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False Equivalence, Palin, Violence

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

My post on the Gabrielle Giffords shooting Saturday was written in haste, and with limited information. I’ve wanted to say several things since then, but of course, much of what I wanted to say has already been said better by others. Let me, nonetheless, touch on a few points.

1. The growing evidence that the shooter, Jared L. Loughner, is psychotic does not in any way excuse right-wing political and media figures from responsibility for creating conditions that promote violence. Sure, they aren’t literally responsible for arming Loughner and pointing him toward Giffords. That’s not the point. The point is that by adopting demonizing language and explicitly violent rhetoric, they increase the likelihood of such events.

2. And let’s have none of this false equivalence BS about how both extremes are equally nuts, and if only everyone would be civil. There is no equivalence of far left and far right here. None. The far left has almost no voice. The far right is a dominant force in one of the two mainstream political parties of this country. The far left is ridiculed. The far right is in control of the most powerful cable news station in the country and is taken seriously. The far right isn’t even called the far right. They are called conservatives. They are called Republicans. They are in charge of the House. And they are nuts.

3. Sarah Palin. I wrote about her a lot in the fall of 2008, in my first monthsof blogging. I have stopped. There’s no point repeating myself. But let’s be clear on this point. She is dishonest, she is a loon, she is a phony. And her rhetoric is dangerous. Let’s look again at the famous SarahPAC crosshair ad:

Shortly after the shootings Saturday, it was taken down. And Palin advisor Rebecca Mansour, in an interview by radio host Tammy Bruce, clarified:

“We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights. It was simply cross-hairs like you’d see on maps,” said Rebecca Mansour on the Tammy Bruce radio show. Moreover, there was “nothing irresponsible” about the image, and to draw a line connecting Palin and Saturday’s shooting is “obscene” and “appalling.” … Mansour called the crosshairs “surveyor marks.”

Alas, on November 4th, immediately after the election, Palin herself tweeted:

4. Here are some links to and excerpts from others regarding false equivalency, Palin, and related matters:

(i) Peter Beinart today at the Daily Beast:

The Giffords shooting doesn’t prove that Sarah Palin has blood on her hands. What it does prove is that when it comes to terrorism, people like Sarah Palin have a serious blind spot. On the political right, and at times even the political center, there is a casual assumption—so taken for granted that it is rarely even spoken—that the only terrorist threat America faces is from jihadist Islam. There was a lot of talk a couple of weeks back, you’ll remember, about a terrorist attack during the holiday season. And there’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of years about the threat of homegrown terrorists. Well, we’ve just experienced a terrorist attack over the holiday season, and it was indeed homegrown. Had the shooters’ name been Abdul Mohammed, you’d be hearing the familiar drumbeat about the need for profiling and the pathologies of Islam. But since his name was Jared Lee Loughner, he gets called “mentally unstable”; the word “terrorist” rarely comes up. When are we going to acknowledge that good old-fashioned white Americans are every bit as capable of killing civilians for a political cause as people with brown skin who pray to Allah?

(ii) David Frum today:

As Palin came under a barrage of criticism, Palin supporters stepped forward to offer defenses. The gunsights were not really gunsights. The criticism of Palin was unfair, even “obscene.”

And of course, Palin and her supporters had some justice on their side. Obviously, Palin never intended to summon people to harm Representative Giffords. There was no evidence that the shooter was a Palin follower, and in short order it became evident that he was actuated by a serious mental illness. Whatever you think about Palin’s “don’t retreat, reload” rhetoric, it could not be blamed for this crime.

So – argument won? No. Argument lost.

Palin failed to appreciate the question being posed to her. That question was not: “Are you culpable for the shooting?” The question was: “Having put this unfortunate image on the record, can you respond to the shooting in a way that demonstrates your larger humanity? And possibly also your potential to serve as leader of the entire nation?” …

Of course, Palin has yet to give the answer called for by events. Instead, her rapid response operation has focused on pounding home the message that Palin is innocent, that she has been unfairly maligned by hostile critics. Which in this case happened to be a perfectly credible message. And also perfectly inadequate. Palin’s post-shooting message was about Palin, not about Giffords. It was defensive, not inspiring. And it was petty at a moment when Palin had been handed perhaps her last clear chance to show herself presidentially magnanimous.

(iii) George Packer at The New Yorker blog:

it won’t do to dig up stray comments by Obama, Allen Grayson, or any other Democrat who used metaphors of combat over the past few years, and then try to claim some balance of responsibility in the implied violence of current American politics. (Most of the Obama quotes that appear in the comments were lame attempts to reassure his base that he can get mad and fight back, i.e., signs that he’s practically incapable of personal aggression in politics.) In fact, there is no balance—none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous.

Loughner might, by chance, have been completely unaware of the climate in his hometown. Or he might have been steeped in it. The point is that the climate is dangerous, in Arizona and elsewhere, and the shootings ought to have prompted its purveyors to step back and do some hard thinking. As David Frum wrote yesterday: “This talk did not cause this crime. But this crime should summon us to some reflection on this talk. Better: This crime should summon us to a quiet collective resolution to cease this kind of talk and to cease to indulge those who engage in it.” That was the point of my post, and it’s remarkable that Frum seems to be the only conservative who’s had the courage to say anything like it (other than one Republican senator, who, not so courageously, requested anonymity). At a minimum, human decency should have led Sarah Palin to express regret for the dog whistle she directed against Gabrielle Giffords, among others. Instead, in Palinland and across the right, the attitude has been: Never apologize. But this has been the right’s attitude throughout the Obama era, with considerable political success, and I don’t expect this tragedy to bring a change.

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