Sunday, January 9, 2011

Terrorism in Tucson

The terrorist attack in Tucson has brought the issue of inflammatory political rhetoric to the forefront. On the left, Keith Olbermann has publicly apologized for any such remarks he may have made, whether intentional or inadvertent. On the right, Sarah Palin’s handlers disavow any connection between the rifle cross-hairs pointing to Congresswoman Gifford’s district and intent to incite violence. As far as I can tell, Sharron Angle has been silent about her “second amendment remedies.”

Mainstream media mouthpieces posit that the violent rhetoric has been coming evenly from all parts of the political spectrum, and it needs to be toned down. At least they got the second part right.

We will probably never know how much the rhetoric on hate radio and anti-government blogs has influenced the alleged shooter in Tucson. From media reports, this young adult was mentally compromised, and the extent to which these external factors influenced his violent actions can only be speculated upon.

Both sides of the political spectrum have had a history of violent actions in their attempt to convey their messages. The SDS in the ‘60s and Timothy McVeigh in the ‘90s are just two examples.

Both sides have also had politicians who are considered “over the top” by the other side. On the left, former Congressman Alan Grayson’s contention that the Republican health care program was to encourage people not to get sick, coupled with his bombastic chart-filled display of emotion on the House floor, was considered inappropriate by the anti-health care faction. On the right statements like “If I could issue hunting permits, I would officially declare today opening day for liberals” from Republican congressional candidate Brad Goehring fan the flames that potentially could set off mentally unstable assassins like the one in Tuscon.

At the risk of generalizing, there’s a big difference. Leadership on both sides of the political spectrum condemn violence. But while Democrats’ statements are unequivocal, the right wing’s response is atypically nuanced. Sarah Palin’s Facebook response to the Tuscon terrorism was perfunctory: “We all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice.” There was nothing in her statement saying that violence has no place in our political discourse. Republican representative Blake Farenthold was unapologetic when he said, "Our politics takes place in the halls of Congress and at the ballot box. It doesn't happen at a barrel of a gun. This is clearly an isolated incident." Apparently Farenthold never heard of Dr. George Tiller or Dr. Barnett Slepian.

Undoubtedly, the pundits are right - the rhetoric needs to be toned down. But rhetoric is more than words - and especially words that convey their message with the wink of an eye. Until demagogues like Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson are marginalized by all those in power, there will be a monkey wrench in the gears of democracy that make America great. If we continue to enable these purveyors of violence not by what we say, but by what we don’t say, then the difference between our government and that of the Somali war lords is just a matter of degree.

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