Thursday, January 13, 2011

Meet the New Year - Worse Than the Old Year

After the holidays I had planned to write a typical New Year's post reflecting on the past year, and talking about this year's resolutions. I hadn't gotten around to it before the tragedy in Tucson took place. Now it seems like a moot point. Given the larger issues surrounding us, my paltry resolutions to have more self-control, eat less, drink less, etc., now seem totally petty.

So here we are, barely into 2011, and six people have been killed, and 13 wounded, at a "Congress on Your Corner" event in Tucson, AZ, hosted by Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was badly wounded in the attack by a 22-year-old man, Jared Loughner.

I spent two days on Facebook, reading and commenting on a myriad of links, articles and other people's postings. Immediately after the shooting, many of us on the left, including myself, blamed those on the right who have fomented violence through their hateful rhetoric.

But as time went on, it became apparent that Loughner was not particularly political, despite the fact that he talked about currency and other subjects sometimes discussed by the far right; he seemed to be mentally unbalanced, possibly a schizophrenic. His obsession with Gabrielle Giffords did not seem to be directly in response to any right wing speech, but instead tied in to his bizarre beliefs about government, the currency, and other strange delusions that he had harbored for several years. In fact, he had attended one of Giffords' Congress on Your Corner events as long ago as 2007, and disliked her response to a question he had asked. Friends said he had changed radically from the person he was earlier in high school, consistent with the age at which schizophrenia often begins in young men.

Could the partisanship and hateful rhetoric, the gun imagery and other events have given him encouragement? Maybe, maybe not. We'll never know. If anything, he seems to have been out of touch with reality and living more in a world of "lucid dreaming," which was a subject he was most interested in during the last few months, according to acquaintances. There is no evidence that Sarah Palin's "crosshairs" map had anything to do with him shooting Representative Giffords.

I have to admit I was as riled up as anyone right after this happened, and was posting links to petitions saying Sarah Palin should be prosecuted for being an accessory to murder. But the more strident these accusations became against Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, O'Reilly and the rest, and the more I read about Loughner, I realized it just wasn't their fault that this troubled man pulled the trigger.

That said, do I believe that hateful rhetoric COULD lead to violence among radical followers of these rightwing pundits and politicians? Absolutely, yes. We know this can happen, we've seen it before. Did it happen in this case? Hard to say.

So, how have the spokespeople on the left and right reacted to this tragedy?

The first responses from the right were to strike back against the left for accusing them of fomenting this madman's rage. Bill O'Reilly called out the New York Times, Paul Krugman, and the left in general, calling them "merchants of hate" and castigating them for accusing the right of causing the shootings. Later he said that he himself has to have security at all times due to threats he receives but the New York Times never mentions that.

Rush Limbaugh attacked the Democrats directly, saying the gunman had the "full support" of the Democratic party.

And what did Sarah Palin do? After her first response (on Facebook) expressing her condolences for the victims and their families on January 8, on the 12th she posted a video, which probably was meant to make her look Presidential, in which she took the opportunity to reaffirm her right to exercise her freedom of speech. There was no inkling that maybe, just maybe, she might have gone too far in her gun-related metaphors; that maybe she, among others, had contributed to a climate of violence in this country not seen since the 1960s. Oh no, it was all about her being the victim of people who were "attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event." And on top of that she called this an attempt to establish a "blood libel." She has to have known this was a painful reference for people of Jewish heritage, since it refers to the canard that Jews murder Christian children and use their blood in their religious ceremonies. Did she know this? Did she care? If you can stomach it, here is Palin's speech:

Sarah Palin: "America's Enduring Strength" from Sarah Palin on Vimeo.
OK, so what about the left? Are they innocent of fomenting a climate of hate? Maybe not completely. During Bush's tenure as President, there were many left wing radicals who did post hateful rhetoric and protesters carrying signs that urged others to "kill Bush," showing him as a Nazi, etc. (See below for a few examples:)

However, there is a big difference. The left has never had the kind of media pundits that the right has had, nor as many; these signs were carried by ordinary people - shameful, yes, wrong, yes, but people who did not have a lot of power to influence others. In addition, during Bush's administration, protests were often carefully kept at a distance and out of the headlines. We didn't see these signs on television all the time the way people have seen the Tea Partiers and their signs during the Obama administration.

