On July 15 while visiting Egypt, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had her motorcade pelted by tomatoes and shoes by a mob of angry protestors. You don’t have to be a charter member of the Hillary fan club to be bothered by this. They weren’t just attacking Clinton; they were attacking the U.S. itself, as evidenced by the nature of the signs they bore. And what starts out as footwear and a fruit often mistaken for a vegetable quite easily could develop into shoe bombs and bullets.
But what makes the incident particularly interesting is that — again, as evidenced by the signs — the mob was angered over a mistaken impression that the United States had interfered in Egypt’s elections. Egyptians, it appears, are just as capable of gullibility as Americans. And they got that false impression from some of Clinton’s fellow Americans — specifically, from several character assassins who are obsessed with bringing down President Obama and anyone connected with him at all costs.
Most conspicuously, the rumor mill was cranked up by some of Clinton’s fellow government officials. Five members of Congress, all Republicans (surprise!) sent letters to intelligence and security officials, warning them of a vast Muslim conspiracy to infiltrate the U.S. government, singling out Clinton aide Huma Abedin, whom they alleged had “ties” to the radical group Muslim Brotherhood. (Abedin subsequently has fielded death threats.)
Foremost among them was Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, who has a long history of making batshit loony utterances — and then denying it ever happened when she gets called on it (As Jon Stewart so hilariously points out, Bachmann’s own “ties” to the Muslim Brotherhood are much more direct than Abedin’s.)
This time, her remarks were so over-the-top that even several of her fellow Republicans chastised her. (If you thought today’s GOP was just one big loony bin, you weren’t entirely correct.) As Ron Reagan, son of the supposedly quintessential “conservative” put it, “If crazy were people, Michele Bachmann would be China.” Speaker of the House John Boehner at least paid lip service to adulthood, noting that “I think accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous.” Nonetheless, he declined to consider removing her from the House Intelligence Committee, commenting that “I don’t know that that’s related at all. ” (What the hell’s she doing there in the first place? And if you don’t know a simple thing like that, what the hell are you doing there, John?)
Arizona Senator John McCain was more blunt, and more eloquent:
When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.
Even one of her former advisers urged her to put a sock in it and apologize. Instead, she made another unfounded allegation of terrorist ties against Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim to be elected to Congress. In the eyes of many right-wing extremists, you see, all Muslims are potential terrorists.
But not to worry, Bachmann has plenty of fellow loonies who are willing to back her up. Glenn Beck even gave her a radio forum to encourage her. There are lots of people out there who equate (their own) ideology with patriotism and everything else with anti-Americanism. Unable to grasp the fundamental fact that there are other American values besides their own, they conclude that anyone who doesn’t conform to their ideology is hell-bent on bringing down the country.
Just recently I saw a sticker that said “I’m anti-Obama because he’s anti-America”. There may be plenty of good reasons for being anti-Obama, but they do not include regarding him as “anti-America” because his values are different from yours. Actually, most Obama haters really don’t have values that different from Obama’s; they’ve just been conned into believing they do. Many of them spend too much time listening to the likes of the ever-adorable Sarah Palin, who just recently stated:
So if Obama is reelected, well, America, you will no longer recognize the country that today you truly love and can enjoy all of its freedom and prosperity and security if Obama is reelected because this “ObamaCare” is a harbinger of things yet to come.
And the ever-quotable Bachmann has said:
I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?
Remember, this woman keeps getting elected, so it appears that someone out there is actually voting for her. She has a support base of people who denounce as anti-American anyone whose principles or policies they don’t like, yet they enthusiastically support someone who actually incites — through dishonest claims — riots against American officials. The irony is so thick you could use it for a hockey puck.
(Incidentally, Rachel Maddow offers a brilliant commentary on this incident, and in the process illustrates the typical difference between left-wing punditry and right-wing punditry — “we love our village idiots” vs. “these scumbags are destroying America”.)
Make no mistake, Americans absolutely loathe “Obamacare”. Just look at the polls. By an average of nearly 50 percent, and by up to 56 percent in some polls, those surveyed oppose it and want to see it repealed. In virtually every poll, the numbers opposing exceed the numbers supporting. You really have to wonder how the prez ever marshaled enough backing to get the thing passed in the first place. Well… it could be because most Americans are in favor of his healthcare reform.
