I was out of town over the weekend, and mostly in a no-news hole, so the news of the Arizona shootings came as a shock to me. And yesterday, I was stuck in weather-related traffic for hours upon hours, and that gave me plenty of time to think about what I wanted to say about it. Upon my return, I saw that KTK had already weighed in (I haven’t yet read his post), but I still wanted to give my own take. Then I saw that Paul Krugman already said just about everything I would have. Go forth and read.
Let me be clear on a couple of points: I’m not calling on any laws restricting violent rhetoric, or indeed, for any government action of any kind. What we need, instead, is for decent people everywhere to reject and condemn such rhetoric, even when it comes from people you’d normally otherwise agree with. Words have meanings, as the old expression goes, and you can’t be surprised if some nutjob actually acts on “don’t retreat, reload” type rhetoric.
Also, as faux-offended conservatives have been quick to point out, such rhetoric is not exclusive to the right. But while that’s technically true, saying that both sides are guilty of it is rather like saying Winona Ryder and Jeffrey Dahmer are both “criminals.” Such rhetoric has come almost exclusively from the political right (and the “tea party” wing in particular). When revolutionary, eliminationist rhetoric becomes the norm, can we really be all that surprised when somebody acts on it? We don’t yet know what motivated the Arizona shooter, but would it surprise you in the slightest if he turns out to be a big Glenn Beck fan?
One more final, depressing note: I drove across Texas and Arkansas yesterday, and flipped through a lot of talk radio in the process. Not only are right-wing talking heads not doing any soul-searching in the wake of this atrocity; they actually seem to be doubling down on that sort of rhetoric. I swear to you, I actually heard one of them say that if President Obama continues “his assault on free enterprise,” the people are going to be “grabbing torches and pitchforks.” Two days after apparently political violence took six lives and endangered several more.
As long as talking heads (right, left, or otherwise, but especially right in this case) continue to spew such hate without even a modicum of accountability, we can expect it to continue. So as Krugman says, this will be a good test for the mainstream right: will they distance themselves from the quasi-revolutionary provocateurs, or will they embrace them? Sadly, I’m not optimistic about which one they’ll choose.
UPDATE: A point of clarification, which I thought I stated somewhere above but apparently didn’t. Ultimately, the nutjob is responsible for his own actions, so I’m not saying that people who engage in eliminationist rhetoric are somehow directly responsible. At the same time, however, by consistently using such language, they’re creating an environment in which, for some at least, the previously-unthinkable becomes thinkable, and the previously-indefensible becomes defensible. As I said to Judd, the Becks and Palins aren’t to blame, but they aren’t blameless either.
Worse, though, are the fans who have elevated the Becks and Palins to the status of “people we ought to take seriously,” and that’s why I say the “right answer” is for ordinary people of all political stripes to condemn that nonsense early and often. Glenn Beck should be on an obscure public access channel, not a top-rated cable network; and that’s not about the network, but about the viewers. If the viewers stop viewing, the network will stop airing.