Tucson: An Eye for an Eye Blinds All

By Al Giordano


"Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.


"Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.”

-    Robert F. Kennedy, April 5, 1968

He spoke those words a day after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, two months and one day prior to his own death from an assassin’s bullet.

Forty-three years later, little has changed in the essence of the American character, except that technology, and in particular, media, have ramped up the echo chamber that takes a violent act in one corner (Memphis, Los Angeles, Tucson) and brings such tragedies and traumas at higher speed and reverberation to every TV room, every workplace, every school, every home, and to the inner dialogue of every lone individual seated at a computer screen or listening to the car radio or consulting his and her mobile device from a million points on the GPS map.

Previous, more intimate, ways of processing national traumas – a conversation with a loved one, a hug for a confused child, the act of stepping out into the evening for a breath of fresh air, a knock on a neighbor's door, a phone call to a confidante, or the rush to a bathroom, nauseous – increasingly have given way to more mechanized and automated reactions. Today, instead or reaching out for physical and verbal human contact, so many of us metaphorically shoot our tears or vomit all over Twitter, Facebook, blogs and online comments sections, like a message in a bottle from a desert island, seeking some kind of response or assurance.

Having been a child during the Kennedy and King assassinations, an adult during that of Lennon and the attempt on Reagan, having reported the Oklahoma courthouse bombing of April 1995 and its political consequences (which similarly came after Republicans had taken the US House of Representatives, and echoes perhaps the loudest among past traumas regurgitating themselves today) and, of course, that freshest of national traumas, the events of September 11, 2001 – a date when a child was born only to be gunned down in a Safeway supermarket in Arizona on January 8, 2011 –  I, like so many of you, have lived these and other similar histories.

Honestly, I can’t say that I’ve been very proud to be an American, or a liberal (or a progressive, or whatever the word-du-jour is for a gringo that says he is opposed to the right wing) in the past 48 hours. And that’s because what I’ve mainly heard from so many who describe themselves as of the “left” since the Arizona shooting reminds too perfectly of the reaction of the “right” to the events of September 11, 2001, and, precisely, of Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleisher’s infamous scoldings at that moment that, quote, “There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that. There never is.”

(Fleischer was responding to cable TV comedian-turned-pundit Bill Maher’s critique of mechanized technologies of war, although nobody remembers that as much as we remember Fleischer’s official response.)

Back then – only a decade ago – it was the American right that seized upon the traumas caused by the 9/11 attacks to demonize, intimidate, silence and attempt to censor those they perceived as rivals: All of Islam, Iraq in particular, and, at home, anyone who would openly disagree their own ideologies and dogmas, especially liberals or those uncomfortable with war. Leaders of the religious right went so far as to blame the events of 9/11 on abortion and sexual promiscuity, and so many others tossed their own “pet issues” into the mix. When trauma turns to fear, the masses are so easily manipulated, as every aspiring tyrant of any ideology has always known. The political environment created during the Bush administration (and its willing lackeys in the commercial media like the disgraced Judith Miller, then of the New York Times, manufacturing false “evidence” of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq) led to two wars and multiplied the human suffering and death toll from thousands to millions because in an age of advanced technology the axiom of “an eye for an eye” quickly leads to “a thousand eyes for an eye.”

Much ado has been made in recent hours about Sarah Palin’s map that expressly “targeted” Arizona US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ district, and others, with graphic gun sights, and also of Palin’s (and others’) ham-handed attempts to “scrub” her own images and statements from the Internet, as well as similar use of lock-and-load ballistic language by Republicans, including by the 2010 campaign rival of Giffords who, contrary to the initial hurried media reports, still lives (for now) after a bullet went through her brain on Saturday. And, yes, all such propaganda was and is stupid and reckless, bad speech that can only be countered by good speech.

And certainly there is truth to the statement by Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik after Saturday’s shooting in his county: “I'd just like to say that when you look at unbalanced people, how they are—how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths, about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

And yet the existence of good and decent Arizonans like Sheriff Dupnik, like Congresswoman Giffords, like the heroic intern Daniel Hernández and others at the scene of the crime who saved her life and subdued the shooter, also cuts against liberal bigotries and prejudices that arise when the word “Arizona” rings like Pavlov’s bell and liberal dogs begin to salivate so smugly that they are superior to conservative canines. The self-satisfied belief by so many coastal and urbane and “educated” Americans that they are superior to other countrymen and women not like them has been pricked once again by human events.

But if I had a nickel for every Facebook status update I’ve seen in the past two days directly calling Palin the “assassin” and saying, without a hint of nuance or irony, that “hate speech” caused the violence in Tucson, I might be able to buy Zuckerberg out and put the entire social network out of its misery. To this came the predictable calls to legislate or outlaw said “hate speech,” like that of US Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pennsylvania) who is getting media attention by announcing he’ll introduce legislation “making it a federal crime to threaten or incite violence against a member of Congress or a federal official.” (Interestingly, when Hugo Chávez backed similar laws in Venezuela, the US media called it an attack on free speech and democracy, which either it is or it isn’t in either country, but it can’t be one thing in Venezuela and a different thing in the United States, can it? How about, say, in Iran, where dissidents by the thousands shout “death to the dictator” from rooftops at nightfall? Is that "hate speech" that the State is justified to punish?)

Of course, the delicate matter of who decides what constitutes a threat or incitement to violence is the 900-pound gorilla in any such attempt to legislate what can or can’t be said. In that sense, Brady and others beating that drum are the 2011 versions of Ari Fleischer of 2001. Please, just look in the mirror: Have the past 48 hours turned you, too, into a "liberal" version of Ari Fleischer?

Jack Shafer at Slate – whose first instincts on matters of speech are almost always the best instincts an American can have – decries, “The awesome stupidity of the calls to tamp down political speech in the wake of the Giffords shooting," in his essay, yesterday, “In Defense of Inflamed Rhetoric”:

“For as long as I've been alive, crosshairs and bull's-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such "inflammatory" words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I've listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I've even gotten angry, for goodness' sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge…

“Any call to cool ‘inflammatory’ speech is a call to police all speech, and I can't think of anybody in government, politics, business, or the press that I would trust with that power.”

Within weeks of the September 11 tragedy, I wrote similar thoughts in The Nation (“Never Shut Up, New York,” November 5, 2001), pushing back against efforts by the Bush administration and the media to silence dissent, wielding that moment’s trauma as its bludgeon. How heartbreaking to see, today, some of the same people who cheered that defense of speech against right wing efforts advocating to quell it now promote silence and censorship if inflammatory speech comes from the right instead of the left!