Huh? How could they be both for it and against it?
For one thing, we should note that, implicit in the Obama Haters’ trumpeting of these poll numbers is the assumption that the disapproval stems from a single cause: i.e., the perception that “Obamacare” is “too radical”. This ignores other possible grounds for objecting — for example, that a significant percentage oppose the bill for “not going far enough” or “not being liberal enough”, or some such. Quite the opposite of being “too radical”, if I’m accurately untangling the meanings of these terms from the contemporary semantic thicket.
We also need to note that word Obamacare, which as you hopefully are aware, is not the actual name of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It’s the derogatory label pushed by the sufferers of Obama Derangement Syndrome (frequently characterized by an inability to distinguish Hawaii from Kenya), a label designed by those who want to give the impression that one person has assumed control of the nation’s healthcare system, and who also circulate nutball rumors about “socialized medicine”, and “death panels“.
The latest, straight from the “Are You Fucking Serious?” department, is that the bill “suppresses religious freedom” by regarding contraception as a vital service. For this one we primarily can thank the Catholic Church, which evidently regards birth control as far more morally reprehensible than molesting children. Outraged over the administration’s efforts to give women special treatment, church officials have taken legal action to demand special treatment. “We didn’t start this fight”, they declare, as they draw a line and spit over it.
To hear them tell it, Washington is dispatching its jack-booted thugs to smash in their doors and (shudder) drag them kicking and screaming into the Twenty-First Century. They seem to be overlooking the fact that granting them an exemption from the contraceptive provision could itself be construed as an infringement on religious freedom by offering one religious sector preferential treatment. (We must also note however, that indeed certain religious institutions are exempt from the contraception mandate.) They also seem to be overlooking the fact that nobody is holding a gun to their heads and forcing them to be involved in the medical profession to begin with.
One certainly can debate whether the government should have a dog in this fight at all. Hell, while we’re at it, we can debate whether government should be involved in regulating traffic safety, or should just leave motorists, in Libertarian fashion, to “sort it out for themselves”. But at the moment, the government is taking a stand in a field that is a matter of life and death, and is (for the most part) holding providers of service to the same standards whether they’re administered by religious organizations or not. Religious discrimination? Gimme a break, already.
Yet that is exactly what we keep hearing repeatedly. Even the GOP contender for Obama’s job assailed the contraception requirement as a “direct attack on religious liberty”. Sigh. How quickly we forget when we have self-righteousness to exude. Not only did this politician, as governor of Massachusetts, sign a healthcare reform bill that was the prototype for “Obamacare”, he also signed a contraceptive bill very similar to the one he’s excoriating as an evil “attack on religious liberty”.
In any case, given that it’s virtually impossible to find a discussion of PPACA that does not call it Obamacare and/or does not regurgitate rightwingnutball soundbites, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the polls have been so negative. Funny thing, though. On those occasions when the pollsters and the (“liberal”) media temporarily forget about “death panels” and “socialized medicine” and “religious liberty” and just ask people about…um, what the bill actually does, they get a markedly different response.
The provision to prohibit denial due to preexisting conditions? That has an approval rating of at least 70 percent. Tax credits for small businesses? Ditto. Limiting insurance companies’ profit margins? About 56 percent. Research to confirm effectiveness of treatments? About 53 percent. (Oh, and those Catholics who supposedly are so up in arms about the contraception thing? Turns out the vast majority of them couldn’t care less.) It seems the more people actually know about “Obamacare”, the more they like it. Which just might have something to do with why the propagandists do everything in their power to make certain the public does not learn anything about it by burying it beneath an avalanche of nutball rumors.
They’ve said that it amounts to a “government takeover” of medicine. They’ve said that it will increase the deficit. They’ve said that it’s the largest tax hike in history. They’ve said that it will provide free benefits to illegal aliens. They’ve said that it will reduce Medicare benefits. They’ve said it will result in forced vaccinations. They’ve said it won’t take effect until 2014. They’ve said it hurts small businesses. They’ve said it will kill jobs. They’ve said it will result in healthcare rationing. They’ve said it won’t reduce the cost of health insurance. They’ve said it will mandate federal funds for abortion.
False, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false, false and false.
