Saturday, January 8, 2011

Because it was only a matter of time before someone got hurt

No snark this week, sorry.

Those that know me know that I've had a passing interest in the increasing pattern of violent and eliminationist rhetoric coming out of the political sphere in the past few years, and concern over the dangerous effect it may have within our political culture. Part of it is my background in the reproductive rights debate. When you deal with extreme anti-choicers on a daily basis, you learn that people just aren't as rational and decent as we really want to believe. You learn that people that feel they are justified in their violent fantasies will do things. Part of it is my background in psyche, in which I know that we aren't actually the unique wonderful snowflakes we pretend to be, but are instead a horribly boring, predictable species that is easily led astray. And part of it is that I probably read to much Dave Neiwert, whose been doing the yeoman's work on political extremism in this country since the 90s.

Which is why, in the ramp-up to the 2008 election, I had some concerns about the path that the right wing political machine would take. When the footage from the McCain/Palin rallies started making the rounds, I grew even more nervous. And when no one seemed to bother with pointing out that maybe it's not cool to joke about killing your political opponents, I grew even more wary, because this couldn't possibly end well. And this was why I was able to predict how this would end up playing out back in 2008.

I was told by a colleague that I should elaborate on the point. I never did, because I wasn't sure how to without being guilty of what I was condemning. How do you point out that a faction of American politics is ripe for violent acts without tarring them with the same brush you are attempting to wipe clean? Logically, we know that the majority of people would not resort to extreme violence, so it would be unfair to say something like, "The Tea Party are a bunch of violent motherfuckers". It's just not accurate. But I think what's being missed is that it doesn't take the majority. It just takes a few psychos to that feel they've been given a justification. So I'd just point out what I have continuously done in the past, that the problem isn't that crazy people exist. The problem is that they are being given a justification for violence against their fellow Americans. And I'm sorry, guys, but it's not the left-wing of the country that has mainstreamed this sort of rhetoric this time.

And as we saw yesterday, another "isolated" incident has occurred in Arizona, which Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head, along with thirteen other people. As of this posting, five are dead. And the assumptions begin, starting with a book list that includes Ayn Rand, Adolf Hitler, and The Communist Manifesto, and ideals that include flag-burning and a refusal to adhere to anything but a gold standard. In short, perfect fodder for pretty much any political assumption one really wants to attach to it, we are warned. So already the serious people are urging not to turn this into a political event.

As if it can be discussed as anything else.

It's only about the psycho that carried out the act, they tell me. We can't know for sure what his political leanings are. We can't know for sure what the actual motivation was. This was more then likely a random act of violence that has no bearing on the country at large; to point out otherwise is nothing more then a cynical political ploy. But you know what? I can't take their advice this time.

Because it was the same thing they told me when Joseph Stack crashed his plane into a federal building in Texas after composing a screed against the government.

Because it was the same thing they told me when Jim Adkisson shot up the Knoxville Unitarian Church because of his "hatred of the liberal movement".

Because it was the same thing they told me when Scott Roeder shot Dr. George Tiller in the head after years of harassment egged on by those that called him a murderer of children.

Because it was the same thing they told me when Bryon Williams was caught on the way to shoot up the Tides foundation, which few had heard of until it was promoted by a pundit on Fox as being dangerous to America.

Because it was the same thing they told me when Tom Perriello's brother had the gas lines to his house cut after his address (assumed to be the congressman's) was posted on the local Tea Party website over anger regarding Health Care reform.

Because it was the same thing they told me when Richard Poplawski ambushed and fatally shot police officers because of the fear of an upcoming gun ban by the Obama adminstration.

Because it was the same thing told to me when they shot up and mailed fake anthrax to Congressman Raul Grijalva's headquarters, when Lauren Valle was curb stomped at a Rand Paul rally, when they were faxing pictures of nooses to Congressman James Clyburn, when they threw bricks through the windows of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter's headquarters and warned of waiting snipers.

And I'm sure it's the same thing they told Gabrielle Giffords when they vandalized her offices last March, or when she was included in Sarah Palin's "political crosshairs" map, or when her opponent Jesse Kelly encouraged supporters to come on down and shoot guns with him as part of a "get on target" event to "remove" Giffords from office.

And all the after-the-fact pleas for prayers for victims, all the half-hearted suggestions to not partake in political violence after explaining (wink wink) how liberals are the number one threat to America, all the assurances that these are merely lone wolves and not part of some larger pattern do nothing to for the dead. Nothing. But perhaps a commitment to discontinuing the all out support for those that preach this type of rhetoric will allow these tragedies to be rarer in the future.

And I'm not talking about legal band-aids that merely hide and never address the actual undercurrent of these acts. The problem isn't that pundit X can say what he wants, the problem is that for some reason Republicans react as if it is right and true, and maybe we should give him a talk show or a book deal: Sure, he may go to far sometimes, but he agrees with me politically that Obama is trying to destroy America, and his extreme hostility is so understandable - he's just reflecting the legitimate anger the populace currently has. And we will tell you where to direct that understandable and legitimate hostility you carry around - it's them. The Democrats. The liberals. The gays. The Mexicans. The Muslims. The blacks. They are to blame for your lost job, your lost home, your economic uncertainty - it's their fault. Them.

