "felt like a grain of sand on an endless beach."
Conservatives dispute that they've cornered the market on rhetoric in the last year, pointing out that liberals' hands are far from clean when it comes to political hyperbole.