But my favorite has to be that the bill just has too dang many words in it. It”s way too lengthy and abstruse for anyone to follow, they claim. Sure, it’s longer than the average bill, but hardly of unprecedented length. At 1018 pages, it’s hardly excessive given the amount of material covered, and it’s about 400 pages shorter, for example, than the 2007 Bush budget. Nor is its language particularly complicated. But Sarah Palin, who always comes through when you need a punchline, put it this way:
Obamacare was dealt in deception and confusion by flooding the public with an overwhelming amount of conflicting “rationale” via thousands of pages of unread legislative detail, which is the radical left’s M.O.
Gasp! Just imagine all of that “unread” detail. What will those socialists inflict on us next? Uncalculated arithmetic? She seems to be echoing the misconception that nobody in Washington read the bill before passing it; but judging by (all of) her comments on the matter, she’s never read a word of it herself.
The one aspect of the new law that Americans do seem to oppose pretty consistently is the mandatory insurance requirement. Hardly surprising, since they’ve been told repeatedly that it’s unconstitutional. Which is going to be a tougher sell now that the Supreme Court (despite being solidly stacked with ideologues) has ruled otherwise. Not to worry, though, there are plenty of other lies and myths to go around. You’ve probably heard that if you don’t purchase insurance, you will be heavily fined, and your assets will be seized, and you’ll be shipped off to a FEMA concentration camp. In fact, the bill specifically prohibits criminal penalties for noncompliance (page 336 — couldn’t you at least make it that far, Sarah?), and the tax penalties will affect only about ONE percent of the population, who will pay a MAXIMUM of ONE percent of their income.
Given the media trend to view “Obamacare” through the psychedelic lenses of malicious rumors spread by people with names like Sarah or Glenn, and given the tendency of the American public to assess such measures by how they fit the Procrustean bed of a prefabricated ideology (notably the die-cast conviction, facts be damned, that government intervention invariably “makes things worse”), the amount of support PPACA has managed to gain is nothing short of miraculous. Particularly since some of its features are just beginning to go into effect. (Despite this, I’ve already known people whose lives and/or nest eggs have been spared by “Obamacare”. But hey, so what when you have an ideology to promote and a president to hate.)
You often hear left-wingers complain that right-wingers are adept at convincing people to “vote against their own interests”. This Jekyll and Hyde relationship between Obamacare and Affordable Care is an excellent illustration of just how valid that point might be.
(NOTE ADDED 7-11-12: Somehow I neglected to include one of the most notorious lies of all: that “Obamacare” calls for the addition of 16,500 new IRS agents to ensure its enforcement. According to some sources — notably Ron Paul — they’ll all be “armed”. Wow.)
(7-13-12: Oh yes, and there’s the one about it causing most doctors to quit.)
There was an interesting article recently in USA Today about the anniversary of the Tuscon shooting. Not so interesting in terms of its content, maybe, but interesting in terms of how it was presented. The gist of the article was that “civility still eludes us”. But the implication was the meme that when it comes to incivility, “both sides do it”. It doesn’t really use that phrase, mind you; but it gyrates around it very seductively. Trouble is, the article comes up way short of presenting evidence that “both sides do it” equally (an absurd premise we’ve discussed before).
There are several examples of uncivil conduct mentioned in the article, but all were committed by right-wingers; they just aren’t always identified as such. It mentions ” bickering over the Native American speaker” at a memorial service for the Tuscon victims, when in fact the “bickering” was really scathing and sarcastic attacks from right-wing media. It mentions Republican congressman Joe Wilson yelling “You lie” in the middle of a presidential speech. It mentions that “[a] Republican leader last month walked out of the House chamber rather than allow a Democrat the chance to speak.” It mentions that “at town-hall meetings, voters booed lawmakers and shouted down fellow citizens who tried to express differing viewpoints” without specifying that those “voters” were Tea Party activists. It mentions that “opponents of a lawmaker flood a congressional switchboard with calls to disable the phone system and prevent others from airing views” without mentioning that this tactic was used (more than once) by Republicans.
