Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Shooting of Gabrielle Giffords May Lead to a Momentary Pause in Right-wing Rage, But It is Encoded in Conservative DNA

I wonder if the folks who should be closely listening to Sheriff Dupnik's sage advice and wisdom will do so...

We are learning more details about The Arizona Massacre and Gabrielle Giffords' would be assassin Jared Loughner. For me, this is a difficult issue to write about because the factors leading to Saturday's shootings seem so utterly obvious. Given the Right-wing rage machine, the Conservative imagination's fetish for guns, and a bomb-throwing approach that mates a rhetoric of "real Americans" with a smearing of President Obama as a "Socialist" and a "tyrant," political violence of this scale was a matter of "when" and not "if."

Because of a reluctance to revisit already well-trotted territory, I may or may not post my essay on The Arizona Massacre. So much has been offered on the topic already--much of it far better than I could. To point, the following piece from the Guardian UK is a provocative exploration of the connections between the Arizona Massacre and the Right-wing political imagination.


In the US, where hate rules at the ballot box, this tragedy has been coming for a long time

It was instructive to read elected Republicans' official statements in response to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting for what they did not say. The House Speaker, John Boehner, said: "An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society. Our prayers are with congresswoman Giffords, her staff, all who were injured and their families. This is a sad day for our country." Arizona Senator John McCain issued the following: "I am horrified by the violent attack on representative Gabrielle Giffords and many other innocent people by a wicked person who has no sense of justice or compassion. I pray for Gabby and the other victims, and for the repose of the souls of the dead and comfort for their families. Whoever did this, whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race."

All well and good, and I have no doubt every word is sincere. But you'll note that they are silent on the question of the violent rhetoric that emanates from the rightwing of American society. You don't have to believe that alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, is a card-carrying Tea Party member (he evidently is not) to see some kind of connection between that violent rhetoric and what happened in Arizona on Saturday.

Is he a nut? Of course he's a nut. By definition, anyone who shoots innocent people like that has a screw loose. But nuts come in many varieties. There are some who think Dick Cheney planned 9/11, others who believe the CIA has installed eavesdropping devices in their fillings, and still others who insist they're the reincarnation of Mary Queen of Scots. So what particular type of nut is Loughner? We don't have a full picture yet. But we have enough of one. His coherent ravings included the conviction that the constitution assured him that "you don't have to accept the federalist laws". He called a female classmate who had an abortion a "terrorist".

In sum, he had political ideas, which not everyone does. Many of them (not all, but most) were right wing. He went to considerable expense and trouble to shoot a high-profile Democrat, at point-blank range right through the brain. What else does one need to know? For anyone to attempt to insist that the violent rhetoric so regularly heard in this country had no likely effect on this young man is to enshroud oneself in dishonesty and denial.

I would like to report to you that my nation is in shock, and that we will work together to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. Alas, neither of these things is close to true. Of course an event like this is hard to believe in the moment; but in the context of our times, it's really not surprising at all. Last summer, a California man armed himself and set off for San Francisco with the express intent of killing liberals at a nonprofit foundation that had been pilloried by Glenn Beck and others. Only the lucky accident of his arrest en route for drunk driving prevented the mayhem then.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has documented more than two dozen killings by or arrests of rightwing extremists who intended to do serious political violence since 2008. One Tennessee man killed two worshippers at a liberal church, regretting only that he had not been able to ice the 100 liberals named by author Bernard Goldberg as those most responsible for destroying America. Giffords herself received threats after voting for the healthcare reform bill, and shots were fired through the window of her district office. An event like this has been coming for a long time.

As to the future, some things will change, at least for a while. Sarah Palin will be deeply diminished by this. Speaking about the now well-known cross-hairs imagery over the map of Giffords' congressional district on Palin's website, Giffords herself last year expressed concern about "consequences". Palin pooh-poohed this at the time. Her unctuous and hypocritical "prayer" for Giffords and the other victims will mollify only those who think she can do no wrong. But in general, this hastens that blessed day when we no longer have to pay attention to her self-serving lies and idiocies.

Republicans and even Tea Partiers will have the sense – again, for a while – to steer clear of directly gun-related rhetoric. We won't be hearing much in the near term about "second amendment remedies" and insurrection and so forth. But this will be temporary. Guns are simply too central to the mythology of the American right, as is the idea of liberty being wrested from tyrants only at gunpoint. For the American right to stop talking about armed insurrection would be like American liberals dropping the subjects of race and gender. It's too encoded in conservative DNA.

In addition, contemporary American conservatism has been utterly arrested by this ridiculous paranoid fantasy that our government is a tyranny. Here was Republican Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia, speaking in Washington last April on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing: "Fellow patriots, we have a lot of domestic enemies of the constitution, and they're right down the Mall, in the Congress of the United States – and right down Independence Avenue in the White House that belongs to us. It's not about my ability to hunt, which I love to do. It's not about the ability for me to protect my family and property against criminals, which we have the right to do. But it's all about us protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government." The year before, this same Broun singled out then-Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, as one such "domestic enemy of the constitution". He was re-elected last November with 67% of the vote.

