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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Great Work, You Over-Hyped Violence-Infatuated Morons

This graph reflects the message which came out from Sarah Palin's PAC last year. Democrats that won in basically Republican districts who voted for the Affordable Care Act: what shall we do with them? Why, murder them, obviously.

No, of course, she didn't mean that. Of course, using gun sites to target the congressional districts of those she wanted to raise money for the fight against wasn't mean to be taken literally. Of course, her use of the language of "aiming" and "fighting" and firing "salvos" was just harmless rhetoric. Of course.

And Henry II, when the interference of his former friend Thomas Becket over Henry's plans to consolidate the authority of the crown of the church reportedly shouted out "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"--or, as some more prosaically reported it, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?"--no doubt, he didn't really mean it either. Of course.

And well, now it so happens that one of Palin's "targets"--Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, conservative Democrat, first elected in 2006, husband of an astronaut, mother of two--has been shot. Early reports said she'd been killed at the scene; later, we learned she was in critical condition and under surgery at a Tuscon hospital. A man managed to get close to her at one of her ordinary constituent events ("Congress on Your Corner"), and fired a weapon at point blank range at the Congresswoman and several others. Whether any died or may die is not yet know.

Sarah Palin, of course, Facebooked her condolences ("we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice"). And the new Speaker of the House quite honorably spoke out on behalf of one of the congresspeople he's responsible for: "An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve....This is a sad day for our country." And, of course--of course--no one is really to blame save the murderer, or murderer wanna-be, who evilly or sickly or both ran at the Congresswoman with death on his mind.

Except. Except. Except that all around there are spooky signs. Signs of things slipping away. Something about this president, and something about the health care reform act, seems to have tripped a wire, sent some people over the edge. Death panels. Socialism. Birther nonsense. People calling for capital punishment against illegal immigrants. State legislators in Wyoming trying to make it a crime to enforce the Affordable Care Act, which is the law. What's going on here?
I don't know, but it scares me, a little. I wonder if I want to earnest engage it and fight back, or if I just want to ironically dismiss, waiting for it to go away. I put on my political scientist hat, I remind myself that this country has gone through ideological upheavals and whipped-up hysteria before, I tell myself that, in the long run, stability will always win out. And I believe myself. Mostly.


Scott--DFW said...

What if it turned out that the gunman wasn't politically motivated? Or that he was a rabid lefty? Unless you have better sources than the New York Times, right now no one even knows the shooter's name, let alone his motives. It might be worth waiting for the facts, before assuming the guy is a secret political assassin working for Sarah Palin.

Anonymous said...

Except that somebody shot her office when the health care bill passed. But, and Arizona is a hotbed of militia movements and this was an announced political event. I'm sure this guy was a nut. But he was a nut inspired by the right, Scott. You reap what you sow. The right made the same mistake the left did in the 60s and now is growing their own version of the Weathermen.

-Western Dave

Russell Arben Fox said...

What if it turned out that the gunman wasn't politically motivated?

Entirely possible, Scott--in fact, perhaps the most likely explanation. In which case I could have written a post mourning our violent society, or might not have written a post at all. But we do have a situation in this country of incendiary rhetoric right now, some of which has been specifically targeted at Congresswoman Giffords. I think it was a not unreasonable thing to use this tragedy as a moment to express my fears about our current situation.

Or that he was a rabid lefty?

A fabulously unlikely possibility, Scott, for several good reasons, and you know it.

before assuming the guy is a secret political assassin working for Sarah Palin

I neither said nor assumed that Scott, as you're a good enough reader to also know. But I'm hopefully also honest enough to recognize that my language "morons" partakes of the same mentality I'm decrying, so I guess I can't begrudge your snark.

Scott--DFW said...

It's fabulously unlikely that a mentally unbalanced lefty would commit an act of political violence? I can assure you, we're farther apart on that than you apparently think. (Then again, I drive by the Grassy Knoll several times a week.)

No, you didn't say that the shooter was "a secret political assassin working for Sarah Palin". You argued--without having any idea at all whether the shooter was a jilted lover, random nutjob, attention seeker, tea party activist, anarchist, communist, or any other -ist--that Republicans have some moral complicity in the shooting. You analogized Sarah Palin to Henry II, whose desire for Becket to be eliminated was clear enough, regardless of which account of his words one accepts. For someone as generally fair-minded as you, that strikes me as bizarre.