But what’s most interesting is that the writer exhibits a trend that has become quite common in media discussion of this topic: redefining incivility in different terms for “conservatives” and “liberals” to make it appear that they are more or less equally uncivil- or even that “liberals” are more uncivil. Michael Moore, who appears never to have had an uncivil word for anyone in his life – he even made a point of complimenting George W. Bush as a person, even as he expressed outrage over how Bush came into office and horror at what he did in office – has more than once been called the “Ann Coulter of the left”, likening him to one of the most venomous in an endless procession of venomous right-wing pundits.
The article contains this interesting quote from Republican representative Jeff Flake of Arizona:
“Given the mess that the country’s in, I can never blame constituents for being angry,” he said. “Far be it from me to try to call out my constituents for passionate feelings on things.”
Oh. So the numerous death threats that have been made against President Obama and the Democrats in Congress are just a matter of “passionate feelings” about “the mess the country’s in”. So why haven’t a comparable number of threats been made against Republicans in Congress? Or against George W. Bush about the mess the country was in then?
In a desperate bid to dispel the notion that “conservatives” are uncivil and to pin incivility on “liberals”, the media will even resort to things like this:
At a 2009 constituent meet-and-greet at a Holbrook Safeway, one very similar to Giffords’ 2011 event, former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., left abruptly after some people in line to see her started shouting and demanding that she answer questions.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I can’t help getting the impression that the writer is trying to shift the fault for the detractors’ rudeness onto Kirkpatrick herself – after all, she’s the one who “left abruptly” rather than respond to “questions”. The writer seems to be parroting the Republican spin that she “turned her back on her constituents”.
And here’s a real gem quoted from John Genette, identified as president of Black Mountain Communications and the organizer of a project at Arizona State University called Civil Dialogue:
“If you’re a lefty and you hear that the sun is yellow, you might believe it, but if you hear the sun is yellow according to Fox News, you might say that sometimes it’s reddish,” he said. “There is a deep distrust of the other side.”
Oh. So challenging the hateful, factually deficient ramblings of Fox “News” is motivated only by “distrust of the other side”. Got it. And although Genette himself doesn’t say so there is, as the article reflects, a recurring narrative that speaking up against hateful rhetoric is itself hateful rhetoric, or even worse. Here’s the type of discourse that often occurs:
RIGHT-WINGER: Liberals are communists, they’re lazy, they’re NAZIs, they’re evil, they’re liars, they’re anti-American, and they’re destroying MY country. They want to outlaw prayer and penalize hard-working people and euthanize old people. Thank God (whom they don’t believe in) I have my Second Amendment rights to defend MY country against these scumbags.
NON-RIGHT-WINGER: I don’t think it’s very civil to say things like that, and it could cause some unstable person to commit violence.
RIGHT-WINGER: See what I mean? I told you these people were nasty!
MEDIA: And there you have it, folks. Clearly, both sides do it equally.
Think that’s an exaggeration? Just start paying attention, and I guarantee that you’ll see this pattern repeated many times over.
Consider the article’s piece de resistance: Sarah’s Palin’s crosshairs, targeting Democrats in Congress who committed the unpardonable offense of supporting healthcare reform. There has been probably more outrage over the reaction to this ad than there was over the ad itself, with many declaring it the ultimate mark of incivility to suggest that it may have been one element that inspired the Tuscon gunman. But to assume flatly that it wasn’t is to divorce it from the context of the eliminationist extremism (and gun glorification) that produced it. It may be incorrect to think that the crosshaired map exerted any influence on the shooter’s unbalanced brain, but it’s certainly not unreasonable to consider it a possibility. Indeed, not long before she was shot, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (one of Sarah’s “targets”) expressed concern about that very thing. And she wasn’t just being paranoid; her office already had been vandalized.
And here’s how Sarah herself responded:
“And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.”
Good grief. It isn’t enough to deny that there may have been something inappropriate about the map. It isn’t enough to call such criticism an “intolerant” attempt to “muzzle dissent”. It isn’t enough to claim that her insults have been merely “imagined”. It isn’t enough to portray herself as the innocent victim of a supposedly hostile media that in fact has been kissing her ass since she left the starting gate. It isn’t even enough to profess her inoffensiveness by working in the offensive term “blood libel.” No, this woman also has to shift the culpability to her critics for the very type of tragedy that has just occurred. Really classy, Sarah. She all but points an accusatory finger at Tina Fey.
