On the subject of the Giffords shooting and the tone of political discourse today.

Pic of Jared Loughner

He seems quite pleased with himself. Wonder if he'll have that shit-eating grin in the lethal injection booth?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve already heard all about the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday. As happens every time something like this takes place, pundits and politicians wasted no time trying to pin affiliation with the shooter on the other side and just generally blaming each other for creating the conditions that motivated the gunman.

I didn’t write about it immediately because I knew that if I did it would end up being just as knee-jerk an entry as the rest of what was taking place, but now that I’ve had time to think about it I’ve decided that it doesn’t really matter whether or not the gunman — 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner — was a liberal or a conservative. It’s not like his actions reflect some intrinsic moral failing of either side. From what little the media has been able to dig up about him all we can ascertain is that this was a man with mental problems out to cause death and destruction for no good reason. When the dust settled 6 people were dead and 14 were wounded. Among the dead was a 9-year-old girl who was born on September 11th, 2001 and a Federal Judge. Among the wounded was Rep. Giffords herself who remains in stable, but critical condition at the hospital. Loughner himself is looking at the death penalty on a couple of the charges.

As I said previously, there’s been a rush on both sides to point the finger at the other. Republicans in general are taking a lot of flack for the overly-heated rhetoric they love to use supposedly being the impetus for the shooter. They, in turn, are trying to find anything they can point to to show that Loughner was one of those icky Liberals. I’m not sure politics had much to do with it when you consider that Loughner’s grudge against Giffords was because she didn’t answer a nonsensical question he posed to her at a previous event in 2007. The question he had asked was: “What is government if words have no meaning? That doesn’t seem to suggest a political motivation. That suggests a he’s-batshit-insane motive. In this case I think both sides get a pass.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t consider the rhetoric from Republicans these days to be on the batshit insane side. While I don’t think it necessarily played a part in this particular tragedy, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest it has in other similar events. Those links are only a sample, there’s many more out there.

Matt Bors comic

Comic ©Matt Bors.

You rarely hear Liberal politicians and pundits describing Conservatives as being evil or out to destroy America or traitors. Nor do you hear them using overtly violent rhetoric suggesting that folks might have to use “Second Amendment remedies” if they’re not happy with the outcome of an election or putting up images of maps with crosshairs “targeting” Republicans running for reelection. It’s not that it doesn’t come from the Left on occasion, but it comes from the Right much more often.  You don’t have to take my word for it, just attend any major Tea Party or Republican event and you’ll — literally — see the signs for yourself.

[quotetweet tweetid=10935548053]

Yes, I know it’s supposedly just hyperbole and most of the Conservative pols and pundits using such talk probably don’t intend it to be taken literally, but the fact of the matter is that some of their devoted followers do take it seriously and, in point of fact, feel it’s an appropriate approach to take with us evil Liberals. If I had a dime for every time a Conservative had threatened to kick my pansy-Liberal ass I, well, I wouldn’t be rich per se, but I’d be much better off financially than I am.

Personally, I’m sick of being told that I’m a traitor that hates America and wants to see its destruction. That is quite simply not true. I’m not a big fan of guns outside of the virtual realm, but there are moments when I wonder if I shouldn’t arm myself just in case one of the Conservatives who write me nasty emails decides it’s time to apply a Second Amendment remedy to my ass. In a supposedly civil society we — and by we I mean Liberal and Conservative — shouldn’t have such concerns. You don’t have to be happy with my point of view. You don’t even have to like me. But to suggest that I am somehow evil and want to destroy the country I love because you disagree with my politics is beyond the pale. To go further and suggest that violence is an appropriate response to me exercising my rights to vote for whom I want to vote for or advocating for policies I feel are good for society is abhorrent. Yes, I am a Liberal. Yes, I disagree with you on a number of issues. That doesn’t make me, or you, evil. Stop acting like it does.

