Monday, January 10, 2011

Don't use the actions of a madman to try to short-circuit political debate

There is something particularly evil about aiming to kill an elected representative who was in the midst of performing her duty of meeting with her constituents. That is a blow aimed not only at the victim, but at our very representative democracy. To aim indiscriminately to kill those with the congresswoman as well as those who came to hear her intensifies that evil. The fact that one victim was a child who was there because of her interest in the public affairs seems especially heartbreaking.

We can all agree that this is evil.

Those who seek to gain some sort of political or ideological advantage by blaming the actions of a single vicious lunatic is despicable. We've seen this before - at the Oklahoma City bombing and it was contemptible then. Nothing has changed. People have been using military rhetoric for politics for a long time. People have criticized government and politicians since our country began. The actions of a crazed and evil individual were his choices, and the blame on him should not be diluted by trying to cast blame on conservatives and vitriolic rhetoric.

Just in case you're inclined to buy into Paul Krugman's desperate attempt to somehow cast these terrible events as the fault of conservatives opposing the Democratic agenda, read John Hayward's takedown of Krugman.
Ah, so this whole “democracy” thing is just too dangerous for us benighted rubes, eh? Political opposition to the sainted Left is inherently illegitimate, and should be swept away. Let us pause to note that this is one of many times in his essay that Krugman demonstrates his near-complete ignorance of actual news, and conveys the sense he can’t be bothered with Google searches. If he had tried one before humiliating the Times with this op-ed, he would know that Jared Loughner, the Tucscon shooter, has been obsessed with Giffords since at least 2007, long before there were any McCain-Palin rallies.

Krugman throws out some vague allegations about “a rising tide of threats and vandalism aimed at elected officials.” Then he concedes “the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled,” BUT “that doesn’t mean his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.” Actually, yes, that’s exactly what it does mean.
Krugman's argument is an attempt to limit political debate by casting opposition to the left. In his view, opposing the leftist agenda is illegitimate and he will use any opportunity to further that message.

And we're already seeing Democratic politicians efforts to jump on this story and use it to try to end any debate over their actions and discredit their opponents.
One veteran Democratic operative, who blames overheated rhetoric for the shooting, said President Barack Obama should carefully but forcefully do what his predecessor did.

“They need to deftly pin this on the tea partiers,” said the Democrat. “Just like the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people.”

Another Democratic strategist said the similarity is that Tucson and Oklahoma City both “take place in a climate of bitter and virulent rhetoric against the government and Democrats.”

This Democrat said that the time had come to insist that Republicans stand up when, for example, a figure such as Fox News commentator Glenn Beck says something incendiary.
Why should political strategists be able to use the anonymity of Politico's reporting to forward their plan to exploit murder?

Jumping into this dark pool of political finger-painting so quickly before facts come out is particularly ill-advised especially now that, as we learn more about the murderer, it is clear that he was not a man of the right, but actually the left. But that doesn't make the rhetoric of the left to blame for his actions. As Ross Douhat writes in the same paper that publishes Krugman's ill-judged rant, as a nation we are united in our horror at the shooting.
But if overheated rhetoric and martial imagery really led inexorably to murder, then both parties would belong in the dock. (It took conservative bloggers about five minutes to come up with Democratic campaign materials that employed targets and crosshairs against Republican politicians.) When our politicians and media loudmouths act like fools and zealots, they should be held responsible for being fools and zealots. They shouldn’t be held responsible for the darkness that always waits to swallow up the unstable and the lost.

We should remember, too, that there are places where mainstream political movements really are responsible for violence against their rivals. (Last week’s assassination of a Pakistani politician who dared to defend a Christian is a stark reminder of what that sort of world can look like.) Not so in America: From the Republican leadership to the Tea Party grass roots, all of Gabrielle Giffords’s political opponents were united in horror at the weekend’s events. There is no faction in American politics that actually wants its opponents dead.

That may seem like a small blessing, amid so much tragedy and loss. But it is a blessing worth remembering nonetheless.
As Stephen Hayes writes,
Sometimes a crazy guy is just a crazy guy. And sometimes a tragedy is just a tragedy.
And Byron York went to work to highlight the contrast between those who demanded we wait after the Fort Hood shooting before casting blame at Islamist violence with those very same people in the media and politics rushing to blame the tone of the political debate today and cast blame on Sarah Palin.