The left has various publications and blogs to get their message out; and Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann and a few others on television. But liberal talk radio has never really taken off, for whatever reason. Maybe liberals are just less apt to waste their time calling in to spout off their views on the radio. Maybe liberals are more apt to write rather than talk. I don't know the reason.

What I do know is, that Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, although clearly liberals, don't go around comparing the Republicans to Nazis and implying death threats. And how did they react to the Tucson shootings?

Rachel went through a litany of previous horrific killings that have all taken place since Jared Loughner was born, showing that he did grow up surrounded by violence, and that America is a violent country. She also pointed out that, after Yemen, the United States is THE most heavily armed country in the world.

And what of Keith Olbermann, the more outspoken partisan of the two? He called for an end to using gun metaphors, and called for violent rhetoric to end. But in addition he apologized for any times he himself has gone over the edge in this regard.

You'll never hear Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly or Sarah Palin ever apologize for anything. Yes, they were right to say this tragedy should not be politicized. But they are the ones politicizing it themselves and refusing to share in any regret for the possibility that their words could spur violence - maybe not for this particular incident, but for another incident yet to come. And that is one of the differences between the left and the right.

Overall, the right has a stronger effect on the national discourse than the left and the results have been skewed against the left.

As S.W. Anderson says over at "Oh!Pinion,"

"Despite words to the contrary from CNN’s Jon King and others, there is no equivalence of violence-inciting rhetoric from the left and right. Nor is there anything remotely approaching equivalence when it comes to violent acts against public officials and political candidates."

But he goes on to warn that if the current climate continues, it's only a matter of time before both sides get in on the violence. Please take the time to go read his excellent post.

The hateful rhetoric needs to stop to keep us, as a country, from going over the edge into chaos.

Jon Stewart summed up his reactions on Monday night's Daily Show. His thoughts were what made me start to rethink my initial reaction to blame the right for the shooting.

"Did the toxic political environment cause this?...I have NO f*cking idea."

He then points out that the urge to blame is understandable, because it would mean that there could be a way to prevent this kind of incident. However, he goes on to say that unfortunately, that's not the case: "You can't outsmart crazy."

But the other important thing he said was that it would be "really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn't in any way resemble how we actually talk to each other on TV."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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At the end Stewart says:

"For all the hyperbole and the vitriol that's become a part of our political process, when the reality of that rhetoric, when actions match the disturbing nature of words, we haven't lost our capacity to be horrified...Let us hope we never become numb to what the real horror, what the real blood of patriots looks like..."

He goes on to say that it would be a "shame if we didn't take this make sure that the world we are creating now...isn't better than the one we've previously lost."

Once again Jon Stewart, a comedian who is starting to be the voice of reason in our time, struck the right tone in the face of this tragedy.

Below is President Obama's speech at the memorial yesterday in Tucson. The President was comforting, inspiring and non-partisan in his speech, encouraging us to heal and not to blame. I hope everyone who heard this speech will really listen to him and take his message to heart, on both sides of the aisle.

And with that, I'll sign off. I'll save till another day my thoughts on what can be done, if anything, to prevent these ongoing tragedies in our country. During my days on Facebook earlier this week I got into some long conversations with a conservative friend of mine about gun control, and of course there is also the issue of how we address the problem of mentally ill people in general.

Members of Congress are proposing laws about having a gun within 1000 feet of an elected official (impractical and rather self-centered I would say), adding Plexiglass to the Congressional chamber (what, on top of the metal detectors I'm sure are already in place?), and worst of all, trying to pass a law outlawing certain types of speech and images (First Amendment rights, anyone?). But those are topics for another day.

I hope that in the coming days Representative Giffords will continue the amazing progress she has made so far, and that she eventually recovers completely. I hope that's not too much to hope for. I also send my deepest sympathies to the families of those killed and injured and I hope that the political discourse will calm down of its own accord in the wake of these events and maybe, just maybe Congress might try to work together for a change. I know, probably too much to ask for. But one has to have hope.


Amanda said...

Well said, Maui. All of it.

I'm almost ashamed to admit that part of me is grotesquely pleased that Sarah Palin botched her pseudo-presidential address so completely. Not just because I think it smashes any hope she harbored for making a run in 2012, but also because, if what I'm seeing on the news is any indication, her poorly chosen diatribe has spurred responsible members of the Republican party on to making actual, reasonable, non-partisan speeches regarding this tragedy.