The national left-vs.-right political dysfunction in the United States has been on full display since Saturday. It’s so palpable that when Keith Olbermann, on Saturday, offered a nine-minute commentary on MSNBC, eight minutes criticizing the speech of right wingers like Palin, one minute of introspective self-criticism over times his own passions had caused him to say inflammatory things he now says he regrets, and zero minutes criticizing “the left,” that the reaction from many self-proclaimed “left” circles was to accuse him of stating “false moral equivalencies.” The vested interest among many of pinning the alleged homicidal acts of 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner on Republican politicians and their partisans reveals, I fear, more worrisome impulses among the accusers than among the accused. It is too many "progressives" today, revealing that their sense of politics is no more than another version of "an eye for an eye," the same as when it comes from their conservative adversaries.

While any good newsman or blogger knows that seizing upon a national trauma leads to greater attention, ratings and hit counts, there was no way I was going to write anything here about the tragic events in Arizona on Saturday until enough facts were in to understand who likely did the shooting and; in what context? Political assassination is like a Rorschach print: It brings out the presumptions and prejudices of all of us. If we imagined, in that first moment of learning about the shooting, that it was a “tea party” member, or an anti-immigrant hater behind the trigger, how would that make us any different than others whose heads conjure images of a Mexican or a black man anytime a gun goes off in America? It is at those moments when we come face to face with our own inner cauldrons of bigotry and stereotypes. These should always be learning moments first, and teaching moments only after such introspection.

A couple of days later we know that the first reports were errant: Rep. Giffords is not dead, as originally reported: she’s alive and struggling to survive. Jared Lee Loughner didn’t have an accomplice (some poor innocent cab driver with the bad luck of having dropped Loughner off at the crime scene had his photo posted all over the Internet and TV news for almost 24 hours with the inference that he was sought by the Feds as part of some violent conspiracy). And what of Loughner’s “political” ideas?

I wonder what our interpretation of previous national traumas had been like if Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, Sirhan Sirhan, Squeaky Fromme, Mark David Chapman, John Hinkley, Jr. – or even further back in history, say, John Wilkes Booth – or if the 9/11 hijackers had offered YouTube and MySpace or Facebook pages that revealed something of their inner thoughts to the world. (Heck, I don’t discount the possibility that we may have found out one or more of them indeed were patsies to a larger conspiracy, but that is water long over the bridge, impossible to solve at this late date, and not the topic at hand, anyway, so please spare the comments section from those time worn debates.)

Loughner posted his “favorite books” to his YouTube page. Among them he included Mein Kampf (proof that he’s a right winger!) and The Communist Manifesto (oh, wait...), as well as Orwell’s 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, among others: something for everyone that wishes to tag a violent act on a political cause to imagine as his ideological inspiration to murder.

As Laura Miller points out:

“By studying Loughner's book list for clues to the political leanings that somehow ‘drove’ him to commit murder, commentators are behaving a lot like crazy people themselves. Paranoids are prone to scouring newspaper articles and the monologues of late-night comedians for imaginary coded messages that confirm their ‘secret knowledge’ about the world. But those coded messages aren't there -- it's just random stuff with no special significance. The truth about mental illness is that it strikes without regard to political affiliation or ideological orientation, and it turns beautiful minds into nonsense factories. We can debate a social order that allows its victims access to firearms and talk about finding better ways to intervene before the minority of mentally disturbed individuals with violent impulses are able to act on those impulses. But trying to find the cause for this disease in politics, ideas or books is just plain nuts.”

So, what, if any, was Loughner’s much sought out “motivation” to unload a Glock full of bullets in a Tucson supermarket Saturday morning?

A childhood friend offered this testimony to Mother Jones magazine, telling the story of how, in 2007 (before he or any of us had heard the name Sarah Palin or of a right wing “tea party”), Loughner attended a public meeting at which Rep. Gifford invited constituents to speak with her about their concerns and issues. What was the heated political issue that burned in Loughner’s gut? Read on, kind reader:

“’He told me that she opened up the floor for questions and he asked a question. The question was, 'What is government if words have no meaning?'’"

“Giffords' answer, whatever it was, didn't satisfy Loughner. ‘He said, 'Can you believe it, they wouldn't answer my question,' and I told him, 'Dude, no one's going to answer that.'’"

There’s no small amount of irony in the deluge of preachy lectures today that “words have meaning” (and therefore, as Fleischer said ten years ago, we should “watch what we say”) when the alleged assassin’s most important question to his Congresswoman was “What is government if words have no meaning?”

According to his friend, Loughner felt he did not get a good answer out of his member of Congress and held a grudge for more than three years. Interestingly, his friend, added:

“After Loughner apparently gave up drugs and booze, ‘his theories got worse… After he quit, he was just off the wall.’"

(So much for the next favorite scapegoat of Americans seeking to attach blame behind a crime.)

The most interesting statement by Loughner’s friend came in his analysis if what, he thought, Loughner was trying to accomplish with an act of spectacular violence:

“He wanted the media to freak out about this whole thing. He wanted exactly what's happening. He wants all of that."

So, if you’ve been freaking out and stoking the media storm, Loughner apparently didn’t kill in vain. You’ve, in a way, vindicated him, become his unwitting accomplice, at least in his confused view of the cosmos. That, according to his friend, was his goal:

"He fucks things up to fuck shit up, there's no rhyme or reason, he wants to watch the world burn. He probably wanted to take everyone out of their monotonous lives: 'Another Saturday, going to go get groceries'—to take people out of these norms that he thought society had trapped us in."

And yet, to the contrary, as with all acts that can be deemed political violence, or violent acts that impact politics whether or not influencing politics was their goal, Saturday’s violence in Arizona did not take people out of their norms, but, rather, firmly calcified existing norms and patterns around them.

And so now, too many liberals and progressives have become the new Ari Fleischers, the new Speech Cops, accusing people who may or may not inspire crimes of being guilty of them (in this case, given the facts now at hand, the suggestion that Loughner killed because he was influenced by some 2010 Republican campaign propaganda fades from credibility as the real facts sink in).

Are some doing it because they’re so shallow and unthinking that they really believe it? Most, I fear, do it cynically out of an attempt to score political points, yet they are the kinds of “points” that score only among the most weak-minded among us, making the accusations pure demagoguery whether of the right or of the left. (From a community organizer's perspective, I ask: What is the strategic goal of pushing this message? What do its proponents realistically think it will accomplish? Do they think it will turn middle America against the GOP? It might scare some, temporarilly, as the Clinton administration's similar propaganda campaign accomplished after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, but such results, history demonstrates, are short lived and fleeting.)

This is not a defense of Palin and her disgraceful ilk, nor of right wing whackos that go around speaking of “Second Amendment solutions,” nor am I saying that words don’t have consequences.