And with that, a hundred nutjobs get their wings. It's not just me. It's everyone, and only the brave ones are telling it like it is or doing something about it. Sure, it might be extreme, but it's understandable. In the name of liberty, sometimes extremism is warranted.

This is what needs to change. But this is not a job for over-reactive censorship or the violation of civil liberties for political dissidents. It can only be accomplished by the willful decision to be a decent person, for once, and do what is right for your country, not what is right for your fund-raising efforts, your book sales, or the ratings for your radio show. This is something the public has to step up on and hold politicians and pundits accountable for. Maybe it means that you don't vote for the guy even though you agree with his views on progressive taxation. Maybe it means you don't buy that book. Maybe it means you pull your advertising. Or maybe it means that you just speak up and call it out for what it is.

During the 1960s and 70s the newly minted "age of liberalism" crumbled to the ground thanks to the acceptance and embrace of left-wing radicals and extremists that took it too far, and thought of it as the opportunity to push for a revolution of their own desire. The public turned against the liberal movement, even if they had similar goals (namely, the ending of the Vietnam War). This in turn allowed the Republican party to play off of the fear and uncertainty of this seemingly anti-American movement during the 80s (and well into today), and caused liberals to not only run from the radicals themselves, in order to not be seen as condoning it, but to run from liberalism as a whole, because the brand had all but been destroyed by extremists. We are currently seeing a parallel to that history, the overbearing conservatism of the 80s has in return, created a faction of the right-wing that cannot accept a rule by any other, and once again, their own radicals and extremists in the movement are pushing that envelope to create a revolution of their own desire. It is well past time to own up to these elements in their own party, even if the damage done is irreparable in the near future. It will be.

But so far, the alternative of embracing the radicalism has proven to be very beneficial to Republicans in recent years. They've managed to tap into populist anger and direct it at their political foes, and are rewarded with votes and fund-raising opportunities. We're already seeing a hell of a back-lash from right-wing pundits that are taking outrageous offense at the mere suggestion that maybe the rhetoric should be toned down. That this is nothing more then a hit job on Palin (because obviously, she's the real victim here). That this is an attempt to squelch the voices of conservatives. That "both sides do it". So odds are, this will continue until the public itself reacts against it and it becomes a liability, much like it did with the Democrats in the past. Is this assassination attempt the spark that wakes people up?

I'm not optimistic. But then again, I never am. I implore you to prove me wrong this time.


Brad Leclerc said...

Very well said. At some point the pattern becomes too obvious to brush under the rug...and I think that point was passed a LONG time ago.

Adam said...

I've been really thinking about this for the past 24 hours, and I think the blame really does fall squarely on the feet of the Republican leadership/entertainment-ship who has increasingly used stronger and more violent rhetoric to cover for the fact that their actions don't follow their words at all.

The Tea Party exists for a reason, and I like your comparison to 1960s era radicals. There's no major cause like The Draft today, but there are numerous compounding smaller issues that have led a pretty large group of Americans to feel disenfranchisement, anger and now hate.

The problems lies in the misdirection of that anger. It is not the fault of Democrats/liberals that the Tea Party is disenfranchised. It is their own leadership in the GOP. While the Democrats act more or less in the interest of their constituents, the GOP acts in their own political best interest, constituents be damned. And then the real tragedy begins, the GOP leadership covers their selfishness with extreme and now often violent rhetoric to act as misdirection and keep the Tea Party "in line" and against the "liberals, homosexuals, illegals and Muslims". This is a dangerous game, and we just saw the results yesterday.

Of course it also doesn't help that it's so hard to figure out where the entertainment ends and the real politics begins. Is Sarah Palin a political candidate or a celebrity? How much political leadership does Rush really have? What is in bad taste as entertainment becomes sick and dangerous as politics, but does that line even exist anymore?

Stacy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stacy said...

@Brad - Thanks. I think that although many worried about the problem, there wasn't quite a clear pattern until recently, or any act as blatant (not to downplay any of the other terrorist acts, just that they didn't target a politician, so they could be argued away as non-political). So there was a worry that you could be a over-reactive, and when people over-react stupid things happen (for example, there is now a bill presented in Congress in the aftermath here in the states that would ban the use of gun-sight graphics in political literature. This is a very dumb thing, as it's just another path to abuse-prone censorship that won't actually help anything with the situation). But it still floors me how bad it's gotten.

@Adam - Interesting take, I know that people often criticized the culture wars of the past twenty years or so because of that very reason - they saw it as a means of distraction from other issues. Yesterday's abortion debate is today's immigration debate, I suppose. As for the entertainment/politics aspect, the idea that politics has become somewhat of a reality show doesn't help sharpen that line. But I tend to see it as the impact these people have - who's being invited as a keynote speaker at some fundraising event, for example? As for Palin, I see her as more of a symptom then a cause, in some respects. She's never really offered up anything but resentful politics during her time in the spotlight, and I think the fact that she's such a major figure in politics today, that's she's managed to get so far based only on that, speaks to how ingrained politics of ressentiment are in our current political culture.