Speaking of whom, many people consider it supremely uncivil when someone ridicules Palin’s apparent vapidity. But bear in mind that she herself appeared on “Saturday Night Live” alongside Fey doing an unflattering impression of her and Alec Baldwin saying uncomplimentary things about her. And bear in mind that nobody is calling her a commie terrorist Muslim Anti-Christ. And contrary to what she’s claimed, there is no evidence that anyone has been making death threats against her, much less in numbers comparable to those against Democrats.
What did happen was that when she complained on her Facebook page about author Joe McGinnis moving next door to her, he received 5000 hostile emails, some containing death threats, within 24 hours. It was purely by chance that McGinnis, himself an Alaskan, acquired the house while writing a book about her. But like a civil neighbor, she framed him as a peeping tom and a menacing stalker.
Comedian Orlando Jones (who is neither a politician nor a political pundit) tweets jokes constantly, but one in particular aroused a great deal of ire because it included a punchline about “liberals” killing Sarah Palin. It was clearly a joke – maybe not a very good joke, maybe a tasteless joke, maybe even a dumb joke. But to the spinmeisters it was much more – it was solid confirmation that incivility is standard behavior for “liberals”.
Okay, fine. Deny him the benefit of a doubt if you wish. But does that one spontaneous remark really put him in a league with Tea Party leaders who deliver prepared speeches urging the faithful to arm themselves in readiness for taking out elected officials if they don’t get their way? Does it put him in a league with the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks and Ann Coulters who churn out hatred day after day after day? Does it put him in a league with the anonymous Arkansan(s) who brutally killed a cat belonging to a Democratic aide and then scrawled “liberal” on its body?
Oh yeah, one more little thing. Jones was adult enough to apologize for his comment. And as long as we’re insistent upon redefining incivility as the circumstances warrant, let’s see if we can at least agree that civility includes – pay attention, Sarah – a willingness to accept responsibility for one’s uncivil actions. Like Orlando Jones. Or maybe Keith Olbermann.
While Sarah was invoking the “I’m rubber, you’re glue”, defense, Olbermann – probably the only left-wing pundit who comes within light-years of the acrimony that’s standard issue for right-wing pundits – was saying this:
“Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our Democracy, and I apologize for and repudiate any act or any thing in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence.”
Bit of a difference, wouldn’t you say?
What Sarah Said
“And, you know, he who warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and making sure that as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free. And we were going to be armed…part of his ride was to warn the British that we were already there that hey, you are not going to succeed, you’re not going to take American arms.”
What Paul Said
“Revere later wrote of the need to keep his activities secret and his suspicion that a member of his tight circle of planners had become a British informant. According to the letter, believed to have been written around 1798, Revere did provide some details of the plan to the soldiers that night, but after he had notified other colonists and under questioning by the Redcoats (emphasis added).” (Associated Press, referring to statements by Paul Revere)
What Your Propaganda Professor Says
Revere’s letter, to which the former half-term governor of Alaska appears to be attempting to allude, does NOT support her rambling, undiagrammable statements apparently cobbled together from verbal elements she overheard from a tour guide . It does not say that he himself fired shots and rang bells, nor even that he rang shots and fired bells. You may quote me on that. As for those arms he was supposedly warning them they couldn’t take, and which she wants to make the most revered item in the universe, they’d mostly been relocated already. If she believes that Revere set out to warn the Redcoats, perhaps she also believes the Beatles set out to bury John Lennon.
What the Media Said
“Experts Back Sarah Palin’s Historical Account.” (Boston Herald)
“You know how Sarah Palin said Paul Revere warned the British? Well, he did. Now, who looks stupid? (The L.A. Times – which even compared the public’s allegedly unfair criticism of her comments to the deliberately manufactured myth that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet)
“Palin Did Not Misspeak On Paul Revere.” (Gateway Pundit)
“Mrs. Palin’s version of history was correct… the left does not revere history” (Washington Times)
The latter newspaper, founded by “Rev.” Sun Myung Moon, the cult leader who has repeatedly railed about what an evil country America is, really felt on a roll then, and launched into the following delusional and irrelevant tirade:
“Tea Partyers and others who look to America’s past for inspiration are appealing to the great national narrative that the left has rejected. In essence, we have become two peoples: one with a vision of America as an exceptional country with a heroic history, and another believing the country and its people are burdened by a multitude of original sins and populated by groups who are owed continuing and endless debts because of that corrupt past.” (You can deduce all of that from an inept politician’s bungling of history???)