If I didn’t strongly believe that words cause actions, I wouldn’t bother to write.

I’m also a student of what some scholars call psychohistory, and was very influenced by Lloyd DeMause’s work, The Assassination of Leaders, which very much explains how psychologically disturbed individuals have so regularly throughout history been influenced in their violent acts by the messages and images in the media and elsewhere that feed fantasies of regicide and homicide. (These are not, by the way, "political" messages with ideological or partisan content, but much deeper psychological triggers that go beyond politics, right or left.)

But in a 24/7 media environment in which we are barraged by violent news stories, in which the high ratings go to TV dramas and movies about cops and robbers and serial killers and sex crimes and terrorists, and in which the entire game of “politics” has been turned into a schoolyard spat of “he did it first, so now we’ll hit back,” it seems to me a very slippery slope – one that can quickly backfire on its adherents – to try and pin the Tucson shooting on Republicans and their whacked out violent images and words.

Let me conclude by demonstrating how a very similar set of circumstances could have just as easily turned against “the left” (more often, these kinds of events do) as it turns against “the right” today:

Remember when, as a presidential candidate in June 2008, after he became the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama said, of the Republicans, said, ““If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun”?

What if, shortly after that, a Jared Lee Loughner type had gunned down a Republican member of Congress, along with constituents, a federal judge, a child born on September 11, 2001 and others in a Safeway supermarket somewhere in America? Who would be scrubbing their websites then? And which side would be making the over-the-top accusations of which political faction was somehow responsible for that tragedy?

Just because “they” do it, does not mean “we” advance our cause by doing the same. To the contrary, “we” (I put the word in quotation marks because I really don’t consider myself part of those who are saying “we” at this moment) are fueling the national dysfunction by behaving like “them.” And it is that national dysfunction that breeds insanity and violence from the synergy and dynamics afoot between “right” and “left” in their media-fueled dance steps, more than either side would be able to do it alone.

Finally, I’ve also observed in recent days that some of the loudest partisan yelling against Republicans over the Tucson tragedy has come from that same sector of self-proclaimed “progressives” that just last week (and likely, next week, too) would post Facebook updates along the lines of “Obama = Bush” and utilize “inflammatory” language (as is their right) against the US president and his policies. Yet, imagine how Saturday’s violent events would have played out had, say, John Ashcroft been Attorney General at this moment instead of Eric Holder? At least now we’ll probably get an accurate accounting of the facts as federal law enforcement authorities find them.

But in this tit-for-tat, in the he said-she said, ratings-charged media world of accusations and counter-accusations, self promoters, opportunists, Chicken Littles, manipulators and manipulated, somebody has to step forward and ring the bell – just as Robert Kennedy did 42 years ago after the King assassination – to point out the obvious: There is a deeper societal sickness underlying these events, and the media (and social media) responses to them. Has so little really changed since 1968?

And I would make an educated guess that the person who will step forward and seek out our better selves to make a better sense of this terrible act of violence will likely be that very same President Barack Obama. But unlike the screamers (the manipulators and manipulated, both), he’ll wait until sufficient facts are in, as I have done here, before rushing to speak about it. In that sense, I still identify more with him as a person – as critical as I’ve been and remain of many of his policies – than I do with some “activists” and “progressives” whose mouths and keypads today make me shudder with the memory of Ari Fleischer and the Speech Cops of 2001.

Oh, no, I’m not making a case of “false moral equivalency.” To the contrary, I’m saying that the voices of blame and scapegoating coming from “our” side this weekend have been more hypocritical, from people who ought to know better, and therefore morally worse. If we don’t expect better from our own selves, what moral high ground can we possibly ever claim? And what is the strategy behind it anyway? Is it to intimidate and censor political adversaries, Ari Fleischer style? Or is it just to vent any old thing on a public stage to deal with the trauma of the moment? Go ahead and vent. But if there's not a strategy behind it that really works beyond temporary blips in the polling data, it's just feeding the dysfunction, and bringing the next violent and traumatic act in this eye-for-an-eye drama series one step closer.


We rightfully place the

We rightfully place the blame for terrorist attacks on both the shoulders of the insane, mentally disturbed individuals who carry out the attacks, *and* on the shoulders of the people who advocate for violence against the West. This incident is no different.

I appreciate and understand the point you are driving at, but there really is a serious difference between the overwhelming amount of direct and indirect calls for violence and the metaphors used in your example of the President's speech. But here's the key difference - had someone gone out and shot a Republican after that speech, the President would not have circled the wagons and dodged responsibility, and Liberals would have taken the consequences seriously.

Words really do matter. What we say, and what we tolerate, matters. 

The difference here is that there is a causal relationship between the overwhelming amount of violent, elminationist rhetoric on the right and the uptick in anti-liberal violence that follows. Knoxville, Pennsylvania, and this incident are all symptoms of an overarching problem.



What an interesting, thoughtful and contrarian piece, Al.

I, too, lived through and remember well JFK, MLK, RFK, George Wallace, etc. I agree that it's important to place Saturday's events into the broader context of America's rich and inglorious history of political violence, and how important it is to take the time to assess, gather facts and react with perspective.

On the other hand, the differences between the "innocent" and bygone days of 60's and 70's assassinations are important, too, as you yourself point out. The 24-hour news cycle, the internet and twitter work against thoughtful, reasoned responses to traumatic events such as what we've just seen. It's also important to note, as Gail Collins pointed out today in the NY Times, semi-automatic weapons and monster bullet clips change the scope of the violence in many instances, such as this one. Given that important difference, the hateful words that have spewed from the right, with outright or thinly veiled violence at their core, are arguably more dangerous and provocative than they might once have been.

It will take me some time to digest your piece and look inward to see if I can purge some of the rage I feel (and have been feeling long before this ever happened) towards so many on the right. I KNEW Obama wouldn't step in and overreact, and I fully expect him to speak, when he does, in the most conciliatory and soothing way possible, seizing this as an opportunity to bring people who have drifted so far apart a little bit closer together.  I have been, like you, a sometimes critic but ultimately a defender of Obama throughout his first term, and have felt particularly appalled to see so many on the left doing the right's work for them by tearing him down and ascribing negative motives to every move he makes. I suspect that as the dust settles I'll see the wisdom of what you're saying, but I'm not there yet......

very thought-provoking post

An incident like the one in Tucson is the kind of thing that should encourage people to reflect on their own mindset and actions. How can we reach out to find the common humanity in others and find ways to work with them towards making the country and the world a better place? And other questions like that. Instead, it seems that for too many people it is about confirming what they already believed and about how others need to change but never themselves. I've seen a lot of this on the left, a lot of "I told you so", and a lot of what I think of as "outrage porn", actively seeking out certain types of things (in this case, instances of right-wing rhetoric) to get an emotional fix from it. The last thing these people are doing is taking some quiet time away from all the shouting to think and to reflect.