I'd rather see more cooperation between the parties, than this schism that has been dividing our government and our nation of late. I have hopes.

KGMom said...

It's a tough time. And it's a very difficult issue.
I too was prepared to be informed that the shooter was influenced by the dark forces of our country. But, like you, I have come to think that his demons were the ones inside his head.
If only we could get to the point that guns are a huge problem.

Fran said...

Here are two good piece to read:,_jared_loughner


"Was Jared Loughner's act in shooting Rep. Giffords political? Apparently this is what's being debated with a straight face now. Is this a joke? He shot a politician in the head. He called it an "assassination." What part of that was unclear?"

Another line of thought...


Because language matters. Strong phrases may feel good and righteous in the saying, but their influence goes far and viral these days. The blood that flowed from Gabrielle Giffords, and U.S. District Judge John Roll, and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, and the others killed or wounded in Tucson, was no metaphor.

The Rachel Maddow clip you posted was a chilling reality check. Our country is over the top w guns- to the point that WalMart shoppers can buy special equipment that makes a 12 shot glock pistol into a 30 round weapon.
Armed to the teeth & with more rounds than the average officer would carry.

It is tragic that this happens in communities just going about their business.
So there are many questions-
What was the deal w his parents?
They knew a mental eval was recommended & opted out?
Because they disagreed?
They were fearful of their powderkeg kid?
They did not have the resources?
The parent of the son;s friend said he saw the shooter's parents occasionally in the grocery store- always with a 30 pack of beer?
The parents left their home 2 days ago in a car someone came to pick them up in-- they left in the dark & totally covered their heads & faces.

Why would they hide their faces?
Just seems like something is wrong on the homefront.

Regardless of if they were of the out there tea party ilk- this kid had it out for this politician.
I wonder if the parents were tuned in - right wing radio, or Fox news blaring in the house all day.... hammering those themes of "2nd amendment solutions" (candidate Angle of NV used that slogan). No it's not a crime to listen to Fox news (maybe it should be???)
but I'd like to know the environment of the home where he lived.
Did they help him pay for that gun?

Not only was the shooter seemingly mentally ill, he may have been surrounded by it.

So there are all kinds of issues & questions floating around...

Is our broken health care system extended into mental health-- an easy budget to cut-- no lobbyists stuffing politicians pockets w cash to help protect mental health support & services (unlike the gun lobby).

What was the home environment like?

Do his parents have mental illness or might they be alcoholics?

Fran said...

they also said the shooter was smoking "synergy" a synthetic marijuana

It is allegedly 10 x more potent than pot, currently legal in AZ & can not be tested in labwork like marijuana can.

It can make people hallucinate & become much more than stoned than marijuana. As one user put it in the linked article- it is addictive & made him very out of his mind sick.

Palin- well she's self imploded. She crossed the line. Whether her vitriol triggered this young man to pull the trigger or not- even during that awful campaign-- her loose lips accusing Obama of "palling around w terrorists" was met with a resounding - you've crossed the line blowback.
In any case, that kind of not at all subtle gun/target/reload rhetoric is not benign & it does not belong in civil discourse.
Disagree till the cows come home, but leave your guns, gun references, & implications of violence at home.

I think the Lougner story is more about many pieces of the puzzle. Mental health. Open hatred. Maybe not healthy family (hey nobody is perfect, but one can seek help), alcoholism, and his own dabbling in synthetic marijuana, with the open season for vitriol in the airwaves... easy access to guns, the ability to enhance & increase his firepower, and who knows what else???

We always get proper evaluations after the damage is done.

My heart goes out to all who personally suffered be it a victim, the families or just those rattled by this happening in their community.

Ironically, the Congresswoman was there willing to listen to what people had to say. Availing herself to free speech & the right to gather- peacefully.

May we all heal & learn.

(Dang that was a long post!)

Life As I Know It Now said...

This is a very thoughtful post. It is sad that violence is so entrenched within our culture. The song by Bowie "I'm afraid of Americans" keeps running through my head.

Kulkuri said...

A thoughtful post and comments. I'll just add this about talk radio on the left. I personally get bored listening to the same thing day after day, but those on the right never do. To them listening to Right-WingNut radio is like listening to Shock Jock radio. Listening to see if they'll push it over the line!!