Chino Blanco said...

Rep. Giffords (D-AZ) made the same "bizarre" argument herself:

"We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list. But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. People do that they've got to realize there's consequences to that action."

Russell Arben Fox said...

Then again, I drive by the Grassy Knoll several times a week.

Okay, I'll take it on the chin for that one. Of course, I didn't say that is was "fabulously unlikely that a mentally unbalanced lefty would commit an act of political violence"; I said it was I found it fabulously unlikely that this act of violence, committed in Arizona in 2011, would have been committed by a lefty. And I still think that's a pretty safe assumption to make. (I've noticed a couple of conservative blogs describing the accused as a "liberal," because on his YouTube channel he listed The Communist Manifesto as one of his favorite books; he also had Animal Farm up there, so no doubt he was also a conservative opponent of communist tyranny as well.) Still, you win that point, so touche.

I'll also grant that the Henry II comparison was out of line: yes, Henry probably really did wish Becket would disappear, and no, Sarah Palin surely didn't wish to see someone take a shot at Giffords. But I'm not yet willing to say the Republicans have no hand-washing to do here--not when there are fair-minded Tea Party leaders out there saying the same thing, allowing that their words very well could have violent consequences.

As I concluded the post, Scott, I tell myself that this isn't anything new or different or scary; that political invective has always been this bad; that the political culture always rides through one way or another. But increasingly, I'm not quite able to believe. Bit by bit, I'm beginning to think that maybe that the diagnosis of America presented by some of our more revolutionary friends just may be right.

Scott--DFW said...

As for the shooter's political leanings, since Orwell was a socialist, I'm not sure that Animal Farm can be counted as "conservative" literature (from a contemporary American perspective). Regardless, his favorite books also include Mein Kampf (national socialism), We the Living (anti-communist), The Republic (not exactly on the modern liberal/conservative axes), et al. Who knows if he even read or understood any of those books? The awkward syllogisms, fixation on mind control, and talk of personal currencies and "conscience dreaming" aren't really consistent with any political ideology, suggesting a sickness independent of recent partisan rhetoric. But we're not even 24 hours into the story. I'm sure we'll hear a lot more about this fellow in the weeks ahead.

Whether some Republican rhetoric has crossed the line (and I don't deny that it has) is a separate question, absent some evidence of specific incitement or influence in this case. That's all I'm getting at. The fact that the victim is a Democrat isn't nearly conclusive, especially since she's a moderate Democrat and we've seen plenty of intemperate rhetoric about Blue Dogs from the far left.

Anonymous said...

"Whether some Republican rhetoric has crossed the line (and I don't deny that it has) is a separate question, absent some evidence of specific incitement or influence in this case."

I disagree. Although it is clear that this guy is not another MacVeigh, it is also clear that his convoluted and almost nonsensical political ideology (as expressed in his youtube videos) drew on right-wing themes from the current political dialogue: the constitution, currency, the gold standard, federal funding for education, etc. My point is that homegrown terrorism is not the only concern arising from inflammatory rhetoric. We should be concerned about psychotic (ones who live in a different reality than the rest of us) individuals as well. Talking about second-amendment remedies and using bullets if ballots don't work can surely put the idea in the head of a schizophrenic youth prone to political expression. So, I disagree with Scott, since I think the known facts of the case raise the issue about discursive tone even if this individual's motives are not entirely coherent.

Anonymous said...

We have proof he was a lefty. It has been established that all mentally ill people respond only to the words of politicians. Obama told all mentally ill people that if the right "brings a knife to the fight we will bring a gun." Case closed. We can all play this game because there is plenty of this talk going around. Isn't this a good time to be a leader in saying EVERYBODY stop the ugly rhetoric and actually begin to talk to each other?

Anonymous said...

Not a one time mistake, but rather a tactic.

In an interview with NPR, former NRA lobbyist and founder of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Dudley Brown compared deer hunting season with election season, when gun owners would be free to “hunt Democrats”:

Brown complains universal background checks are just a step towards identifying gun owners so the government can seize their weapons, and he calls the 15-bullet limit on ammunition clips arbitrary. He’s promising political payback in next year’s election that could cost Colorado Democrats their majorities.

“I liken it to the proverbial hunting season,” Brown says. “We tell gun owners, there’s a time to hunt deer. And the next election is the time to hunt Democrats.”