January 10, 2011

The Responsibility of the Right for Arizona


The blood has barely dried on the pavement, and we’re already seeing how the right is planning to respond to the hate and vitrol that they’ve been spewing for the past several years – going all the way back to “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” in the Bush years and by deeming anyone who dared question their motives “unpatriotic” all the way up to burning effigies and hurling homophobic and racist slurs at Congresspeople as they walked from office to office, and all the way up to this weekend’s tragic shooting in Arizona.

They’re approaching this from one main angle: the “yeah well you guys can be vitrolic too!” perspective. The goal is to generate a false sense of duality between the left and the right and somehow absolve their own hatred and anger of the responsibility they should feel towards the actions of the shooter in Arizona, Jared Lee Loughner.

Usually the arguments break down like this:
“The venomous rhetoric comes from both sides!” – A popular one, one that almost always breaks down when asked for examples. Why? Because it’s simply not true. No left-wing politician or public figure in the mainstream media have resorted to the same level of anger, hatred, and calls for open violence as the likes of Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, and all of their respective cronies. There’s no doubt there’s extremism on both sides of the line, but only extremists on the right are proud to stand up in front of cheering masses and egg them on, then shake their hands.

“Democrats used a similar map in 2004!” – This one’s a smoke-and-mirrors tactic. By pointing to some similar map at some point in time when the political rhetoric was lower, there was no violent talk surrounding it, and no open calls for violence, the right feels they can somehow justify the existence of the “Take Back the 20” map Palin had on her site, until her people guiltily started trying to scrub it from the Internet yesterday.

“The shooter was liberal/considered liberal by his friends!” and/or “He had books that implied he was more Libertarian/Anti-Government than anything!” – Another smoke tactic, avoiding the core issue – that regardless of the shooter’s personal political perspective (see the incredible piece at Chasing Evil: White Terrorism,) whether he was a registered voter of either party or what he may have said to his friends in high school, his violent behavior was very much part of an overall culture where polticial discourse in America is so far off the rails that it’s impossible for people who disagree with one another to do so civilly, and where people who feel they’re under-represented are so often told by the opposing party that there’s a coming “war.” To point – the fact that right-wingers almost immediately when President Obama took office started buying guns and ammunition, went back to the 90s-style back-woods militia training we saw under President Clinton, and started talking about how there were another “Civil War” coming. You don’t see that nonsense on the left.

“There’s no proof he was politically motivated!” – I beg to differ. The venerable Adele Stan posted a great piece at AlterNet called “How the Right’s Rhetoric Fueled the Actions of Arizona’s Mass Murderer,” and Paul Krugman’s Op-Ed in the New York Times called “Climate of Hate” point directly to the shooter’s political motivations.

“He’s just a nutjob/schizo/mentally ill person, there’s no proof this was political!” – This is another “shift the blame away from my validation of violence” attempt – another example of “I’m going to pretend everything I said yesterday doesn’t affect anyone and say he did this on his own in some kind of vacuum” reasoning that’s common on the right when confronted with the responsibility of their hatred becoming real. The right-wing blogosphere is aflame attacking all of the figures who survived the incident, claiming that the left somehow “planned to blame this on the right” from the get-go, or that the Sheriff or other public officials in Arizona are somehow to blame. Again, nothing could be further from the truth, and they all sum to being attempts at distracting us from the real issue here: the hatred and climate of violence that the right wing has fostered, many thanks to the Tea Party, over recent years.

To me, the creation of a false duality in an attempt to whitewash this hatred and violence, or worse to allow themselves to continue calling for open hatred and violence, is tantamount to being an accessory to these crimes. It is, to me, no different than placing the call for more Loughners to appear and take up arms against anyone the right is displeased with.

Here’s what Krugman had to say:

When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?

Put me in the latter category. I’ve had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since the final stages of the 2008 campaign. I remembered the upsurge in political hatred after Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 — an upsurge that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. And you could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, that it was ready to happen again. The Department of Homeland Security reached the same conclusion: in April 2009 an internal report warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise, with a growing potential for violence.