These efforts to short-circuit political debate are the wrong response. Our system is built on debate over political choices made by our elected officials. Jack Schafer does a great job of responding to the words of Sheriff Clarence Dupnik blaming the murders on vitriolic rhetoric, words that he uttered before we had any evidence on the shooter's background or thoughts. Is that really how we want a sheriff to approach a criminal investigation? This is not the time for us to quiet political debate because of fears that some lunatic out there will decide to shoot a politician meeting with constituents. Lunatics are lunatics and it's very difficult to tease out some explanation from a guy who read The Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, and Ayn Rand. If our system of freedom of speech means anything, it should mean that politicians and the media don't jump on these terrible events to try to shut down debate and police language. Shafer writes,
For as long as I've been alive, crosshairs and bull's-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such "inflammatory" words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I've listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I've even gotten angry, for goodness' sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge.

From what I can tell, I'm not an outlier. Only the tiniest handful of people—most of whom are already behind bars, in psychiatric institutions, or on psycho-meds—can be driven to kill by political whispers or shouts. Asking us to forever hold our tongues lest we awake their deeper demons infantilizes and neuters us and makes politicians no safer.

The call by Sheriff Dupnik and others to take our political conversation down a few notches might make sense if anybody had been calling for the assassination in the first place, which they hadn't. And if they had, there are effective laws to prosecute those who move language outside of the metaphorical. I can't be overly critical of the sheriff. After all, he's the one who has spent his career witnessing how threats can turn into violence: gang wars, contract killings, neighborhood rows, domestic disputes, bar arguments, and all the rest.

The great miracle of American politics is that although it can tend toward the cutthroat and thuggish, it is almost devoid of genuine violence outside of a few scuffles and busted lips now and again. With the exception of Saturday's slaughter, I'd wager that in the last 30 years there have been more acts of physical violence in the stands at Philadelphia Eagles home games than in American politics.

Any call to cool "inflammatory" speech is a call to police all speech, and I can't think of anybody in government, politics, business, or the press that I would trust with that power. As Jonathan Rauch wrote brilliantly in Harper's in 1995, "The vocabulary of hate is potentially as rich as your dictionary, and all you do by banning language used by cretins is to let them decide what the rest of us may say." Rauch added, "Trap the racists and anti-Semites, and you lay a trap for me too. Hunt for them with eradication in your mind, and you have brought dissent itself within your sights."

Our spirited political discourse, complete with name-calling, vilification—and, yes, violent imagery—is a good thing. Better that angry people unload their fury in public than let it fester and turn septic in private. The wicked direction the American debate often takes is not a sign of danger but of freedom. And I'll punch out the lights of anybody who tries to take it away from me.

Glenn Reynolds writes in today's WSJ along similar lines and calling out those who seek to create political advantage from the shooting in Tuscon.
So as the usual talking heads begin their "have you no decency?" routine aimed at talk radio and Republican politicians, perhaps we should turn the question around. Where is the decency in blood libel?

To paraphrase Justice Cardozo ("proof of negligence in the air, so to speak, will not do"), there is no such thing as responsibility in the air. Those who try to connect Sarah Palin and other political figures with whom they disagree to the shootings in Arizona use attacks on "rhetoric" and a "climate of hate" to obscure their own dishonesty in trying to imply responsibility where none exists. But the dishonesty remains.

To be clear, if you're using this event to criticize the "rhetoric" of Mrs. Palin or others with whom you disagree, then you're either: (a) asserting a connection between the "rhetoric" and the shooting, which based on evidence to date would be what we call a vicious lie; or (b) you're not, in which case you're just seizing on a tragedy to try to score unrelated political points, which is contemptible. Which is it?

I understand the desperation that Democrats must feel after taking a historic beating in the midterm elections and seeing the popularity of ObamaCare plummet while voters flee the party in droves. But those who purport to care about the health of our political community demonstrate precious little actual concern for America's political well-being when they seize on any pretext, however flimsy, to call their political opponents accomplices to murder.