This kind of rhetoric will go into hibernation now, but only for a bit. Because not only is it too central to rightwing mythology; it is central to Republican electoral strategy. This is one of those things that no one says, because it can't really and truly be proved forensically, but everyone knows. Get people to hate liberals. Get them to think not only that liberals have ideas for the country that are wrong – get them to believe that liberals despise the country and are actively attempting to hasten its demise. Say progressivism isn't just invalid or even dangerous, but "evil" and a "cancer," as Glenn Beck says. Fear gets people to the ballot box.

Direct responsibility for what happened Saturday? No. Mentally ill people are mentally ill. The Beatles weren't responsible for the messages that Charles Manson heard in their music. But there's a difference. Paul McCartney had no earthly reason to think that an innocent song about a fairground ride (Helter Skelter) would lead a man to commit barbarous acts of murder. Today's Republicans and conservative commentators, however, surely understand the fire they're playing with. But they do it, and a tragedy like Saturday's won't stop them, as long as they can maintain a phoney plausible deniability and as long as hate continues to pay dividends at the ballot box.


Anonymous said...

I read in an article about the shooter that he said that the government was controlling grammar and had a 'huh?' moment. Then another article linked this comment to a David Wynn Miller. It actually hurts my brain to read samples of this junk at the Wikipedia article.

Both the right and left have nuts, and nuts with violent undertones, but I think the Tea Party has created an aura of legitimacy around many of the rightist crazies.

Batocchio said...

Anonymous is right about the tea partiers giving an "aura of legitimacy" to this crap, but the false equivalency on this stuff many media and political figures are spouting is inaccurate and hurts the situation rather than helping it.

Yes, both the left and right have nuts, but who exactly is denying that? The more important factors are numbers, degree and power, where there's no equivalence. Authoritarianism by its very nature tends to be conservative. The same goes for black-and-white thinking. Eliminationist rhetoric is common on the right, and fairly rare on the left. There are extreme nutjobs on the conservative side who are major political figures either in media or in Congress, while the same really isn't true of the left. There are birthers in Congress. It's hard to even think of a left-wing equivalent.

Here's an idea. Call out all extremism, no matter who does it. Fact-check all political figures. Try to be fair-minded. However, if you actually do that (as many liberal activists and a small number of self-described conservatives do), you'll quickly discover that one side's rap sheet is much longer and much more damning. It's hard to find a single major issue where conservative political figures aren't routinely spouting falsehoods (death panels, global warming, the estate tax hits family farms, etc.), and a significant percentage of conservative rank and file actually believe that crap. Again, neither is true of the left.

Call out the extremism, but please drop this "both sides do it" or "are equally to blame" crap as a predetermined conclusion regardless of the evidence. At best, "both sides are to blame" is a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to keep the peace... but one side's been aggressively breaking that for some time now. Check out the compilations of tea party signs suggesting violence. Check out the "insurrection" timeline Digby linked this weekend. More honesty, and less false equivalencies, please.

Garry said...

This whole story gives me the creeps! My deepest condolences to the victims and their families. Wishing Giffords and all the wounded a speedy recovery.

Constructive Feedback said...


I applaud when you act out in a manner that is in line with my model of you.

The one question that I have for you is to ask about your seeming inability to see beyond that which your ideological enemies are doing?

If we transparently accept your notion of "right wing violence" being attributed to their DNA - its proves curious since there is NO "right winger" on this earth that has any GENES that differ from your own.

I thought that only conservatives molested SCIENCE for their own purposes?

Still - it is far more curious to consider the VIOLENCE that transpires in abundance but goes unmentioned by you for no other reason than it falls outside of the ideological snare that you have established.

What should the Street Pirates who have kept the undertakers business, insuring that indeed 2011 will be a profitable year think of your assessment? They are unable to receive due notice from you because you believe them to be an unworthy "threat".

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...

@Anon--The environment is toxic. As I said, we can't play the false equivalency game that the msm and the Right want us to.

@Batochio--See the above. You, me, and others see the eliminationism game in full effect here. That is what really scares me to be honest, how the Right can win the language wars, marginalize people, and inspire violence, and then say "who me?" The Left and the Dems are punks...sorry to say it. How can they stand for this rally around the flag we are all in this together mess, when in reality the Right has put them in a stew pot and turned up the heat? The Right plays the personal responsibility game--except when they should take responsibility.

I am at a loss. Truly.

@Garry. So sad. Very much so. We have to send them positive energy.

@Disembodied white head black man named Constructive Feedback: All your base are belong us...

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote]@Anon--The environment is toxic. As I said, we can't play the false equivalency game that the msm and the Right want us to.[/quote]

I am right this second editing down the Rachael Maddow show from last night. I have long called out Progressive Snarling Foxes like Maddow for purposely avoiding the carnage on the streets of BLACK AMERICA.

In as much as Maddow ran through about 12 massacres over the past 30 years it is clear that she is aware of the slaughter.

You know the constant cry of "A Black Missing Person Can't Get News Coverage" that often appears from Black Progressive-Fundamentalists? The case against Maddow should be seen in that same view.

Since there is no POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM involved in calling out murderous Street Pirates - AND - Black people might lash at her for calling the "Criminals" - she stays silent about it.

You are correct about the FALSE EQUIVALENCE about violent talk and violent results. The HOMICIDE database says it all.

What we now need for you to do is to remove the fake veil of cover which says that POLITICAL SPEECH is more important than COMMERCIAL/ENTERTAINMENT speech.