As for the aftermath of this particular event, you won’t hear me advocating for more restrictions on Freedom of Speech or the Right to Bear Arms (or even to Arm Bears if you’re so inclined). The Conservatives are free to continue to talk like gun-crazy, violence-addicted asshats if they really want to, but you should realize that the right to Free Speech doesn’t include the Freedom from Responsibility for What You’ve Said. Sooner or later such talk will come back to bite you in the ass either directly or indirectly. I also don’t think more gun control would’ve changed the outcome of this particular event as some folks are suggesting. I’m not opposed to more gun control, but I also don’t think it’d stop nutcases from killing people.

Tragedies like this and the various other shooting rampages are part of the price we pay to have the right to bear arms. Perhaps someday enough of us will consider the cost too high and things will change, but until then you can expect more of this yet to come. I doubt we’ll ever see a day where civilian gun ownership is outlawed completely because it’s too ingrained into our national character, but perhaps we might try to make things a little tougher for the folks who would use them to do great harm.

9 thoughts on “On the subject of the Giffords shooting and the tone of political discourse today.

  1. I agree, Les. I thought the reaction from some on the left to be far too quick to judgment; in such an emotionally charged situation it is best to wait for the facts to come in. Some were immediately accusing him of being a Tea Party member; there does not seem to be any evidence that this was the case, even if he was apparently anti-government.

    Naturally, the counter response from people like Bill O’Reilly yesterday were even more ridiculous. Of course he pardons Michelle Bachmann’s calls to her followers to be “armed and dangerous” and to revolution as being metaphorical while accusing Paul Krugman (of all people) of being the evil inciter. He continued his sleight of hand by saying that Palin’s crosshairs symbolism (which included putting a target on Giffords) is common practice in political campaigns (as if that makes it alright) and tried to prove this by showing another politician who, during an ad, fires his rifle at a “cap and trade” target (O’Reilly was probably hoping that his viewers would fail to notice that this politician is a conservative and that cap and trade is indeed a target for conservatives.) I can’t imagine what Beck or Limbaugh’s excuses were.

    While it is true that we cannot be certain what influenced the shooter, and while he holds sole responsibility, it also remains true that Beck, Palin and Bachmann have incited people, or bordered on doing so. That they may not have influenced this particular psycho is almost besides the point. I was listening to the radio a couple of months ago and within literally five seconds of Limbaugh I learned that “liberalism has killed more people than cancer.” Imagine what devoted listeners to Limbaugh must be tempted to do to us dreaded ‘libs.’

    And it is not only politicians or hate radio, it is also religion; read any anti-abortion website, as I was doing only a few minutes before I learned of the attacks. “Evil” “murderers” “witches” seem to be the official titles for anyone to the left of Jerry Falwell.

    I do not believe that civility is on the breaking point. No civil wars seem impending. But it is sad that notions of compromise and tolerance for opposing views are so narrow at this stage; but pundits have money to make. And while pundits may not be responsible for this incident, it reminds us of why their occupation is so squalid and why rationality is so needed.

  2. This is clearly a subject where common sense does not play. Certainly people need to stop doing all manner of things, such as writing bad checks and sorting recyclables properly. I suppose these are problems caused by the Right as well? The facts out on this dude show he was infatuated with Ms Giffords long before Sarah Palin and the tea party were invented. His beef with her was over grammar and mind control (are these tea party talking points?) Some folks (me included) find it reprehensible that political types use this type of thing to push their agendas. The initial lies put out by the media were astonishing in their dishonesty. There is no evidence that this kid was anything other than a delusional individual. Even if he was motivated by the Right AND THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF THIS, the Right would be no more culpable for his actions than the makers of the movie “V for Vendetta” are for the psycho that shot up that Panama City School Board Meeting. I’m glad no one pesters Jody Foster over that Reagan assassination thing!