Where is the decency in that?
The WSJ editorial page expands on this message.
Ponder the implication of this. A deranged soul shoots a public figure and we are supposed to change our political discourse and rule certain people and opinions out of bounds based on whatever incoherent ramblings Mr. Loughner published on his website?

Every two years we hold elections so that sane Americans can make a judgment on the policies of President Obama, John Boehner, tea party candidates and so on. But even though the people have recently had their say, in a typically raucous but entirely nonviolent fashion, we are supposed to put that aside and assess what a murderer with a mental illness has to tell us about the state of American politics, government and our national dialogue.

This line of argument is itself an attack on democratic discourse, and it is amazing that it even needs to be rebutted. Taking such an argument seriously will only encourage more crazy people to believe they can trigger a national soul-searching if they shoot at a political target. We should denounce the murders and the murderer, rather than doing him the honor of suggesting that his violence flows in any explainable fashion from democratic debate.

President Obama does have an opportunity here, but it is not to link—"deftly" or otherwise—his political opponents to Mr. Loughner. This would only further poison and polarize our public debate. Mr. Obama can lift the level of public discourse by explaining the reality of Mr. Loughner's illness and calling out those on the right and left who want to blame the other side for murder. That would be a genuinely Presidential act of leadership, and it would have the added advantage of being honest about the murders in Tucson.
UPDATE: And for those who want to blame Sarah Palin's rhetoric and website, were they also as upset by Democrats using images of targets and bulls-eyes? John Hinderaker reminds us of such Democratic imagery. Were these same hand-wringers upset by the kind of rhetoric used against George Bush?Paul Mirengoff contributes,
We can all wish for more reasoned discourse, just as we can all wish for milder weather. But complaining about the nation's discourse is probably a waste of time except as a method of attempting to advance the interests of a particular faction. And that itself can be viewed as an example of unreasonable discourse.


mark said...

Let me be the first to make a "despicable" comment:

In the thirty-or-so years I've been following politics, there has been nothing close to the violent rhetoric used by tea*aggers and conservative leaders. "second-amendment solutions", "lock and load" "we come unarmed(this time)".
We had a vp candidate publish a map with gun sites over districts. (Please don't further insult us and say they weren't gun sites, as a Palin aide did. Sarah herself called them "bullseyes".)

Even here, several posters have made comments insinuating violence against the president. No conservative here had the common-sense or courage to call him out.

Yes, some on the left went way too far during the Bush years. But name one national leader who used violent rhetoric against him.

It doesn't matter what the killer's politics were (or if he had any). He was a nut, so why look for a logical motive? But I and many others warned of the nutjobs getting this "message" that it might be patriotic to take out the president or a legislator who voted for health care. (Is it even crazy to want to "remove" a president who actually is a "secret-Marxist."

Many people(including Giffords) saw this coming. Conservatives laughed it off, even mocking the DHS report in 2009 specifically warning of this. And now it's happened.
Conservatives are on the defensive because they should be. They might start repairing the damage done by condemning the words of Sarah Palin and Glen Beck. Here on this site, conservatives could start by ridiculing the few who spout idiocy about Obama lying about his birthplace, his religion, etc. But that would take courage. I'm not optimistic.
Like so many things, I guess are opinion of what defines "despicable" differs.

Pat Patterson said...

Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck made anti-Semitic remarks and endorsed right-wing extremism? I must have missed that just like I fear mark did by not reading the links and then simply skimming over Betsy's remarks. As to the claim that mark makes that several here have insinuated violence against the President that is simply a canard and ignores some of the banned posters that used to plague this site. Why should apologize any more than mark should apologize for the SWP, or ANSWER, or Kayne West and the list goes on.

It's a form of making some speech more agreeable then others. As if I hadn't apologized for the anti-Semitic writings of Martin Luther makes me therefore ineligible to say anything about Judaism.

Plus I now expect that mark will apologize for the LaRoucheite's over the top rhetoric about Obama considering they have been registered Democrats for decades.

Rick Caird said...

