Obama says both sides need to make debate more civil, takes on Tea Parties

President Barack Obama on Tuesday said that both Republican and Democratic leaders have to do more to make debate more civil.

In an interview on NBC's "Today" show that taped Monday and aired Tuesday, Obama specifically called out Democrats for questioning the motives of Republicans, but also called on the GOP to provide stronger leadership when it comes to civility.

"All of us, Republicans and Democrats, have a responsibility as leaders to set the tone," he said. "To not exaggerate what the other side is trying to do, to not suggest that they're bad people."

Obama's comments come after several lawmakers on both sides reported acts of violence or threats that had been directed toward them in the wake of the healthcare vote. 

Some lawmakers have bricks thrown through the windows of their office or were left threatening messages. Some black lawmakers reported that they were called racial slurs and spit on during Tea Party protests on Capitol Hill the weekend of the vote.

Some lawmakers on both sides accused the other of fueling the anger that resulted in the threats.

DNC Chairman Tim Kaine and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) last levied charged Republicans with stoking anger over healthcare reform. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) later accused Democrats of using attacks against their members as a "political weapon" against Republicans.

Of Democrats, Obama said "There's no doubt that Democrats are known to play the same game, which is to exaggerate the banality of the other side.

"There are times when Republicans," he said. "My working assumption is that they are doing what they think is best for the country. And I think there have been times when Democrats don't confer that same benefit of the doubt onto the Republicans and I think that's a tone all of us should take."

But Obama also called on GOP leaders "to take that tone, that's the tone that I want to take."

The president called out some Tea Party activists for being "set in their ways" in questioning his legitimacy and stoking anger but said that others have "mainstream, legitimate concerns.

"There is part of the Tea Party movement that actually did exist before I was elected," he said. "We saw some of it leading up to my election. There were some folks who just weren't sure whether I was born in the United States or whether I was a socialist."

But he said a broader circle around that group that is concerned about the deficit that the government is taking on too much.

"I wouldn't paint with a broad brush," he said. "Some have mainstream legitimate concerns."

The president said that the Republicans' anger toward and opposition to the Democrats agenda could last until the next presidential election in 2012. 

"If you look at historically, what happens is a party that is out of power, often times in those first few years of being out of power reacting very negatively, their base being very agitated," he said. "And it may take the next election, or the next presidential election before things settle down."

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