Monday, January 10, 2011

There Are Consequences To Violent Political Rhetoric ("Don't Retreat, Reload")

As long as there has been a tea party movement in this country, numerous members of the movement have extended a lot of effort to beat back accusations that it was engaging in violent political rhetoric and activities. When a report from the Bush Homeland Security Department (prepared prior to the inauguration of Pres. Obama) warned of an increase in violence by right-wing fringe groups and militias, the tea party and Republican leadership were quick to attack the report and argue that, in fact, it was liberals who were the violent ones. Though there was no explicit criticism of mainstream conservatives in the report, it was Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and all the usual suspects that came in out in force against the report, and argued it was the Obama Administration who created it (it wasn't).

The report, entitled Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, did not single out the tea party as it did not exist at the time. In fact, it defined right wing as, "mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely." Some conservatives even threatened to sue the DHS. The end result of the reaction from the right to the report was that it was largely ignored, and the warnings it gave were forgotten.

The media, essentially afraid of its own shadow and loathe to criticize conservatives, accepted the right's dismissal of the report and failed to follow up. When the debate over health care reform got underway, almost all of the warnings from that DHS report came to fruition. Angry conservatives, overheated by lies told to them by talk radio hosts, and tacitly encouraged by Republican members of Congress, began to organize attacks on Democratic members of Congress. The financial arm of the tea party movement, a lobbying organization called Freedom Works, began distributing information advising tea partiers to attend town halls by Democrats and advising them how to disrupt the meetings and rattle the members. The tactics were remarkably successful, and fed the media narrative that the country was "furious" about more people getting access to health care. Angry right-wingers began bringing guns to town halls and, in one high profile instance, tea partiers brought automatic weapons to a speech by President Obama. This was condemned by the left as an explicit threat, the right dismissed the criticism and rambled on about the Second Amendment.

Somehow, an attempt to make our health care system more accessible to those who have been denied access, was spun as evil by the right. Discussing end of life care became the government killing your grandma. Increasing access to private insurance became a "government takeover." The Affordable Care Act became "Obamacare." The anger boiled over in the tea party when they realized they had lost, and some spat on members of Congress when they approached the Capitol to vote. Acts of violence and personal threats towards Democratic members of Congress briefly became the norm.
Sarah Palin "targeted" Gabrielle Gifford and other Democrats
The health care debate was where it started, but it hardly stopped after the Affordable Care Act became law. The relentless attacks on President Obama and Democrats extended into almost every issue, even non-controversial ones like the president speaking to school children or stopping childhood obesity. Right-wing media figures like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh frequently characterized any initiative taken by the duly elected President of the United States as inherently illegitimate, un-American, and designed to destroy the American way of life. Beck is the worst offender; and his baseless claims of racism on the part of the president and his silly warnings about Communists inside the Administration and preferential treatment toward Democratic districts in the distribution of federal dollars fueled the increasing paranoia on the right. And if your enemy is evil and illegitimate, compromising with them is out of the question. It became standard operating procedure for the right to oppose anything at all proposed by the Democrats - even bills they had sponsored in the past.

Predictability, when it became election season, the rhetoric became even more heated. Perhaps the two most disturbing examples of violent rhetoric being used to garner votes came from Nevada's Sharon Angle and Alaska's Sarah Palin. On more than one occasion, Ms. Angle, running for the Senate in Nevada, discussed using "second amendment remedies" to deal with the Congress if unsuccessful in the election. Sarah Palin, through her political action committee, SarahPAC, created an ad campaign that utilized gun sights to "target" certain members of Congress.  In personal appearances, Palin frequently denied her rhetoric was violent, and often told her rabid supporters not to retreat, but to "re-load."
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
At the time, the ads were criticized, but that criticism was dismissed by Palin and the media that loves her. One of those targeted in the ads was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Ms. Giffords was shot in an assassination attempt two days ago while meeting with her constituents at a supermarket.

The true motives of the attempted assassin may never be known, and the man is clearly disturbed. However, his ties to far right, white supremacist organizations are beginning to come to light, as is his multi-year angry obsession with the Congresswoman. There is no way to argue that his exposure to angry rhetoric, his questionable mental state, and easy access to guns were not all contributors to the tragedy. This man bought his gun last November, and has been plotting this attack since then. This was a premeditated attack on Giffords and not merely a crazy person just being crazy. Something could have been done. At the very least, a man who was rejected from the military and kicked out of college for his disturbing behavior should not have such easy access to guns. I would hope that is a non-controversial statement, but in today's political environment, it probably isn't.

The point of this post is not to attack every member of the tea party or say all inflamed rhetoric is on one side. But, over the last three years, the rhetoric has become increasingly violent, and it has almost exclusively been coming from the right. A fundamental lack of respect for dissenting opinions has become the norm in the American right. The "will of the people" is often cited by those in the tea party as their motivation. But why was the "will of the people" ignored by the tea party after the 2008 election? When the tea party dismissed the democratic process and refused to accept the results of a losing election, how many liberals began threatening Republicans for ignoring their will?