Palin once again serves as a lightning rod and I suspect that, as has happened many times before, an obsessive focus on her will take attention away from issues and factors that deserve our concern. What I will say about her is that I expect that very soon, the President will apologize for having used the "gun to a knife fight" comment (which I associate with netroots bloggers and their favorite politicians like Anthony Weiner much more than with him) and promise to reach out more to others. Palin unfortunately seems unable to do this and that shows her true lack of leadership. But she isn't the only one that fails to examine themselves and seek genuine self-improvement and growth. I have worried for a long time now that this tendency throughout our political culture and indeed our wider American culture, will make it impossible for us to solve our country's many problems.

P.S. I'm glad you re-posted the psychohistory link, Al. I remembered you posting it before and had been trying to locate it again.

Time for a New Peace Movement

This whole thing is a Pandora's box.  

I agree with most of your points, but have a few thoughts, Yes, we don't know the motivations of this quite probably severely mentally ill person, and I agree that it isn't responsible to tie them so closely to increasingly nasty, hateful right wing rhetoric.

However, I also think he operated in a particular social context that enabled his behavior (and it looks like his family is no gem either). And I don't think the fact that this happened in AZ was random, given the increasingly lax gun laws and growing polarization, not only right/left, but immigrant/anti-immigrant (Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his Minutemen get lots of local support). I am of course appalled by Palin, Beck and their ilk, but I can only imagine what it must be like to live in a state that is so beet red that the kind of hatred advocated by the local  anti-immigrant movement and more national-level right wing figures is so easily embraced.

On that note, I think there is an argument to be made for differentiating between incendiary or hateful speech and incitement to violence. We'll see how it plays out in this case, but the increase in threats to government officials is even worse under Obama than Clinton, and I think it's related to incitement, not just incendiary speech. But that's just my opinion. So, I think there's a distinction to be made between having people tamp down on incendiary speech and having them tamp down on speech that incites violence. 

Example of how this works on the far right and far left: in BOTH Cuba and Cuban Miami during the 70s and 1980s  there were Rapid Response Teams that would physically attack people who were considered anti-revolutionary, or anti-anti-revolutionary. In Miami, radio announcers could provoke immediate attacks on people, right there on the street.  Another Cuban-American radio figure who advocated peace with Castro lost his legs to a car bomb in the midst of all of this.  Local mobs could be stirred up back on the island as well - the people who were leaving during the Mariel Boatlift were also subject to being beaten up for simply wanting to leave Cuba for example. Two sides of the same coin. You can really incite people to violence after you've stirred them up enough with hateful media rhetoric, especially if they're already frightened and/or resentful.

Lets see what happens in this case, but it would be good for the country to use this tragic event as an excuse to sit down and have a national dialogue about the issue, regardless of what the exact personal motivations of this sick individual turn out to have been. I personally think the nasty political context will turn out to be a contributing factor. 

I think we need a new peace movement in any case.

I don't know. I agree with

I don't know. I agree with your opposition to the calls to tamp down speech. At the same time, there should be room for contextualizing events. Obviously this didn't happen in a vacuum.  There is an important distinction to be made between those telling the right to shut up and tone it down and those stating that, well, if everyday people are told the sky is falling and these individuals are the ones responsible for it and it is up to us to do something about it, then it's not surprising when one unstable person out of the millions exposed to it acts in an inexcusable manner.  Just as those after 9/11 who pointed out that there is a context, namely U.S. imperialism, that angers millions of people, and a few unstable people out of the millions exposed to it took action in an inexcusable manner.  The key and the responsibility is in being consistent in the contextualization and not just doing so when it fits a political agenda.


It is a good piece, and helps to organize my own less-formed thinking in a similar vein, but maybe not that contrarian (though rare this week for any lefty with an audience). The young people around this place are aghast at the instant analysis going on (and equally unhappy to be put into the position of defending Palin).

Your point about who is doing the yelling and its relationship to Obama is important. I've been thinking a lot about this, and perceive that perhaps it comes down a very human, emotional need for some folks who are hard-wired to oppose. Not to knock them unecessarily or unfairly, but it's never about building in this particular chorus (some of whom I still respect quite a bit) - it seems to be need to be on the permanent back bench. Screeching obsession with the corner of a story that will make the Administration look like Stalin II. The U.S. has its faults, some of them quite terrible. So does the President (though I'd add that the label "pretty decent President" is a very rare attainment).

But there is a almost child-like refusal to organize beyond the tantrum, to seek institutional change beyond the blog post or Tweet. I've cut back my consumption of media in this particular area, as I suspect you have as well, Al.

I have to disagree with you,

I have to disagree with you, Al. Slater's comment,

“Any call to cool ‘inflammatory’ speech is a call to police all speech, and I can't think of anybody in government, politics, business, or the press that I would trust with that power.”

misses the point. I, for one, am not calling for anyone to police anyone else's speech. I am calling on the speakers themselves to keep in mind that their words have consequences, and that a climate where it is morally okay to call for your opponent to be dragged out of their house and be beaten "to a bloody pulp," or where members of Congress themselves say they are "hunting" liberal democrats, but that it is probably a "waste of ammunition," is not conducive to democratic discourse. None of the liberal bloggers I have been reading this weekend have said that Palin, et al., planned, instigated, or even wanted the shooting. What they have said is that words have consequences, and that maybe folks should think before they pander to the "second amendment remedies" folks.

I seem to remember you used to think that way too....

Messages sent like the one sent today - whether from the mouth of the original person whose fantasy flew out of her mouth - or from those decrying it, are precisely the kinds of signals that set off potential assassins.

I think some of the reaction on the left has been a visceral, understandable reaction to having been on the receiving end of the vitriolic hate that has spewed from the right: the liberal hunting permits, the watering the tree of liberty crap, the murder of Dr. Tiller, the people bringing guns to political meetings, the people bringing assault weapons to political meetings, the guy who was going to shoot up the Tides foundation, the guy who shot up the Unitarian church, etc. Notice how all the victims are from the left. Tends to make people a little less tolerant of false moral equivalencies.

BTW, I do think that one of the reasons Palin has been highlighted is because Rep. Giffords herself called her and her "surveyor's marks" out during the campaign, and that makes for some compelling video.

A persona-sustaining cycle of gloom

There is a sociological fault line within America that once so often has to release a given quantity of destructive energy in order to maintain cohesiveness. The North/South tectonic plates move past one another leaving behavioral chaos in its wake, and a mending Nation on the recovery path.

