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.
Yeah, me too. There’s a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on from the “no one could have seen it coming” crowd, which seems to be made up primarily of people who want to make this into an unfortunate isolated incident — and anyway liberals and conservatives are equally bad, right?
No, sorry, they’re not. I’ve read and heard some nasty stuff coming from both sides, no question, but the left doesn’t have a “news” network and a phalanx of radio talk show hosts mainstreaming eliminationist rhetoric. And don’t tell me MSNBC is the same as FOX. Anyone who thinks Rachel Maddow is the left-wing equivalent of Glenn Beck isn’t paying attention.
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.
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.
Maybe it’s the supposed anonymity of the Internet that gives people permission to type the nastiest things that come into their heads without any fear of reproach. Maybe they talk the same way around the dinner table or when they’re out with friends, but now they have an outlet to spew their hatred to lots more people, some of whom are like-minded and some of whom are out of their minds. As Krugman points out, this isn’t about civility or being polite; if I really wished my political pokies games opponents dead, I could couch my desires in the most courteous terms without any name-calling at all. But I’d still be wishing mayhem on fellow human beings.
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.
Let’s do some soul-searching, sure. All of us who comment on politics need to take a step back and remember that everyone involved in the process is a person, not just some pixels on a computer screen. But playing the false equivalency game doesn’t advance this process. Liberals, moderates, and — in the end — many conservatives harshly criticized George W. Bush, but I didn’t see the blatant (or even the subtle) “othering” that has been directed at President Obama. I don’t hear liberal or moderate politicians calling for “Second Amendment” remedies if elections don’t go their way. I don’t hear them questioning the patriotism of their political opponents. I don’t hear them using racist dog whistles to delegitimize the President.
A bunch of sanctimonious bullshit isn’t going to change anything. The honesty of people like Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik should be applauded, not criticized.
He has a US Senator, a right-wing talk show host, Tea Party Nation, and even the Heritage Foundation after him now. Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of trying to characterize a law enforcement official as just another unpatriotic left-winger, we’d all listen to what he said and take it to heart? I’m not holding my breath, but I can dream.
Salon reflects similar views — with lots of good links. Check it out.