Violent Political Imagery and Rhetoric Leads To Real Violence - Should We Be Shocked?
Violent Political Rhetoric Leads To Real Violence
I had been considering writing a Hub on the subject of violent political imagery and rhetoric for a few months now out of fear over what might grow out of it. Now on January 8, 2011 Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Federal Court Judge John Roll, a nine year old girl, and several others were shot in Tucson, Arizona by a deranged 22 year old man. One could see this coming especially in a state like Arizona where the political passions are running extraordinarily high. Tea Partiers and those on the right of the political spectrum often talk about taking their country back and using Second Amendment solutions. Political rhetoric such as this creates an atmosphere of fear and hate that can only inflame passions on all sides.
This type of speech is of course constitutional and legal. It is also most certainly irresponsible and dangerous. Now let me make clear that that I am not saying that public officials and figures that use this type of rhetoric are directly responsible for these shootings or any other incidents. I would also like to state that most Republican and conservative politicians are careful and moderate in their political speech. But there are those on the right wing as well as Tea Party leaders who relish pushing the political envelope with their rhetoric to advance their political views and prospects.
Texas Governor Rick Perry played the Texas secession card in his latest Gubernatorial campaign. Others have brought back the idea of state nullification of federal laws especially in response to the new Healthcare Reform law. These statements and ideas hearken back to the Civil War era when state nullification notions led to the secession of the southern states and subsequently the start of the Civil War. They also lead to incredibly heated situations in our current political environment. The Congressional town hall meetings held in 2009 in regards to the Healthcare Reform bill are examples of these. Citizens opposing the bill peppered their Representatives with constant barrages of negative statements and vindictive comments which rendered most of these meetings useless. Several shoving matches also developed. It was widely reported that healthcare reform opposition leaders had drawn up a tactics manual that directed these people on the best ways to disrupt the meetings.
The Tea Party demonstrations are another example of incendiary speech and actions that are becoming increasingly dangerous. Many of the signs and banners at these events depicted President Obama in very hideous ways. Examples of these are signs showing the President with a Hitler mustache and the President compared to Osama bin-Laden. Several Tea Party attendees were shown with clearly visible firearms while Tea party speakers advocated for Second Amendment remedies to take their country back.
It is within this atmosphere of vitriol that events such as the shootings at the Rep. Gabrielle Giffords "Congress on the Corner" event occur. Rep. Giffords is a quite moderate Democrat who is well liked on both sides of the aisle in Congress and with her peers in Arizona. She advocates for sensible solutions to the issues of the day including illegal immigration. Here she calls for greatly increased border protection in conjunction with small and steady steps towards a path to legalization for illegal immigrants. She is also a champion of gun ownership rights which in many cases is at odds with the Democratic leadership. She also voted against Rep. Nancy Pelosi for Minority Leader this past week.
Yet one of the champion's of the Right, Sarah Palin, decided to place Rep. Giffords on her political hit list. Her district and name was highlighted by a gun's crosshairs. This example of incendiary political theater is obviously and prophetically dangerous. Mrs. Palin and other conservative leaders love to use terms of battle and war to illustrate their political fights. They argue that these are only metaphorical terms and not an actual call to arms. But not all followers and not all citizens are cognizant of these nuances. So now a 22 year old man, Jared Lee Loughner, shoots 20 people including Rep. Giffords and kills 6 at her community event. His MySpace page included among his complaints, a hatred for government and the illiterate citizens of his district. This sounds to me like a veiled reference to illegal immigrants. These are favorite complaints straight out of the Far Right playbook. This is clearly in my estimation an example of how this violent political rhetoric of hate can influence extremely disturbed personalities and send them over the edge into violence.
The Pima County Arizona Sheriff Clarence Dupnik stated in a news conference shortly after the shootings, that the extreme and provocative political talk on radio and television have created an atmosphere of anger, hatred, and bigotry in this country worse than he has ever seen. He further stated that Arizona has become a mecca for prejudice and bigotry. Sheriff Dupnik is on the front lines of these problems which makes him an authority to speak out about them.
Rep. Giffords barely defeated her Republican challenger, Jesse Kelly, in November. One of his campaign promotions was an invitation to his supporters to join him at a rally entitled "Get On Target For Victory In November". One theme of the rally was to shoot an M-16 automatic rifle to defeat Rep. Giffords.
Now I know that it is Jared Lee Loughner who is primarily responsible for this massacre. There are many that feel that it is wrong to assign any blame to anyone else except the suspect. I strongly disagree. The poisonous political atmosphere that I have outlined in this Hub especially in Arizona must have influenced this young madman and gave him the impetus to act on his lunacy. Both the political right and left are guilty of over the top political rhetoric. This needs to stop on both sides for the sake of our democracy.
Violent political imagery and rhetoric, especially from the Far Right who are the prime proponents of this tactic, must also cease. It is the fuel that fans the flames of the unstable personalities of some of our citizens. This has now become a public safety issue. No more talk of taking our country back with Second Amendment remedies. No one's country was ever taken away. Fair elections were held both in 2008 and 2010. The Democrats won in 2008 and the Republicans won in 2010. Our democracy worked both years as it always does. The Constitution is being followed. If laws are passed that may be unconstitutional, the Supreme Court will strike them down. The checks and balances written into our Constitution to prevent any one branch of government from gaining too much control is working as it should.
Therefore it is time for public figures both in government and the media to stop employing these violent rhetorical tactics. My hope is that we all might start using a novel idea that I and other common sense people have been proposing for a long time. Debating issues honestly without hyperbolic language. Also listening to the other side in a serious attempt to reach common ground. Media commentators should stop going to extremes in their arguments and their tone just to garner higher ratings. Yes, this includes all media and not just FOX and conservative radio.
Politicians should do the same and stop playing to the extreme wing of their party. Yes, I know they are the ones that vote in the primaries, donate money, and volunteer for candidates. But political courage is now in order. Our democracy is being subverted by these tactics and sensible solutions to difficult issues is being delayed or crushed. Public safety both for public figures and private citizens is also in danger. Let's stop all this nonsense and come together for the sake of our country.