Lincoln paid the price, John, Bobby Kennedy, MLK, Gabrielle Giffords...; and so did a child, elders, a young man, a judge and....; and so did a whole lot of grieving me. Rancor and sorrow heal unconstitutionally the wounds brought about by impossible Nation-building dreams and set the stage for the next exercise in survivability, for it is the unwritten law of the Land of opportunity that risk taking and fractious swashbuckling would painstakingly mould its rich and complex identity.

John Kennedy died on me once, and if he died on me once the rebellious teen in me knew somehow he could do so more than once. Loved..., hated him! My American epiphany...

@ John

John -

One of the points I'm trying to make is that use of language like "targeting" members of Congress or their districts is not the exclusive domain of the right.

Just two days before the shooting of Rep. Giffords, a prominent "Netroots" website, the Daily Kos, had an example of this kind of targeting from the left against Giffords because some consider her a "blue dog" (too conservative a) Democrat. (I should parse this by explaining that one Daily Kos blogger doesn't speak for the other thousands of them, of course, and that this wasn't a posting by a DKos staffer or anyone like that, but, here goes):

Now, this was a liberal blog, a progressive blog, a Democratic Party allied blog, and look at the vitriol, the poor and inflammatory use of the word "DEAD" in capital letters, and tell me, really, how different is this kind of talk - a kind which has been seen daily on Netroots blogs since Obama was elected president! - from the speech we criticize on the right?

Again, Markos Moulitsas didn't post this, neither did his staff. It was just one anonymous blogger among many (who later apologized for it) and then "scrubbed" his or her previous post.

I just find all the finger pointing ("It's not our side scrubbing our websites right now!" they scream, when in fact some indeed are, and would be even moreso had a lunatic shot at a GOP member of Congress instead) highly hypocritical. The vitriol and hatred is on all sides of the American public discourse. Some folks seem to think if they do "anti gun vitriol" it is different than "pro gun vitriol" but it's all toxic discourse to me.

You may not be calling to police other people's speech, but Democratic US Rep. Bob Brady sure is. And when people post things like "Palin is the assassin," well, that's accusing someone of a felony that in many states brings death by execution.

We have a right to demand and expect more from people who claim to be on our side, the "progressive" side or whatever you want to call it. Yes, I do think people, right and left, should think before speaking, but I don't think "the right" has been spewing less vitriol than "the left" in the United States, at all. I've seen and read enough to stop reading most of those "progressive" blogs that have engaged in it for two years now. And so, with apologies to The Bard, I doth think that, today, they protest too much.

Well ..

I read recently an article in the Spiegel, where somebody analysed the mindset of extremists (right and left). It turned out that they were remarkably similar, mostly insecure people without appreciative family, and that they seemed to have come to their political convictions rather haphazardly. So in that sense it is not surprising that Loughner does not show much evidence of political analysis in his videos and such. And I certainly agree that one should not jump to conclusions, just because one likes them. As a scientist I am constantly fighting against that urge:-)

It is true that there always will be paranoid schizophrenics and other mental disorders which propel people to kill other people. Normally they will kill acquaintances and symbol figures (the pope etc). That is horrible by itself. However, it seems plausible that non-stop hate speech can shift the targets such people select (a study of targets in such killings, eg with a US UK comparison might be instructive). And non-stop hate speech makes it easier to overlook their warning signs because the violent speech seems normal. So it also appears plausible that some intelligent political people capitalize on such disturbed persons, not necessarily because they wish for their opponents death, but more likely because they understand how terrorism works: strike fear in the hearts of all people, not just the attacked ones.

So where is the responsability? In the old times (Icelandic saga times), people who held a grudge, went to the opponent and tried to kill him. So it was very clear who was responsible. Nowadays, with all that division of labor, it is much less clear. Is the soldier a murderer? Or the general who gave the command? Or both (my preferred solution)? If we stick to the old-fashioned ideas about responsability we seem to lose any sense of responsability: Loughner is very likely mentally ill and therefore not responsible, the hate mongers just wrote words and therefore are not responsible, so who is? There are six dead persons and several heavily wounded, somebody should be responsible for this course of events, no?

My take

I think there are two aspects to some on the left putting blame on some on the right. The first is an attempt to score political points using the same bare-knuckle tactics that Republicans have been using for years. Examples are blaming Palin for some words and imagery she has used, and blaming Sharron Angle and Michele Bachman for the same. I don't think the shooter was influenced by these things to commit his crimes. But I do think that some Republican politicians and many conservative media figures have increasingly painted the Obama administration and Democrats as dangerous, illigitimate and opposed to America, to the point that it has whipped up a rather violent tone and a seige mentality amongst Tea Partiers and their activist fellow travellers. Then the media figures turn around and praise this movement as being the true Americans. I think this is the zeitgeist that has legitimized some people's feelings that they have to get the government before the government gets them. I expect we'll see plenty more people like this Loughner person as long as this type of right-wing rhetoric is in full bloom.

Speech and violence

I agree fully with Al that our present broadcast culture of shouting heads and self-justifying, blame-assigning ideological critics is not a way that this society will clarify or make truthful assessments of the meaning of this event.

I also agree with Betsy that distinctions should be made between, on the one hand, speech that is merely incendiary or inflammatory (which we should not and will never suppress anyway), and, on the other hand, speech which incites or sanctions violence as well as hate speech.  Speech that incites or promotes violence is a danger to public order. Speech filled with hatred for people of different races or religions is also a threat to public order.  There is a firm foundation in constitutional law for legally penalizing either of those kinds of speech if they can be causally related to violence, as is already the case in many jurisdictions -- though it all comes down to the particular speech and whether it had the effect of causing violence. The justification is that someone whose speech motivates crime can be an accomplice to that crime.

Have to disagree here.

and look at the vitriol, the poor and inflammatory use of the word "DEAD" in capital letters, and tell me, really, how different is this kind of talk - a kind which has been seen daily on Netroots blogs since Obama was elected president! - from the speech we criticize on the right?

Very different, Al.