Betsy's title for this post was exactly correct. The Kos's, the Yglesiases, the Krugman's, the Mark Penn's, and even the little leftiy's like Mark and jumped on this incident in an attempt to clear the field for their rhetoric alone.

Mark's comment was not "despicable". The comment is despicable without the quotes. If Mark had had bothered to follow the references Betsy provided, he would have learned a couple of things:

1. There is no monopoly on rgetoric. If Palin uses cross hairs, that is not different than the Democrats using bullseyes.

2. Jared Loughner was not only insane, he was a man of the left and not influenced by Palin and the Tea parties.

3. The rhetoric from the left started before anything at all was known besides the fact there was shooting. Most rational people know by now that early reports are never correct and usually misleading. But, that did not deter the left (nor Mark).

Before Mark gets his sensitivities all alarmed, I remind of Tip O'Neil who said "Politics ain't beanbag". The story of government is the story of force. In the end, government is always force. People take that force seriously. When people are being forced to do something they do not want to do, civility is not upper most in their minds.

Skay said...

“If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said at a Philadelphia fundraiser Friday night. “Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl."

That's the Chicago way.

Left wing rhetoric?

lorraine_lanning said...

A couple of years ago, my sister-in-law, an Obama campaign volunteer, stood in my kitchen at a family gathering and sincerely wished President Bush dead, in front of my children no less.

I and the rest of my family have never wished violence against a politician. I wish Obama wasn't president, I hate that his policies are hurting our great country, but I would never wish him dead.

That's the difference between the right and the left.

equitus said...

And mark removes all doubt...

I wasn't all that surprised to see such attacks on conservatives and our public discourse. It's par for the course.

What has surprised me is how widespread it has become so quickly - from CNN 24/7 to several friends' facebook posts. And I'm STILL hearing it. I'd been hoping the lingering effects of BDS (and related DS) were starting to fade, so I'm quite bothered by these recent manifestations.

Nice essay, Betsy. I especially like how you sum it up so succinctly, "using the actions of a madman to try to short-circuit political debate."

Skay said...

Interesting how the left thinks. It explains why they jumped without any proof.

"This evening, MSNBC host Chris Matthews hosted Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Mark Penn — former Hillary Clinton campaign adviser and current Burson-Marsteller CEO — to discuss the results of this week’s elections. The three talked about what they believed the Democrats need to do differently in order to win elections in the future.

Penn suggested that President Bill Clinton was provided an opportunity with the Oklahoma City bombing to “reconnect” with voters. In a clumsy, ham-handed way, Penn then suggested that perhaps Obama needs his own similar event — like the domestic terror attack in OK City — to reconnect with Americans:

PENN: President Clinton reconnected with Oklahoma. And the President right now he seems removed. And it wasn’t until that speech that he really clicked with the American people. Obama needs a similar kind of, yeah."

equitus said...

I have to say that thus far, Obama has handled this well. Let's see what happens the next time he goes off-script.

pumping-irony said...

mark, lest your implication of how unprecedented the alleged Tea-Party rhetoric of this era has been, let me remind you in 1981 President Reagan was shot and almost killed by a would-be assassin. President Ford escaped three attempts on his life that were thwarted by the Secret Service. President Kennedy and his brother Bobby were both murdered by left-wing assassins. If there was no "incendiary" (in your judgement) rhetoric in those days, maybe actual violence has nothing to do with the rhetoric. Maybe those perform these acts have their own motivation.

And as far as your assertion about no national political leader advocating violence against Bush, well, they didn't HAVE to. You had the likes of Micheal Moore and half of Hollywood talking about it. You had Code Pink and the like in the streets advocating it. You had an "award winning" film fantasizing about how he could be assassinated. And all the while the Democrats and the media just stood around, not condemning it but just whistling happy tunes like nothing was happening. No, no political leader had to advocate violence against Bush; they had their useful idiots to do that for them.

MarkD said...

Deranged lefty pothead kills six, it's Sarah Palin's fault (because Bush is past his expiration date.)

Lefty Mark, I reject your assertions and your conclusions. This is the work of a deranged man, nothing more.

You want to blame somebody, start with the sheriff. Threats were made, nothing was done.

mark said...

