A survey of the bloggy scene suggests a rigid, uniform, passionate position that this assassination has nothing whatsoever to do with violent rhetoric and political polarization. It is as if some loony had just randomly shot some schoolkids or ran into a mall killing strangers. If you are looking for reflectiveness, you won't find it, in what strikes me as an ominous sign of a right-wing movement more willing to see its opponents gunned down than ever engage in introspection. Among the most asinine contributions comes from Jack Shafer:
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.
I don't disagree with the sentiment that we should not refrain from robust or colorful or exuberant rhetoric. But constant resort to violent imagery directed at specific and named human targets is not a sign of a lively discourse but of thuggishness. Metaphorically threatening specific people with violence, especially when condoned by established leaders of political parties (like a former vice-presidential candidate), takes rhetoric to a new level. No one is proposing any bans on speech. We are arguing that at this point in time, the rhetoric has become so inflamed and so martial and so violent that the very viability of a respectable, peaceful right is on the table. And when such a difficult subject emerges, Shafer threatens to "punch my lights out." For Pete's sake, grow up.
What a markedly different situation from 15 months earlier when, in the face of actual evidence that Maj. Hasan was inspired by Islamist convictions, many media commentators sought to be voices of caution. Where was that caution after the shootings in Arizona?
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?
There is the obvious third option that has occurred to almost anyone not ideologically primed to defend anything Republican. That option – voiced even by Palin apologist Howie Kurtz – is that Palin's words were "highly unfortunate" and certainly regrettable. Does Glenn Reynolds believe otherwise? Does he endorse the gun-sights imagery? Does he see nothing wrong with it in retrospect? Would he have attended the Jesse Kelly "Fire an M-16" to show you want to defeat Gabby Giffords? We know the answer. And it is because he has been exposed as a rhetorician besotted with images of violence and murder that he has to call this obvious inference a "vicious lie." The extremity of his rhetoric reveals nothing but the length of the limb onto which he has climbed.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way, here: Initiating violence against government officials and politicians is wrongheaded, immoral, futile, and counterproductive to any anti-government cause. As is encouraging or praising others who do. I ban anyone who engages in that kind of talk here.
But it’s worth remembering that the government initiates violence against its own citizens every day in this country, citizens who pose no threat or harm to anyone else. The particular policy that leads to the sort of violence you see in these videos is supported by nearly all of the politicians and pundits decrying anti-government rhetoric on the news channels this morning. (It’s also supported by Sarah Palin, many Tea Party leaders, and other figures on the right that politicians and pundits are shaming this weekend.
If an Islamist blows up or guns down 50 people, shouting “Allahu Akbar” as he does it, you’re not supposed to say that the act has any broad implications at all. It is simply an individual act, end of story. But if a young psychotic in Arizona kills a lot of people, we’re supposed to examine the state of Sarah Palin’s soul.
Again, I think this is a straw man. The dark Islamism behind the Fort Hood shootings was not covered up; it was not downplayed on this page. It led to increased focus on Anwar al-Awlaki's network. In context, it revealed broader dangers, as well as lapses in security. All of which are occurring now. But because the GOP has been fomenting far right extremism for more than two years now, it cannot handle the heat.
Let us "hold our fire" and talk no more of "campaigns." Let us ban the phrase "over the top" even when discussing over the top rhetoric. Never again must we focus on "battleground states" or even cast our eyes on a "battleground" poll. Goodbye ad "blitzes," "ad wars," and "air wars" too. Politicians shouldn't "fire when ready" or unready. And aides should never jump on even a figurative grenade. This is the end of to union-launched "offensives" in the "trenches" and the demise of full-on "assaults." Let's not discuss the "nuclear option," and call an end to the "wars" on poverty and cancer. We must liberate ourselves from our "bunkers" and forget "defending our territory" electorally or metaphorically. Likewise, let us never speak again of opening a new "front" here, there or anywhere. Purge from the history books Al Gore's oath to "stand and fight" and John Kerry's schmaltzy "reporting for duty." Alas, I cannot think of what to all this cessation in militaristic discourse, since none dare call is a "truce" or a "ceasefire."
This is such bullshit only a true bullshit artist like Jonah "Liberal Fascism" Goldberg would parlay it. None of this is necessary. What's necessary is a refusal to tie violent language and rhetoric to specific individuals. Palin has been caught red-handed in rank irresponsibility on this front. And any serious political party should have nothing more to do with her, or the toxins and violence she can deploy at will.
For a man such as Jared Loughner, who professed a belief in CIA mind-control and belonged to organizations claiming that we are all subject to a sinister worldwide Jewish conspiracy, someone like Gabrielle Giffords is not viewed in terms of whether she is a Democrat or a Republican: she is fundamentally a governmental agent of the conspiracy. Those who believe that this had anything to do with partisan politics ought to spend some time researching the conspiracy-theorist community, rather than project their political ideologies onto the rest of the world. There is more on this Earth than is dreamed of in the far-left’s petty ideology.
Contra David Frum, I don’t see this as a particular moment to reflect on “extreme political rhetoric,” since there’s nothing to connect political rhetoric from either side of the political spectrum to this crime. I wouldn’t even call for reflection on the continued sales of Mein Kampf or The Communist Manifesto, even though the suspect credits both of these as among his favorites, as they have no causal connection to the actions of a lunatic. Perhaps, though, this is a good moment to reflect on those who rush to exploit tragedy in an attempt to bully political activists into silence.
The time to criticize “extreme political rhetoric” is when it occurs, and making sure that the people making the accusations aren’t just as culpable as those they attempt to indict.
So our politics used to be less violent because we had different journalists? Well Walter Cronkite anchored the CBS Evening News from 1962-1981. During that time, we had a president murdered, we had another president (Ford) who was almost shot on two occasions, and we had another president who was shot less than three weeks after Cronkite stopped anchoring the news. So of the six presidents during Cronkite’s tenure, 50% were or were very nearly assassinated.
Since the networks’ monopoly on television news was busted, we’ve had zero presidents shot. Zero. But political violence is due to FoxNews.
(Photo: US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama(C) observe a 'moment of silence' on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 10, 2011 to honor the victims of a shooting at an Arizona political event that left people six dead. Meanwhile, doctors were cautiously optimistic about the recovery of the shooter's principal target, US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head by the would-be assassin. By Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)