"dead to me" means I will not acknowledge or interact with that person any longer. This is the opposite of a death threat. That sounds more like:

July 3, 2010Joyce  Kaufman, a conservative radio hosts on WFTL in Florida, tells a crowd  of supporters at a Fort Lauderdale Tea Party event, “I  am convinced that the most important thing the Founding Fathers did to  ensure me my First Amendments rights was they gave me a Second  Amendment. And if ballots don’t work, bullets will.  This is the  standoff.  When I say I’ll put my microphone down on November 2nd if we  haven’t achieved substantial victory, I mean it.  Because if at that  point I’m going to up into the hills of Kentucky, I’m going to go out  into the Midwest, I’m going to go up in the Vermont and New Hampshire  outreaches and I’m going to gather together men and women who understand  that some things are worth fighting for and some things are worth dying  for.”

cited in http://www.csgv.org/issues-and-campaigns/guns-democracy-and-freedom/insu...

the "dead to me" diary

The problem with the "dead to me" diary, in my view isn't so much whether "dead to me" is an actual death threat, it's the larger mindset behind it. The tone of punishing someone who is not felt to exhibit sufficient loyalty to the group. It's perfectly legitimate to feel that someone other than Nancy Pelosi would make the most effective Minority Leader. I am especially loath to criticize anyone for supporting someone like Rep. Lewis, who is such a hero of the civil rights movement. Yet the response of this diarist was to consider this action a betrayal and to use overheated language in denouncing Rep. Giffords. This is exactly the kind of behavior on the left that has been worrying me for several years and increasingly so since the election in November. This is the same kind of "with us or against us", "all or nothing", "purge those who are insufficiently pure from our ranks" kind of mentality and rhetoric that we see on the right. No, it has not gone as far as on the right. Pray that it never does. This should be a wake-up call about where these types of views go if taken to an extreme. Also, as Al said, we as liberals should be better than this. When someone says "I think what you're doing is problematic", the mature and thoughtful response is "I'll make some changes" not "The other side is even worse!". That's kindergarten morality.
What bothers me about the constant cries about "false equivalence" from certain liberals is that there IS a problem with overheated rhetoric and vicious partisanship in some parts of the left and we shouldn't need or want it to go to the extreme the right has before we change it.

It's a tough world for the mentally ill

I don't know how it is in other countries, but in the US, it's a tough life for you if you're mentally ill.  We should take care of our mentally ill people better.  They shouldn't be just tossed out to become frightened loners. 

If you're violent, you're tossed in jail- after you've proved you're violent by hurting somebody first.  If you're not violent, you're pretty likely to be homeless, and the government treats you like somebody shirking work. 

We need more of a safety net and help structure.


My Facebook Posts

Some, but by no means all, of what is driving the reckless rhetoric on all sides of this issue, I propose, is the sound byte/Facebook byte/Twitter byte nature of the debate in general. 

We have to recognize that the medium shapes the message. One of the most insightful passages in Al's piece, I think, is the following:

Previous, more intimate, ways of processing national traumas – a conversation with a loved one, a hug for a confused child, the act of stepping out into the evening for a breath of fresh air, a knock on a neighbor's door, a phone call to a confidante, or the rush to a bathroom, nauseous – increasingly have given way to more mechanized and automated reactions. Today, instead or reaching out for physical and verbal human contact, so many of us metaphorically shoot our tears or vomit all over Twitter, Facebook, blogs and online comments sections, like a message in a bottle from a desert island, seeking some kind of response or assurance.

For what it's worth, below are my Facebook posts on the Giffords shooting -- both posted last night and Saturday. 

Bill Conroy The NYT also reports that in 2009 "a protester was removed by police when his pistol fell on the supermarket floor" at one of the Democratic Congresswoman's "on your corner" townhall meetings. Her office also was vandalized last year after the vote on national health care reform. 

This marks a return to the Oklahoma City bombing front in the neverending war on ourselves, it seems.





Bill Conroy A federal judge, appointed by Bush I, was murdered in the attack on Rep. Giffords. John Roll in the early 1990s issued a ruling against the Brady handgun-control act but he also recently received death threats after sanctioning a civil rights suit filed by undocumented immigrants. The apparently deranged, delusional assassin allegedly was not targeting Roll. Life is not black and white for sane people.


One More Thought: There are forces out there working quietly, largely unnoticed by the vast media empires, to affect, as best they can, a positive change to our news-byte/click-counter world. The item below was sent to me by one such person:

Somewhere in your neighborhood tonight a teacher is preparing lessons for your children, while you are watching television, texting, or reading facebook. In the minute it takes you to read this, teachers all over the world are giving their free time and often investing their own money for your child's literacy, prosperity, and future. 

the photo

I have high hopes that some way, somehow, Gabrielle Giffords will not only survive, but fully recover.  The photo above makes me sad each time I see it. She seems to have such a wistful look on her face, and the wave looks to me like "goodbye".

I know it's not my place to ask you to change the photo, but while she is fighting for her life, I would rather see a picture a photo that shows her strength and zest for life, one that doesn't look like goodbye.

God bless you, Al, for

God bless you, Al, for calling out those progressives who are just as inflammatory as RWNJs. Not all of them are, but they are certainly out there. I use to fall in line with the false equivalence complaints, until segment of progressives turned very ugly against Obama (and this was just a couple weeks ago). But no more. Wrong is wrong, no matter does it. PERIOD. We need some ownership of responsibility and integrity in this country. I'm tired of liberals acting like teenagers yelling "they did it first!". Grow the hell up.

Thanks for this

Thanks for this thought-provoking, challenging diary, Al. And with due respect to the above commenter, I think it is a beautiful picture of Rep. Giffords and it ought to be kept.

@ Nancy

Nancy - I picked that photo because it looked like a election night victory photo. I didn't read it as or intend it to mean anything like goodbye. Take it as a tribute photo.

U.S. version of Radio Rwanda is relevant to the discussion

Al's excellent post is thought-provoking, helpfully contrarian as usual, and ripe with good food for reflection and thought. I'll definitely use its inspiration to examine more closely my own feelings and reactions to events, political and personal.  I do think that the commenters here advocating a distinction between incendiary and incitement are pursuing an important line of thinking. By far the largest amount of right-wing (for the purposes of this comment) violence-tinged rhetoric has been incendiary, whereas I think examination of the incitement rhetoric would yield only a very small percentage to be actually reckless and endangering, and it would be venue, context, audience, and timing that would determine which was which. I also think that the violence-related rhetoric the Republicans, including their Tea Party subgroup, have been using since 2008 to activate their potential base is the equivalent of a subliminal U.S. Radio Rwanda, with occasional crossing over into conscious incitement.  I'll leave it to others to debate what constitutes crossing over into 'yelling fire in a crowded theater' terrain, but I do think it's happened and that the line will continue to be crossed and that it should be addressed legally, likely case by case rather than legislation, at least for the time being.  I do think that for discussion's sake the Left's leadership including its elected officials and for the most part its miniscule media face at this point needn't really be included in any discussion of violent rhetoric, as the distinction between Right and Left in this arena would more appropriately reflect the distinction drawn between newly elected Representative Allen West with a gun to the head of his Iraqi prisoner and a slightly miffed Mister Rogers.