You folks are a bit defensive. No surprise. I didn't really expect any self-reflection here. Perhaps one day you'll learn to admit when you're wrong. We'll just add the victims to the running total.

Pat Patterson said...

Oh wow, I'm not supposed to react to a blood libel simply because mark doesn't acknowledge that the shooter was a deranged loon that didn't like Jews or anti-abortion politicians and we simply won't apologize for something we are shocked by and are not responsible. Speaking of targets Rep Giffords incurred the wrath of MoveOn and Huffington Post be being a moderate and she was 'targeted' in the Dem primary last year by someone running to her left.

Plus I'm still waiting for that smoking gun in regards to someone on this page suggesting anything, except not being reelected, untoward to hapen to the president. Or maybe we should take the Firedoglake approach and ape their reaction to Tony Snow's death and say good riddance. Perhaps starting with that reflection in the mirror mark would see less of yourself projected onto others and more of an awareness of yourself.

slickvguy said...

mark: "And now it's happened."

You see, Mark. There's your problem right there. You (nad your ilk) refuse to look at reality. "It" has *NOT* happened. The truly bizarre thing is watching people act as if they have witnessed something which they have not. I'm not sure what the shrinks call that, but there must be a term for it. You have the script pre-written in your mind. It goes like this: "Right-wingers are extreme, violent, and full of hate. Someday...someone is going to get hurt as a result of this fearmongering, hate, inciting violence, etc"."

It might surprise you that I agree that that is a distinct possibility. It's logical to think that sooner or later, someone is going to act out and hurt someone on the other side of the political spectrum, because they were drinking too much hate kool-aid.

But here's the thing that I find totally infuriating, Mark. I am going to yell it at you, in the hopes that it penetrates your skull: ***THIS IS NOT IT!!!***

If you want to argue that this time the right got lucky, and that next time they won't be so least it would be a RATIONAL argument to make. But for the love of God, man, would you and every lefty out there please stop acting like something you imagine happening has actually taken place. It has not! This guy did not kill anyone because of politics. There are many other reasons he did. Far too many to list or examine here. How many times do you have to hear it, how many times do you have to see evidence that proves you are wrong for you to finally adjust your thinking? No matter how many times you stare at an elephant and call it a monkey - it's still a freakin' elephant!

You have two choices. Continue deluding yourself that this slaughter had anything to do with politics / the right. Or adapt. Best of luck to you.

Rick Caird said...

I have to say I have been really impressed with Mark's self reflection. I mean telling everyone else they are "wrong" and saying absolutely nothing about himself is such a fine example of the "self reflection" from the left.

For Mark, the definition of "self reflection is "it is all about you, not me". Tell me Mark (AKA Bozo), did you have your big floppy shoes and your big red nose on when you wrote that?

mark said...

While capitalizing your words certainly trump my lower-case ones, I'll remind you that we don't yet know if the killer was in any way influenced by the violent rhetoric or not. And we may never know. Saying there was no connection is (at this point) as absurd as saying there was.
If conservatives are so sure they have no blame in this, why did Sarah Palin pull her target map (after an aide lied and said they were "surveyor sights"?) Why cave to liberals and the "lame-stream" media? Why did Roger Ailes tell his people to "tone it down"? He doesn't seem the type to cave to pressure from the left. They either realized some responsibility, or they are cowards being bullied by the left.
Yes, both sides have crossed the line, but there is no comparison to the violent rhetoric from the right over the past two years. All the birther and "Obama is a secret-Marxist" nonsense is insane and may give a nutjob the "justification" for attempting violence. Again, if Obama truly were a "secret-Marxist" planted decades ago to destroy our country, wouldn't taking him out make sense. If you participate in that or turn a blind eye to it, you are part of the problem.

Do you really think talking about "second-amendment solutions" and wanting constituents to be "armed and dangerous" is reasonable?
How about holding a fundraiser at a gun range may be fine (though a bit bizarre), putting your opponents initials next to the head on the target? Is that okay?
We have insane gun laws and irresponsible people spouting violence against "enemies". The indignation here about the right-wring being blamed is not very convincing.