What Sarah Probably Will Say Again (and Again, and Again)
“We should ignore the lamestream, leftist media’s criticism of what it is that we say in an interview if we believe what it is that we say. Don’t let them, in a 24-hour news cycle, make us change our positions.”
POSTSCRIPT: Kudos to Forbes, a right-leaning publication, for being candid about this embarrassing woman.
Film critic Michael Medved is a right-wing loyalist, no doubt about it. Listen to him talk, and you can almost smell the opiates of “free market capitalism” and “traditional values” on his breath. And you might even call him a right-wing propagandist, depending on how you define propaganda. So it’s a bit surprising to see him calling out some of his fellow right-wing pundits in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. After all, these folks generally stick together no matter what.
But unlike most other fanatical pundits/propagandists, Medved is capable of reason and civility, and is not entirely allergic to facts. And thus he was outraged when some of his cohorts crossed the line in their attacks on President Obama. You might ask what lines could possibly remain to be crossed. Haven’t these characters already stooped as low as they can go? But not to worry, they’ll always find a new way to get even lower.
The specific ideologues he singles out include such highly visible (and alas all too audible) figures as Rush Limbaugh and The Former Half-Term Governor of Alaska. The president, the latter claimed, is “hell-bent on weakening in America” (by no means the nastiest or dumbest thing she’s ever said); while the charming thrice-divorced spokesman for family values went even farther: “I think we face something we’ve never faced before in the country—and that is, we’re now governed by people who do not like the country. There’s no question that payback is what this administration is all about, presiding over the decline of the United States of America, and doing so happily.”
It’s certainly nothing new for people to accuse presidents of weakening or damaging the nation. There are plenty of people, across the ideological spectrum, who’ll tell you that George W. Bush wrought damage that was severe, if not irreparable. But in the past, such impact was generally attributed to incompetence, misguided ideology, or even self-serving motives that simply ignored the long-term national consequences. This is something quite different and quite inexcusable: the accusation that The President of the United States is a traitor, and a willful tool of destruction.
It’s true that during the Bush years, there were people who claimed that 9-11 was an inside job. But such accusations came mostly from the loony fringe, and few people paid attention.
But there is no longer any such thing as the loony fringe. Because while it’s even loonier than ever, it’s moved from the fringe to the heart of the mainstream. It’s especially amusing to hear the folks at Fox rail against the mainstream media of which they are the foremost component. On at least one occasion, Sunny Sarah derided an idiotic statement from the “lamestream media”, blissfully unaware that she was quoting someone on her own network.
And lots of people, far too many people, now pay serious attention to such irresponsible hucksterism. That’s why it’s refreshing and encouraging to see one of their own, in the person of Michael Medved, draw the line.
Hardly had the cyber-ink dried (or whatever cyber-ink does) on the last post, touching upon the patriotic posturing of today’s right-wing zealots, when the news broke of the Tuscon tragedy and its repercussions. Whenever such an episode of gun violence occurs, there are at least two responses that are very predictable. First, the NRA and its cohorts will rush to the defense of whatever weapon was used, insisting that “guns don’t kill, people do” (apparently believing that all those bullets were fired by bare hands) – even though, thanks to their tireless efforts to make firearms easily available, the line between gun and gunman has become hopelessly blurred. And second, the media will try to fit the incident into some kind of pattern, some kind of narrative.
The big question that has been thrown around over and over again is this: were the assassin’s actions in some way attributable to the poisonous polemics that have become the norm in the American public forum? Right-wingers, naturally, were quick to answer in the negative, and bolstered their case by pointing out that in addition to being fond of such right-wing reading matter as “Mein Kampf”, the gunman was also known to read Marx. So obviously he’s a librul, huh?