The subject is larger than what's being discussed

Good piece Al, and to the extent that playing into the two-party sports/war mentality in American politics is wrong regardless of what side its coming from, I agree with you completely. And I, like others have commented, don't want anyone to jump to policing speech beyond the recognition that both parties need to tone it down.


But there's good reason for toning it down in general as the sheriff pointed out, as well as Giffords' father immediately after the attack. Both Giffords and the judge had had ongoing problems with death threats with strongly right-wing political motivation, Giffords had commented on it directly before, and only days before the shooting called for a cooling of rhetoric on both sides. 

The marked rise in right-wing related violence - not overhyped and mostly impotent Tea Party violence, but the ever-present undercurrent of white supremacy, southern confederates, apocalyptic fundamentalism, xenophobes, conspiracy theorists, and militias, now all amped up and getting their pet causes showered with influence and often cash and power - that's an actual, remarked upon by sober old guard Republicans thing. Its not just violent political rhetoric. Its violence in our media, how our media amplifies and distorts our politics, its the line between entertainment and governance being erased, its acknowledging that pandering to the worst, most ignorant instincts in people breeds an audience largely unable to self-police itself and finds it financially beneficial not to.

Right now, on Big Government and Redstate, Free Republic and World News Daily, Beck and Malkin and Limbaugh (and one of the Tea Party national groups) told their fellow travelers to deny everything, that a liberal was the shooter, that the liberal shooter was also an isolated crazy guy who shot up a politician for no reason whatsoever, and besides here's a checklist of the times a Democrat said target or shoot or enemies or dead which means everyone does it and thus its acceptable, and the conversation with the right wing will never go further than that. Its exactly as responsible as the movement and its icons have been when discussing matters of incredible importance, and there's no reason to believe they have any other guiding factors besides self-promotion and continuing to get rich off being ridiculously reckless. 

Missing the big picture

The big picture is that the US right has been getting to the point where it kills or intimidates opposition. The attack on Gifford in the context of Tiller's assassination, the Holocaust museum attack, and a string of wacko wingers fighting cops, and the amazing story about how tax collectors in Wyoming are afraid to even visit gunshows


is not a story about rhetoric but about a classical right wing terror campaign in birth.

A comment with a quibble


You've put into words some of what I've been thinking over the last few days.  I need to take a bit of time, though, and give it more thought before I write a more lengthy comment.

I do want to quibble, though, with your Daily Kos example on two points.  It's fairly weak tea particularly given some of the other inappropriate rhetoric thrown about over there which is a big reason why I browse from time to time versus reading in depth like I used to.  Nowhere did the diarist  put up bulleyes (or surveyor's marks, if we want to go there) or suggest using our Second Amendment rights to express one's disappointment with the Congresswoman.  For it's many faults, DKos is pretty quick to pull down anything that even appears to advocate violence against anyone.

Also, and this point cannot be stated too strongly, the diarist in question apologized which is something no one on the Right seems capable of doing.

I am off now to read more thoroughly the piece.

To this came the

To this came the predictable calls to legislate or outlaw said “hate speech,” like that of US Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pennsylvania) who is getting media attention by announcing he’ll introduce legislation “making it a federal crime to threaten or incite violence against a member of Congress or a federal official.”

What he should be doing is making it a federal crime to staunch free speech, and that includes all the political taboos that have developed since 911, which is why Cass Sunstein's slimy white paper to develop a hierarchy of speech unacceptables is a mental prison plan.

This part struck me, particularly, because it underscores the real hypocrisy (of all political stripes here) of one rule for the goose, another for the gander. It has nothing to do with upholding values or principles. It's personal PR, or as Bernays called it before he gussied it over with a more acceptable government term, it's personal propaganda in the service of our own political positions, because if we believed all the rah-rah, as Al points out, we would be granting it to others:

(Interestingly, when Hugo Chávez backed similar laws in Venezuela, the US media called it an attack on free speech and democracy, which either it is or it isn’t in either country, but it can’t be one thing in Venezuela and a different thing in the United States, can it? How about, say, in Iran, where dissidents by the thousands shout “death to the dictator” from rooftops at nightfall? Is that "hate speech" that the State is justified to punish?)

Palin and anonymous commenter

Al, as I read it, your comment above is drawing some kind of parallel between the words in a post of an anonymous commenter on a lefty political blog with the words of Sarah Palin, as a way of showing both sides use incendiary rhetoric. I'm having a hard time understanding how this isn't the epitome of 'false equivalency'. Am I missing something?

That said, I believe the best thing Democrats could do is to come together and publicy disavow and then truly cease incendiary rhetoric, and then just let their political opponents do what they will in this heightened sunlight. Not likely to happen I suppose, but it would work, I believe.

Why do we take Loughner's Facebook ramblings as truth?

Hi Al,

Interesting analysis. Except I wish that you could take into additional consideration that Loughner may not turn out to be the "disturbed" lone nut that he is being touted to be simply based on his Facebook ramblings or the words of his schoolmates. What if all that is carefully scripted and manipulated to throw us off his ideological trail? Afterall he thought people were not as smart as he is, including Giffords. Why do we take his words at face value?

Sure, the fauxgressives are eager to score political points with this incident against the teabaggers, but I would not feel one whit of remorse for anything that the teabaggers endure in this saga. The wingnuts have had a profitable uninterrupted run of demonizing Democrats and liberals so thoroughly that it is amazing that any Democrats hold political office at all. Yeah so it may be tit-for-tat, but I won't shed a tear for those democracy-wrecking crews. Notice that it is not only the left jumping on Palin et al. the establishment Repugs also are seizing on this opportunity to sideline her and clear the field for their preferrred political hopefuls. Listen to Joe Scarborough & Pat Buchanan yesterday and you realize the Establishment kingmakers on the right are circling their wagons and dumping bad stock.

Besides, ever since she was foisted on us in September 2008, Alaska Grizzly's rhetoric has crossed that Rubicon of acceptable political combat language. She is more than toxic sludge on our Democracy. But for the monstrosity that our media landscape has become, there would be no oxygen available for her kind of venom that makes Father Coughlin look like a saint in comparison.

More importantly though, I just find very galling, the whole eagerness by many commentators to ALWAYS excuse the violence of white terrorists as the function of some psychological/mental trauma, when no such DEEP caveats are granted to the actions of NON-WHITE culprits. This also bleeds into the semantics of the discourse. The word "TERRORIST" is never used on white people who terrorize this or any other society. Yet whenever non-whites are charged with some crime, the whole community/culture/religion/ideology to which they belong is roped into ALL analysis of the causal factors at play. If "Yussuf" blows up a building, his whole neighborhood is yellowtaped and everybody attending his mosque becomes a "person of interest" and any country he has ever visited which is NOT a European or majority Caucasian country becomes a "haven for haboring terrorists."  "Yussuf" is never considered "a lone nut" who needs mental healthcare.