I hope this event and its aftermath will force the more extreme elements to tone it down. I also hope that the issue of gun control (which has not been seriously addressed in decades) will be looked into again. People like Saturday's assassin should never have had such easy access to a gun.

Good luck to Rep. Giffords in her recovery, and deep condolences to the victims and their families.


daneolson1971 said...

i saw someone else sum it up best. Something to the effect of "If this was a school shooting, the student who posted the cross-hair map would be in custody right now".

Palin shouldn't get off for her hate-mongering.

Darrell Michaels said...

'At the very least, a man who was rejected from the military and kicked out of college for his disturbing behavior should not have such easy access to guns."

"I hope this event and its aftermath will force the more extreme elements to tone it down."

"People like Saturday's assassin should never have had such easy access to a gun.

Good luck to Rep. Giffords in her recovery, and deep condolences to the victims and their families."

The above are the parts of your posting with which I whole-heartedly agree, Dave. I won't even bother correcting your numerous factual errors, as it is tantamount to tilting at windmills.

Snave said...

Indeed, a speedy recovery to all who were injured by this inflamed lunatic, and sadness for those who lost their lives.

People such as Palin and Beck need to have their feet held to the fire, and it needs to come from within the Republican party as well as from without. If they are trying to push the country to some sort of breaking point, is this the kind of thing they want to see happen? I surely hope not.

The media will not do a thing to help relieve tensions. Instead it will continue to report on (and play up) whatever is most sensational... regretfully, that will continue to include inflammatory statements made by those prominent right wingers who have been most vocal.

In line with what Daneolson1971 says, drawing up a map that shows cross-hairs on congressional districts (and implicity, their elected representatives) is certainly somewhat akin to a deranged student making a "list" before going on a rampage.

But now that Palin has achieved such high celebrity status (much higher than Obama ever achieved before he became president... he was never a commentator for a "news" network, he never had a reality TV show, his family members weren't on "Dancing With The Stars", etc.), she gets treated like a celebrity. This allows her to get away with far more than Joe Six-Pack could.

Time for the double-standard to end. Time to call things like what Palin and Angle say what they are... dangerous, inflammatory rhetoric.

There is no liberal media. If there really was, the "tea party" would never have achieved its current "darling" status.

Jason said...

Bravo, Dave, you took the words right out of my mouth.

Dave Splash said...

Not sure I get the tilting windmills comment, Paine, but I think this is a time for those on the right to look back at the things they have been saying about their political adversaries over the last few years and evaluate how much it has lead to the coarsening of the political dialogue in this country. It is okay to disagree, and perfectly appropriate to protest things one doesn't like; but the notion that bringing guns to political town halls is in any way appropriate is ridiculous (not sure how you could disagree), that saying the only motivation behind your opponents is to destroy and/or enslave the American public is not justifiable, and saying all the apocalyptic, armed revolution talk is not dangerous, would put someone safely in the extremist category.

Rational, sane people know that the rantings of Glenn Beck and his ilk are not to be taken seriously, but there are those like this guy in Arizona (and I don't know his listening habits, so I am not blaming Beck) who have their paranoid delusions reaffirmed with all the end of the country/end of the world talk by people like that.

Gun control has been off the agenda for nearly two decades. The Democrats have done nothing on the issue since, what 1994, when the assault weapons ban was passed. Yet, gun massacres are on the rise, restrictions on what types of guns are available are nearly non-existent, and all we hear from the right is "guns don't kill people." Actually, yes they do.

If the Republicans had done the responsible thing and kept the assault weapon ban in place when it expired in 2004, this guy in AZ could not have killed or wounded as many people as he did. That is a fact. He walked into a store, purchased a semi-automatic glock 9 pistol with little more than a 3 second background check (which many gun dealers ignore, knowing they will not be prosecuted), and bought high volume clips. And Arizona allows concealed guns without a permit! Contrary to right wing dogma, there were people in the crowd with guns, yet somehow, none of them stepped up and did anything. The right has been saying for decades that if more people had guns with them at all times, there would be fewer of these massacres. Hmmm...what happened?

More than a gun problem, the US has a mental health problem. In the constant quest for "smaller government," it is health care expenses (including mental health services) that are cut first. Sometimes, government spending is appropriate - even a lot of it. There is no private sector solution to this problem. It is a public safety issue. Without appropriate mental health services, many of the mentally ill who commit crimes are put in prison where their problems are exacerbated. They are then released, without so much as an appointment with a shrink, and unleashed on the public.

Increased, easy access to guns and a lack of mental health resources are the real culprits here. More so than the violent rhetoric of Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle and others. But the rhetoric makes it seem okay for these nuts to act out on their paranoid fantasies.