  3. Like Liam says. Reminds me of pareidolia. Why do some of us see the Virgin Mary in half of a toasted cheese sandwich? We have to fill in blanks so something relates to our world-view. Emotionally charged situations become an opportunity for us to manipulate others into seeing the universe as we do. Forcing some relationship between this wacko and either left or right political agendas is really stretching the imagination. He is insane and by definition has no relationship to the real world. That said, there is still a case to be made for toning down the rhetoric that demagogues use to achieve their goals. If you want to create a peaceful society, you need to start with peaceful dialogue. Visualize world peace. ❗

  4. Nice comment, as someone who has lived outside of the states for twenty years,
    I often wonder what has happened to the country? I lived through the insanity of the sixties and thought we had grown as a nation.
    There has been definite change both for the better, and for the worse. Not a good start to the New Year! Peace

  5. Liam, I disagree with your claim that if Loughner had been motivated by the heated rhetoric of the Right — or even the Left — that he would still bear sole responsibility. We have laws on the books that recognize that words have power such as laws against inciting a riot. Admittedly it’s a pretty big gray area when you move from standing in a mob and egging them on to ranting on the public airwaves or on the Internet to the world in general, but there is precedent based on intent.

    By comparison, the movie V for Vendetta and Jodi Foster never intended to incite anyone to violence. The movie was just a fictional story for entertainment purposes and Jodie Foster was the focus of a stalker whom she did not try to establish contact with.

  6. No one here has said that the Right Wing caused these shootings. Read closely.

    When Malcolm X was shot Martin Luther King noted that it was a sign that society had not learned to disagree without using violence. Obviously King was not blaming all of American society for Malcolm X’s particular death; he was simply making a wider point about civility. Take a note.

  7. The rhetoric of hate that the Right pounds 24/7 has to effect people adversely. I work with two people with Masters Degrees who are otherwise sane, but they watch Fox, listen to hate radio and if you even think the word “Liberal” are ready to jump down your throat. They weren’t like that 5 years ago. They are both colder and their hatred is spreading to co-workers and even their clients. So, yes…I’d say from what I’ve seen that this climate of “reload” is affecting even sane people.

    As for the shooter, his parents are devastated. Now, no one can tell me they didn’t know he is crazy. Bat-shit insane with not one but 3 wheels off the track. They ignored it because no one wants to admit their kid needs to be locked up. Little Johnny didn’t mean to do it even though Little Johnny collects Nazi and skin head memorabilia and can’t say a kind word about anyone or anything. Little Johnny is the son of an acquaintance of mine who is doing 25 to life. I told her “you get what you raise.” Blessedly she hasn’t spoken to me since.

  8. A very fair and thoughtful post, Les. And even so, I see that Liam is here to immediately ignore what you’ve said, complain about some “lies” in the media (which I certainly never saw) and completely dismiss any possible influence of violent right-wing rhetoric on anything ever. And of course, he does all this without addressing a single real thing anyone has actually said or done.

    It amazes me just how far to the right this country often defaults, and the huge difference there is in what is seen as “normal” or “reasonable” depending on who says it.
    My conmments here often rant a bit about the different scales and double standards we seem to use as a society when judging the words and actions of liberals vs. conservatives. It usually comes up when I hear some bullshit about “both sides do it” or something about the huge conspiracies of the “liberal media”, or times like this: when republicans once again accuse liberals of doing what republicans do best-lie, slander, politicize tragedies, and make false accusations…while republicans continue to do those things, even as they are making the accusations!

    In the days immediately after the attack, I saw a small number of people online and in the press who suggested that the overload of inflammatory rhetoric lately, especially over the last two years, might be a contributing factor to these kinds of events, and/or might increase the volatility of society in general. I did not see one single person try to argue that Palin or Limbaugh were directly responsible for the shooting, or that such speech made such events unavoidable. The ones I saw simply put forth the idea that having highly influential people glorifying and legitimizing politically-motivated violence on a daily basis might make society as a whole more volatile and possibly make it easier for nutjobs to rationalize their urges. Some went a little further and pointed out, as has been said many times before by many people, that the constant bombardment of over-the-top rhetoric from right-wing politicians and media is not only dishonest, but dishonest and inflammatory to the point of callous irresponsibility. A very reasonable and common-sense observation to make, in my opinion.

    While I certainly don’t advocate censorship, it is an obvious truth…if you spend every day telling ten million immature idiots to jump off a cliff, or vandalize something, or kill somebody- eventually one of them is going to do it, who might not have if you hadn’t legitimized the idea. It’s not an argument for censorship, but for maturity and responsibility from those who want political power and responsibility in our society. Especially from politicians and news anchors, who I would like to think we could hold to a slightly higher social standard than say, a death-metal band or a rapper. Well, obviously, I will never again expect that standard from a conservative, anyway!