Mauigirl said...

Amanda, I share your hopes. And even though I think America would be smart enough not to elect Sarah Palin as president if she ran, I can't be sure. And if she were to win our country would be in even bigger trouble than it is now, so I welcome anything that causes her to not be a viable candidate - we can't take that chance.

KGMom, I agree, if only people turned as much attention on the problem of guns as they have on the vitriol in today's politics, something good could come out of it. But it isn't likely unfortunately.

Fran, I'd read about that synthetic marijuana only recently. Had no idea how bad it was until then. I suppose it could have played a part - or he could be schizophrenic - or both. Either way mental illness certainly is another aspect of this terrible tragedy. Also, you're right, the family seemed strange too; wonder if we'll ever know the whole story.

Liberality, I don't blame Bowie or anyone else from outside this country if they are afraid of Americans. The amazing thing to me is how kind so many people in other countries still are to Americans despite everything. I remember being in Ireland when Columbine happened, and people were asking us about the gun culture but were very sympathetic (especially when we said we hated guns!).

Kulkuri, that may be the difference - liberals like variety (including a variety of opinions). And I agree about shock jocks, that must be part of the attraction.

susan said...

This really is a very well written piece. I happened to listen to one of Bob Dylan's radio shows on our i-pod today and it was the one he did about guns. In between various old songs he happened to mention that more than 10 billion bullets are sold every year in the US. Considering the programs were made more than 10 years ago it's terrifying to think how many more there are now.

Mauigirl said...

I love Bob Dylan's radio shows, they are always very interesting. That number is very scary.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I just saw your comment over on Jonniker's blog, and wanted to let you know she went in to have a d&c today. (You can follow the story on twitter.) Just thought you'd like to know. Take care.

Mauigirl said...

Oh no, so sorry, thanks for letting me know.

S.W. Anderson said...

Mauigirl, thanks for the kind words. Let me return them, because this is a terrific post.

I will add that a major point of difference between the far left and far right is that on the right you have elected representatives like Michelle Bachmann making threatening, inflammatory statements, whereas on the left what little there is of that comes from a few private citizens on fringes.

Also, as Ed Schultz likes to point out, a big reason there are fewer liberal talk radio shows and stations is because most radio syndicators, chain owners and station owners and managers are conservative businessmen who don't want to carry a liberal message, whether there's an audience and advertisers for it or not.

So, in many places across the country, political talk radio consists of Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and their ilk. In a small town with three stations, one or more of them may be on all three stations, but no liberal alternative is available.

As Randi Rhodes has said many times, in a bunch of places where her show is carried, it's on the low-power station that has to cut its transmitter output in half after dark, diminishing the potential audience drastically.

Dave Dubya said...

Thanks for the level headed perspective.

Although we can't determine the influence of Right Wing hate on Loughnor, There's such a long trail of crimes that clearly where influenced, where FOX(R), Beck, and Limbaugh were cited by the criminals as inspiration.

libhom said...

The views of the shooter that so many are dismissing as merely "insane" are ones that are constantly being pushed by far right blogs and organizations. People who monitor the far right on a regular basis (e.g. the Southern Policy Law Center) have analyzed the shooter's political views and found that they were far right.

Of course, the rightist corporate media have been propagandizing repeatedly to convince us otherwise. That's what those media talking heads get paid to do.

Remember, Palin's terrorist gun target map was a clear and easy to understand set of instructions to shoot and kill members of congress from a different political party. The corporate media will try to brainwash us into a comfortable denial about the facts of the case. It is important that people get out of that false comfort zone and face reality.

Mauigirl said...

SW, you're right - the left doesn't have any counterpart to people like Michelle Bachmann. I kind of meant that when I said that the people who did the hateful things against Bush were not people of any influence unlike the right. Thanks for your further information regarding the reasons there aren't more left leaning radio stations or hosts. Our voices just aren't being heard as much as the right's are.

Dave and Libhom, there is no doubt that the right-wing hate rhetoric does influence people to do harm. Crooks and Liars had a good piece on the subject today, showing all the violent crimes committed by avowed right-wingers who obviously were influenced by the rhetoric they hear. And I do agree the types of ideas that Loughner had are similar to right-wing extremists that can be found online. I just think he is also schizophrenic. Here's the C&L piece:

DRP said...