Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Time to Downgrade Violence Talk

Despite what our caller to today's Left Ahead podcast repeatedly returned to, Ryan and I weren't about drawing any correlation or causation between the Saturday murders and maiming in Tucson and right-wing violence rhetoric of the past several years. Instead, we have listened to and read so many takes on such that we were looking at the non-physical aftermath.

We figure that the new GOP House majority will take only this week off from showmanship and brinkmanship — trying to earn re-election credits with symbolic repeal efforts for health-care reform and other progressive legislation. Moreover, we don't expect that the extremists who speak nonstop of overthrowing our government — violently if they think they must and can — will take a hint from the exhausted looks and tones of voters and others.

Most of us are truly stunned by six murders and 14 woundings. Others on broadcast, in papers and on the net seem to:
  • Deny any conceivable connection of insurrection and revolution speech to what individual or group loonies may do
  • Figure a few dozen or hundred victims are the expected price for getting their political desires
  • Make passing mentions of the 9-year-old girl slain as though that covers their compassion quota
  • Dig up whatever real or tenuous links they can to violent left wingers
In other words, there seems to be no bowing or cowing before the national mood and calls for toning down justification of violence for political aims. On that subject, the best I've been has been the Salon piece by Prof. Glenn LaFantasie. He is an historian and sketches our dreadful trail of assassinations and other mayhem. He figures we can't tone anything down until we stop pretending that we are a peaceful, politically sensible nation.

Alas, I fear he's right.

We even had 10 minutes or so of that today with a winger caller (click the player below to get into it; he starts about 15 minutes in). He wasn't the shouting sort, but he was relentless. He loved a few talking points, such as all lefties are trying to blame Tucson on the Tea Party, Barack Obama is as bad or worse than right wingers because he said Dems would bring a gun to a knife fight if the Republicans wanted to mix it up in campaign rhetoric, and something unspecified in the U.S. Constitution gave his side the absolute right to overthrow the government.

He may not be shoot-'em-up crazy, but he was a ranter. I know that he's not the only one and that he gets those talking points from the same places as so many others do.

What is unfortunately plain here is that the current extremely widespread calls for more civil discourse and elimination of the kill-our-enemies rhetoric won't work on a wired segment of the population. Many like our caller are feeling righteous, even pious, in their politics. Ends and means and like that...

My hope is that the larger nation will see this weekend's events as more than a one-off, as a reason to pull back from loose threats and bluster. If they do and start calling their neighbors as well as the media sorts on inflammatory speech, this could be a country where pols might feel comfortable meeting groups of voters to hear their concerns in public places.

Retirees, elementary students, elected officials and just plain voters should not be gunned down. Saying that the shooter, Jared Loughner, was just mentally unbalanced is neither a remedy nor a prophylactic. Saying my side's shrill, harsh, endless calls for violence had nothing to do with a lone loony's actions may feel like a shield from criticism, but it won't work this time.

In fact, as Ryan and I told our caller, we're not about blaming the Tea Party or calling for outlawing all guns. We're not trying to link Sharon Angle or Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh sensationalism directly to Loughner.

No More Wild West

Rather, fairly balanced people much less unstable ones don't need constant reasons to act out paranoia, conspiracy fears or various hatred. This is yelling "Fire!" in the crowded theater, the very limit on free speech long established in U.S. case law. As a big advocate for First Amendment rights, I write that very carefully.

Let's none of us speak of direct links to the shooter. The packet he left in his parents house and future statements he makes might give us some insight here. None of us, perhaps short of the FBI who owns that packet, has any relevant knowledge yet. We may never get any.

Instead, I'm with that historian. We need to acknowledge our sordid culture of political violence. The wild American west should have faded into the past about statehood time. It too many ways it is with us still.

Let's own it ourselves and do what we must to change that.

It is pure craziness to try to justify murder because your candidate didn't get elected or some policy offends you. We need to call out everyone who speaks that way. We need to stop giving them a forum, to stop rewarding them with listeners, viewers and readers...and any advertising revenue that comes with those.

We don't have to play the bunny Thumper in the Bambi movie with his "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." We need to be more like, "if you're talking violence, go behind a closed door and talk to yourself."

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