Rick Caird said...

You are quite selective, Mark. Palin pulled the target map for the same reason Kos pulled his target and the diary on Giffords being "dead to me". The Democratic party 2004 target map was pulled, too, for the same reason. You see, Mark, I don't see any difference between a cross hairs and a bulls eye. Maybe, you have an explanation. I would love to hear it.

Now, it is pretty funny to watch you claim that since we can find no connection between a paranoid, schizophrenic leftist outcast and Palin's map or talk radio, it is "absurd" to claim there is no connection. Under that,definition, Mark, is there ever a time it would not be absurd to claim there is no connection or do want that possible connection to be an arrow in your quiver. This might be a good time, Mark, to try a little "self reflection". I know you are big on that.

BTW, since we cannot show that Obama was actually born in this country nor can we show he is not a Marxist, it is "absurd" to complain about those who say so. Just using your logic Mark.

Mark, the second amendment was always, at least partially, about protecting the people from the government. From Wikapedia:

"In no particular order, early American settlers viewed the right to arms and/or the right to bear arms and/or state militias as important for one or more of these purposes:[24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31]

* deterring undemocratic government;
* repelling invasion;
* suppressing insurrection;
* facilitating a natural right of self-defense;
* participating in law enforcement;
* enabling the people to organize a militia system.."

The government likes to think it has a monopoly on force, but the second amendment counters that. It is unlikely the government could be overthrown by an armed militia. This government will more likely implode as more of the middle class drop out and stop funding government, the debt continues to skyrocket resulting in a decimated dollar and interest rates that consume the federal budget, and the "bread and circuses" keeping the unproductive segments of society calm,are withdrawn due to lack of funds.

I am continually astonished the left complains about the plutocracy, but at the same time wants more government, without ever realizing they are one and the same. The larger the government, the larger the plutocracy feeding on the government.

mark said...

Here's a pretty simple difference in my comparison to the birthers/sectet muslim idiots:

Those people have been making claims for two years without presenting any evidence in support, and ignoring evidence that contradicts the claim (his birth certificate, the newspaper announcements of his birth).
The shooting happened four days ago. The investigation is far from complete. It may well turn that there is no connection, but to say it is a fact that it has been established there is no connection is absurd.
The Daily Kos and other lefty organizations were right to pull pictures/comments. Palin had the bad luck of naming Giffords on her poster. The fact that she lied (through her aide) about the gun sights being surveyor sites, and pulled it from her website is acknowledgment that she knows it crossed a line. I've never defended what lib groups/dems have done along those lines, so bringing them up might smooth you conscience, but it means nothing to me.

Rick Caird said...

Mark, the "birthers" have complained because Obama has NEVER produced his birth certificate. While I have no reason to doubt he was not born in Hawaii, I find it inexplicable Obama has not released his birth certificate. And, no, a certificate of live birth and newspaper clippings are not the same thing as the birth certificate.

You are now really reaching. There is no evidence at all that Palin or talk radio had anything at all to do with the shooting, but you want to reserve the right to consider that. Well, then, how about reserving the right to consider aliens escaping from area 51 (merely one state over) were responsible. that investigation is not complete either.

HillBuz has screen grabs of Kos and DNC maps with bulls eyes and Kos specifically mentions Giffords:

This one entry has all three examples.

Now, to be clear, Tammy Bruce, who interviews Monseur was the one who suggested the surveyor symbol. But, does anyone really think if arrows had been used the maps were suggesting someone take their bow and arrow and attack Giffords? That is just as absurd as trying to claim the cross hairs were an invitation to actually shoot someone.

Besides, this whole discussion makes as much sense as noting cross hairs imply a rifle scope and since Loughner didn't use a scope he could not have been influenced by cross hairs. But, a bulls eye would be a much different matter. Uhh, that was sarcasm.

You don't have to defend lib groups. But, when you show selective outrage only toward those you do not favor, it is the same thing.

Pat Patterson said...

Even the CPUSA notes that what Palin showed on her website were surveyor's marks not target sights. But then considering most writers in the papers and pundits don't know the difference between a cartridge and a case what can you expect?