In fact, he doesn’t appear to have been particularly motivated by ideology at all. He was obviously quite disturbed, and theoretically the violence could have happened to anyone at any time, anywhere. But is it really just chance that the victims were a Democratic congresswoman and her supporters? Or has right-wing invective been ratcheted up to the point that non-right-wingers are bound to be the target of violence? Considering that the gunman was so disturbed, isn’t it likely that he was susceptible to suggestion? And if he was exposed to media rhetoric at all (which is all but certain), isn’t it probable that he was exposed quite a bit to Fox “News” and other purveyors of the constant message that “liberals” are evil beings who must be exterminated? So what’s so far-fetched about the suggestion that Palinesque polemic egged him on?
In just the first 3 months of 2010, there were 42 security threats against members of Congress. All were Democrats. Just coincidence? And the wording of the threats often echoed Tea Party talking points. Just coincidence? Gabrielle Giffords herself had previously been the object of many such threats. Still coincidence? The election of a black Democratic president has sparked such a spike in threats of violence that the Secret Service is too swamped to deal with them all. Mere coincidence? During the first few months of 2010, death threats against members of Congress rose by 300 %. Also coincidence?
The real question then is not whether hateful rhetoric actually did prompt the killings, but whether it might have; in other words, whether it might do so in the future. And we already know the answer to that question. There have been at least three attempted violent attacks on “liberal” figures that were directly inspired by the frenzied, deliberately misinformed rants of Glenn Beck alone. The murderer of Dr. Tiller in Kansas apparently was inspired by Bill O’Reilly’s demonization of the victim as a “baby killer”. A gunman who opened fire in a Tennessee church stated that he wanted to kill all 100 people singled out in a book by Bernard Goldberg, another talking headless at Fox. A Pittsburgh man who murdered three policemen was motivated by the fear that the government was going to take away his guns – a paranoid fantasy frequently peddled by Fox, which he watched regularly. And lest we forget, Timothy McVeigh was a right-wing radical who spouted the same “anti-government” (i.e., anti-Democratic) worldview as these media figures.
Nasty bickering over ideological differences is certainly nothing new. But today’s Republicanoid rhetoric has gone way, way WAY beyond incivility, beyond ridicule, beyond anger, even beyond hatred. It now operates in the realm of what is known as “eliminationism” – i.e., the attitude that those who disagree with you are very real threats to life and liberty who must be removed by any means necessary.
But that’s only half the equation. The other half is that this political faction is closely linked with a creepy subculture that glorifies, even idolizes, guns. Combine those two elements and you’re bound to have an explosion eventually. Is it really so far-fetched to think that even the shooter in Tuscon might have been to some degree influenced by this toxic brew?
Inevitably attached to the media discussion about nasty polemics is the knee-jerk defense that “both sides do it”. It just ain’t so, not by a long shot. Oh sure, you’ll occasionally find a left-winger who spews hatred, or who threatens or even commits violence. But with right-wingers it’s not just an occasional thing. It’s deliberate standard operating procedure, 24/7, day after day after day after day. And there’s nothing the least bit subtle about it. Keith Olbermann, who’s generally regarded as the most strident pundit on the left, actually apologized for something he’d said that might be taken to be hateful. The day Beck or Limbaugh or Coulter or O’Reilly or Hannity or Malkin does that, better take cover to avoid being smothered by the droppings from all the flying pigs. In a truly bizarre twist of irony, one of the Arizona shooting victims who vented his rage against a Tea Party official by making a threat similar to what Tea Partiers make with impunity on a routine basis, was arrested and submitted to psychiatric evaluation.
Only one side routinely brings guns, and signs (some mass-produced) promising to use them, to political rallies. Only one side has leaders and revered mouthpieces who routinely say things like “I tell people, don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus – living fossils.” (Rush Limbaugh) Or “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.” (Ann Coulter). Or “Members of Congress) ought to be lined up and shot. I’m talking about the liberal leadership.” (Duke Cunningham, former CA congressman) Or “You know, it took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims’ families”. (Glenn Beck) Or “We are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.” (Randall Terry of Operation Rescue) Or “Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests.” (G. Gordon Liddy, felon turned talk show host) Or “So keep your guns, and buy more guns, and buy ammunition. Take back America.” (Kitty Werthmann, speaker at the “How to Take Back America Conference” in St. Louis) Or “Let’s talk a minute about ‘well-regulated militia’ and why you might need one because the government isn’t doing their job”. (Glenn Beck) Or “If ballots don’t work, bullets will.” (Joyce Kaufman, radio commentator and Tea Party speaker)
When called on the carpet for such remarks, these characters often insist that they were just joking – even though jokes generally are at least marginally funny. Freud would have a field day analyzing how their “humor” is almost always expressed in the vocabulary of violence and hatred.