Conservatives denounced that report. But there has, in fact, been a rising tide of threats and vandalism aimed at elected officials, including both Judge John Roll, who was killed Saturday, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords. One of these days, someone was bound to take it to the next level. And now someone has.

It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

And yet – this is exactly what the right wing would love us to do – to quickly forget, move on, claim he’s just a nut working on his own and that no one really thinks that way. Sadly, it’s simply not the case, and there has been mounting evidence for the past several years to prove it. Here’s what really struck me in his piece, though:

Last spring Politico.com reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness — but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.

And there’s not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.

And it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.

Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.

And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.

There goes that false duality between the left and the right on this. Sure, conservatives can and will come up with isolated incidents of venomous outrage on the left that could potentially be classified in the same arena as what Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh say on the air every single day, but what they’ll never be able to do is come up with examples of progressives arming themselves in preparation for some kind of comiing war. They’ll never be able to turn up progressives burning effigies of congresspeople outside of their offices because of a bill they don’t like. They’ll never be able to turn up incendiary packages at post offices addressed to senators they dislike.

They’ll never be able to come up with the volume and type of vitrol that hits television screens, newspapers, and the airwaves every day from right wing pundits and politicians, and they’ll never be able to come up with it from mainstream figures that are generally accepted as representatives of that political faction. Why? Because it simply doesn’t exist.

Stan had this to say in her piece, which I think is incredibly well written and quoted:

So to those who would like to attribute Loughner’s actions to the Tea Party, I say, hold up; take a breath. But to those on the far right, and to the more mainstream right-wingers who fail to condemn the poisonous claims of the far right, I say, you’re hardly off the hook.

Had the vitriolic rhetoric that today shapes Arizona’s political landscape (and, indeed, our national landscape) never come to call, Loughner may have found a different reason to go on a killing spree. But that vitriol does exist as a powerful prompt to the paranoid, and those who publicly deem war on the federal government a patriot’s duty should today be doing some soul-searching.

On April 19, 2010 — the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City — Bill Clinton, who was president at the time of the attack, published an op-ed in the New York Times, both commemorating the dead and speaking to his fears of another such attack in the future. Note that the Oklahoma City attack came as right-wing leaders expressed outrage at the actions of federal law enforcement at Waco and Ruby Ridge, but also demonized federal workers as a class.

“As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters,” Clinton wrote, “we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged.”

She then goes on to point out that at the same time President Clinton and others were mourning the loss of life in Oklahoma City, gun nuts and enraged Republicans and conservatives alike were massing in Washington DC to ready themselves for a “civil war” they said had already started. A fictional conflict they believed they needed to arm themselves and be ready to kill anyone who disagreed with them over.

So while we take stock and analyze this, and while we hope and urge our politicians to behave like adults and drop the hateful and vitriolic rhetoric (and leave it to the blogosphere, we do it the best without hurting anyone,) let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that there’s some kind of equality here, some kind of “there’s enough hate to go around.” It’s simply a lie, and an attempt by the right to fool themselves into not taking responsibility for this fog of anger they’ve used to their benefit – not only to get Tea Party representatives elected, but also to infect political discourse.

We, as a nation, would be better served if we took responsibility – how much is appropriate and where’s appropriate – for the nature of political discourse in America today, and that means not shoving your head in the sane or hiding from the nature of your own language, conservatives. And it means not letting it slide when you hear it and calling it out immediately as such, progressives.


  1. […] This post was originally published at Not So Humble. Click here to read the post in its original habitat! […]

    Pingback by The Responsibility of the Right for Arizona « Not So Humble @ AlterNet — January 10, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

  2. […] already covered this in The Responsibility of the Right for Arizona, but because it still seems to be a rallying point for idiots who are happier making death threats […]

    Pingback by Not So Humble dot net || Proud Member of the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy » Let’s Get This Straight: There Is No Progressive Equivalent to the Right’s Violent Rhetoric — January 24, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

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