    The responses I’ve seen to these very reasonable voices and questions are nothing short of hilarious. Sick, sad, twistwed, shitty, dishonest, full of hate and faux-outraged denial, yet still hilarious in a head-shaking, gallows humor sort of way. In the comments of every news article I’ve read, I have seen self-described conservatives practically lining up to bash “libs” for “politicizing” this tragedy. For every person suggesting that overheated rhetoric may actually play a part in societal attitudes, I’ve seen half a dozen or more “conservatives” dogpile on them and make all sorts of mean-spirited, ridiculous counter-accusations. What I have not seen, of course, is one single conservative who has used this as anything other than yet another chance to bash “libs”. No apologies, no consideration, no reasoned arguments, no sense of ANY possible wrongdoing…just another chance to bash “libs”, which is, of course, exactly what they are accusing “libs” of doing…in other words, the standard republican strategy of being the biggest liar and hypocrite speaking, until people give up trying to tell what the truth might be.

    It’s sickening that anybody can take them seriously, yet somehow they pull it off. They can gang up, 10 to 1, on anybody who dares make a simple(even if mistaken) connection, and use the occasion to say anything they like, including wishes for further harm…yet it is the “libs” who are “politicizing the tragedy.”

    It’s un-fucking-believable bullshit, yet there it sits like a turd on my doorstep. This country is so collectively brainwashed by our right-wing and far-right-wing media that us “liberals” have to be completely open-minded, careful, circumspect and thorough in everything we say at all times, lest we be accused of being political opportunists, fear-mongers, chicken littles, terrorists, or just plain old traitors and subversives. Whereas well known, influential, widely quoted conservatives are completely free to talk about “death panels”, conspiracies of world communism, “terror babies”, closet-Muslim presidents, civil wars staged by outraged taxpayers, invading immigrants, gay communist indoctrination in public schools, christian persecution fantasies…any half-baked conspiracy they can dream up to scare and rile the voters, and the mainstream media just turns a blind eye or even helps stoke the fires. Maybe Jon Stewart calls them out on it, in a fairly polite manner of course. Whoopee. I fail to see how “libs” are guilty of anything.

    Just imagine the howls of outrage if liberals started to fight fire with fire… Imagine how badly Obama or Pelosi or anyone would be hammered in the media, from ALL sides, if they tried to act like republicans act. If Obama suggested that republicans believe that poor people deserve to die for being poor, or that republicans want to limit education to the rich, which is a thousand times milder(and a thousand times more truthful) than most of the slander uttered against liberals, he would be called a liar, a monster, and god knows what else, by pundits, by liberals, by moderates, as well as every last breathing republican.

    If a teen commits suicide after listening to a metal band, or a teenage gangbanger shoots someone after a rap show, social conservatives and even some liberals will line up to complain, we’ll have a congressional hearing on the subject, warning labels will be issued, and music sales, freedom, and the constitution all suffer. If right-wing politicians do the same or even much, much worse, actually openly encourage violence as a reasonable political act….(crickets)….then counter-accusations and excuse-making.

    It plays out the same all the time, every time, on any subject. Climate-change denialist republican senators can spout off about attempts to control the world’s fuel supplies and world-wide socialist conspiracies, and it’s no big deal at all…yet just being an outspoken, honest climate scientist will get you your very own full fraud investigation from a republican Attorney General. And forget about being an honest concerned liberal, then you’re just “Fat Al”!

    Both sides? Liberal media? Liberals politicizing a tragedy? My Ass!

    Anyone who believes that there is a “liberal media” that controls ANYTHING, or that “both sides” are equally guilty of outrageous hyperbole, violence-bating, scaremongering, dealing in dirt and trading in tragedy, has their ignorant head rammed straight up their worthless ass, plain and simple.

    I’m sorry if this rant was “politicizing a tragedy”, but I couldn’t stand the bullshit anymore and besides that, criticizing conservatives is ALWAYS considered by some to be a huge moral failing. Oh well.

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