Another thing you can predict with uncanny accuracy is that whenever the extremists get called out for their hatemongering, they will deny, spin, evade and – inevitably – shift the blame to “liberals”. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin urged her followers to “reload”, and put images of crosshairs with names on a map. Afterward, she insisted that they were not really crosshairs at all; and yet she promptly took them off her site -why was that? The predictable reply is that she didn’t want anyone to misinterpret after the fact. But wouldn’t it have been just as easy for someone to “misinterpret” before the fact? And then, ever the hand-wringing victim of the “lamestream media” (which in fact promoted her like the greatest thing since toothpaste, even before she became one of its highly paid components), she raged about how libruls were out to get her with “blood libel” – a term that probably was not deliberately offensive, but just typically clueless.
Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh declared that the assassin had the full support of the Democratic Party (even though the prime victim was one of their own). The head of the Tuscon Tea Party said that getting shot was Giffords’ own damn fault. Media talking heads lambasted “liberals” for supposedly exploiting this tragedy for political gain – even while the Tea Party Express was evoking the incident in fundraising emails. Many suggested that the whole thing might not have happened if only libruls hadn’t tried so hard to take away our guns, and everyone at Safeway had had one so we could’ve had a good old-fashioned Arizona shootout. (In fact, Arizona has some of the most lax gun laws in the universe, and firearms there are more abundant than rattlesnakes.) Bill O’Reilly, who apparently never listens to his own network or even his own words, fumed at those who dared question his brand of discourse as “merchants of hate” whose actions are “unprecedented”.
In my endless exploration of propaganda, I recently came across a website that promises “conservative commentary with an edge” (Is there any other kind of “conservative” commentary these days?) on which the moderator indignantly denied that any leading right-wing politicians had uttered incendiary statements. I promptly enlightened him about a few that readily came to mind, including Tea Party fanatic Sharron Angle, who very nearly was elected senator in Nevada after urging voters to “take out” Harry Reid and mentioned “Second Amendment remedies” as an option when you don’t get what you want. Well sir, he really went on a tear then, declaring that I was obviously one of them moon-eyed libruls, and I was quoting her out of context because she clearly was referring to arming yourself in general against guvmint tyranny (such as, oh, the current administration) and meant that you should FIRST try to take out Reid at the voting booth, and how could I be such an idiot as to think she was actually encouraging violence against elected American officials. Despite the well-demonstrated futility of attempting a real discussion with a frothy-mouthed ideologue, I couldn’t resist asking just, um, what country he thought “Second Amendment remedies” alluded to, anyway.
Within days of the massacre, as Gabrielle Giffords lay fighting for her life, fans of Sarah Palin weighed in on a Facebook page, and one had this to say about the 9-year-old girl murdered in the attack: “Christina Taylor Green was probably going to end up a left wing bleeding-heart liberal anyway. Hey, as “they” say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly.” If you think the other posters reprimanded her, think again. The next comment was about how “liberals are gong to use this as an excuse to take away all guns.” These folks haven’t just drunk the Kool-Aid, they’ve been baptized in it by total immersion. And sooner or later you have to wonder what kind of ideology would attract such life forms in such large numbers. For while it’s certainly not fair to judge any group by its dregs, these sentiments are all too typical of what you hear expressed at Tea Party gatherings, and by the faction’s political and media leaders.
For a very short time, it looked like there was going to be an era of civility, sanity and mutual respect in the wake of this tragedy. (Even Glenn Beck posted an appeal to stand against violence – next to a photo of himself brandishing a pistol in an attack-ready pose. You think we’re making this up?) But needless to say, it was very short-lived. The venomous rhetoric will continue, and so will the violence and threats of violence. It’s just too profitable to give up. Eventually, there probably will be a massacre on a much larger scale, and odds are that such an incident might include a right-winger or two among its victims, if only by sheer chance. Then and only then, perhaps, they’ll finally start to look at the root of the problem. And they’ll no doubt conclude that it must be gay marriage.