Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics

At NYT (at Memeorandum):

WASHINGTON — The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and others at a neighborhood meeting in Arizona on Saturday set off what is likely to be a wrenching debate over anger and violence in American politics.

While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man, Jared Lee Loughner, contained antigovernment ramblings. And regardless of what led to the episode, it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture.

Clarence W. Dupnik, the Pima County sheriff, seemed to capture the mood of the day at an evening news conference when he said it was time for the country to “do a little soul-searching.”

“It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included,” Sheriff Dupnik said. “That’s the sad thing about what’s going on in America: pretty soon we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.”

In the hours immediately after the shooting of Ms. Giffords, a Democrat, and others in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, members of both parties found rare unity in their sorrow. Top Republicans including Speaker John A. Boehner and Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona quickly condemned the violence.

“An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement. “Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society.”

President Obama made a brief appearance at the White House, calling the shooting an “unspeakable act” and promising to “get to the bottom of this.”
More at the link.

I think it's fair to say that if a Republican had been shot we'd have likely seen a similar burst of partisan finger-pointing from the right. What's surprising to me is that progressives started laying blame before even a fraction of the facts were known. I covered that in my updates today: "
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords Shot by Gunman at Townhall Event in Tucson — Progressives Blame Sarah Palin 'Hit List'." I didn't cite this previously, but one of the most devious attacks on the right was Andrew Sullivan's, "An Assassination?":

When a congresswoman is shot in the head in the very act of democracy, we should all pause. This is fundamentally not a partisan issue and should not be. Acts of violence against political figures destroy democracy itself, for both parties. We don't know who tried to kill congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (she appears to be still alive) and we should be very cautious in drawing any conclusions yet about why. But we can know that, whoever tried to kill her and for whatever reason, political rhetoric involving words like "target" and "gun-sights" is inherently irresponsible.

For a public figure who has appeared on a national ticket and who commands a cult-like following, the irresponsibility is even more profound. And so one reads the following sentences from the Arizona Wildcat last September with the blood draining from one's face:

Palin Reloads; Aims For Giffords

Earlier this year, Palin drew sharp criticism for featuring a map on her web page riddled with crosshairs targeting Democrats in vulnerable congressional districts. Tucson's Gabrielle Giffords is among the 20 Democratic incumbents whom Palin intends to use for target practice.

Giffords was one of twenty members of Congress placed within metaphorical "gun-sights" in SarahPac's graphic. That is not the same thing as placing a gun-sight over someone's face or person. No one can possibly believe - or should - that Sarah Palin is anything but horrified by what has taken place. But it remains the kind of rhetorical excess which was warned about at the time, and which loners can use to dreadful purposes. It is compounded by the kind of language used by the Arizona Wildcat as well. Maybe "Palin Reloads; Aims For Giffords" is good copy as a headline. But next time, an editor should surely pause before enabling forces whose capacity for violence is real.

Of course, Andrew Sullivan should be the last person to decry "rhetorical excess." But today's been an exceptionally revealing day, a day when the left has exponentially proven itself completely bereft of even a shred of divine grace and decency.

That said, President Obama was very presidential in his statement today, so I'll close with an appreciation for that.

Added: Thoughts from The Rhetorican, "Blood and Tears In Tucson."

3 comments:

Dennis said...

Rather interesting that those responsible for a large percentage of the vitriol are the ones who want to lecture others. Just a cursory "Google" of the internet finds it is they who need to take their own advice. http://www.chequerboard.org/2011/01/joseph-welch-thou-shouldst-be-living-at-this-hour/

Cynthia said...

I think you've missed a few bases that should be covered. Pointing the finger at the right-wing hate speech isn't knee-jerk and unfounded. Would you like a list of all the right-wingers who've carried out murder in the last 10 years and how no liberals have? I think this point is pertinent, but including it takes a lot of the air out of your argument. Perhaps, as a liberal, I'm sick and tired of being portrayed as sub-human and treated as such in the blogosphere. By identifying myself as liberal I'm fair game - probably because right-wingers know all they'll get out of me is civil discourse while they rage and insult. It's dehumanizing to hear speeches made by tea partiers implying and standing next to militias who outright say that America needs to rid itself of us liberal scum. Are you really going to say that that kind of language comes from the left in equal proportion to the right? You can go ahead and try, but I'll be right here with a mountain of proof to prove you wrong.

Donald Douglas said...

Cynthia: I doubt you'll be back, but you don't get what I've argued. The left jumped on the killings to make political points. Heated rhetoric in politics is not new. The left is setting new records for depravity, however.