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 Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Arizona Shootings Reaction|
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 opportunity...to 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.