So, we are harvesting the fruits of the bigoted rhetorical vineyards we have planted. Let Loughner and the teabaggers marinade in it for a while.

@Laura Poyneer

The problem with the "dead to me" diary, in my view isn't so much whether "dead to me" is an actual death threat, it's the larger mindset behind it.

Well, it is not an actual death threat, it is the somewhat childish threat of ignore, and, in the interest of accuracy, one should clearly state that.

With respect to the larger mindset, which I did not discuss in my first contribution, I completely agree with your points. It is a serious problem for the efficiency of the left, and the purists even may have exacerbated the size of the November losses.

Dehumanizing the enemy and delegitimizing him as a person is clearly not restricted to the right. Comparisons of Republicans to various arthropods and other invertebrates is not exactly uncommon on the left, and statements that Republicans or bankers as such have no hearts, no compassion etc abound. But for whatever reasons it currently does not result in beatings and killings perpetrated by leftists. There is a clear difference, and so it is justified at this (important) level to talk of a false equivalency (and to study when hateful rhethoric culminates in violence and when not).

As you say the false equivalency does not absolve oneself from evaluating the problems on our own side. The 'you are with us or against us' and 'my group can do no wrong' mentality is of course very old, it is presumably our evolutionary heritage, and it does have its uses, say in a beleaguered city. But so many on the left do not understand that our aims can not be furthered well by the means which are so effective for the right (both neocon, neoliberal and authoritarian style). Working yourself up in a frenzy is not conductive for evaluating finer points. In trying to construct a humane and dignified society we have to work in part against our evolutionary heritage, so it is more difficult. However, human mind is very flexible, so I have high hopes that the endeavour can succeed:-)

Good analysis by G2geek on dkos

There is an excellent analysis of the connections between hate speech and terrorism currently up on dkos recommended list:


It starts like this:

Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to stir up random lone wolves to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.

This is what occurs when Bin Laden releases a video that stirs random extremists halfway around the globe to commit a bombing or shooting.

This is also the term for what Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity, and others do.  And this is what led directly and predictably to a number of cases of ideologically-motivated murder similar to the Tucson shootings.

The author, G2geek, then analyses the mechanism. It is a considered, thorough piece, well worth reading in full. He is very careful not to jump to conclusions about the Giffords case, either.

All so sadly predictable...

I thought Jon Stewart had the right basic formula last night - we don't know whether this horror had anything more to do with conservative political messaging than we know heavy metal music caused Columbine. And he's right.

Of course, certain types of personalities have to make it all about them. Glenn Beck's the perfect example. Yeah, he's at the center. And now there's Julian Assange wedging himself into news/blogging cycle on Arizona, concern trolling with condolences and calling on Obama Admin to protect Wilileaks as it failed to protect Rep. Giffords against violent right-wing speech.

All so predictable. Cue Democrats calling for restrictions on hate speech...

sticking it to the other side

Al, as always your post is provokative and the analysis is spot-on. You are absolutely right from a moral perspective, and I have been arguing for a long time with friends that 'we' can't adopt the tactics of the other side because tactics matter, the means are inseparable from the end.

Having said that, this moral high ground hasn't yielded any results, we just keep getting kicked in the balls.

I disagree with one thing you said: the tactic of identifying the Republicans with far right extremist, violent rhetoric is ineffective and of short term, ephemeral value. Maybe the left just can't get away with it, but it served the right very well from the mid-sixties to the present. The Republicans identified Democrats with left wing political violence and excesses, as well as urban unrest and drug use. The Democrats, Democrats of every stripe, became far left in the eyes of Americans. The result has been Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Gingrich etc ad nauseum.

As a tactic then, identifying mainstream Republicans (if there are any left) with whacko violence, may be morally reprehensible, but may help to deligitimize them.

They bring a knife to the fight and we bring the constitution. In the old days, we brought a knife too.

Additional inequivalence

Al, I'm really sorry to come back a day later and harp again on the Daily Kos example you're basing a lot of your equivalence argument on, but two things:


- That blog author is virtually anonymous, and carries as much influence in the public sphere as my dog. Comparing them to Palin or Beck's influence and pattern of behavior is ridiculous. Plus, he actually had the balls to apologize.


- There is a legitimate problem with the right wing and the talking heads that amp them up for profit. Its a violent problem, there's a lot of unstable individuals involved and its time we started asking these talking heads why they sound just as crazy as Loughner but wink and grin about it when they're asked. http://www.csgv.org/issues-and-campaigns/guns-democracy-and-freedom/insurrection-timeline

At some point the grownups left in America are going to have to talk about the supposed adults that sit in the corner, talk to themselves, and are violently paranoid that everyone's out to get them and their families. 

Jon Stewart's take

I think Jon Stewart agrees with you, Al.  A nice presentation of video and transcript is here - http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/1/11/935285/-Jon-Stewarts-take-on-the-Tucson-shooting

A quote:

Boy, would it be nice to be able to draw a straight line of causation from this horror to something tangible, because then we could convince ourselves that if we just stop this, the horrors will end. You know, to have the feeling, however fleeting, that this type of event can be prevented forever. But it's hard not to feel like it can't.

@ Nodi

Nodi - I have not made an "equivalence argument" (which sounds like the kind of term that crazy people who sit in the corner mutter, quite frankly). I spent years studying "the Netroots" and *daily* there is as much nutty, batty, hateful, stupid, insane, emotionally unstable commentary there as there is on any right wing blog's comments section. I concluded that most of those folks are incapable of effective organizing or political action, and that the managers of such websites had become slaves to the crazies (after all, they sell advertising, which makes them dependent on hit counts regardless of the quality of the viewer). The daily vitriol, the self-important attempts to declare one's self "more progressive" than others (even folks who have been *more effectively and radically progressive* for years) have made those places an echo chamber rampant with seething hatred, paranoid delusions, declaration of "enemies" anytime anyone disagrees with them (even if it is a disagreement over tactics or strategy) and, of course, most hide behind anonymity, making them cowards as well.

To say that all sides engage in hyperpolic vitriol *and are part of the same dysfunction* is not an "equivalence" argument. That term comes from their lexicon, not mine: I reject it and repudiate it. The right wing responds to the cues from the "progressive" side which dehumanize and demonize the right. The self-appointed "left wing," in turn, hits back, and cites the reaction to them as proof of its paranoid self-important fantasies. And it goes back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, until no normal person can even understand what is going on in there, while meanwhile the entire body politic of a country has gone into the nuclear waste dump. Yes, they certainly are a big part of the dysfunction, and part of the reason why the right is also so paranoid and demonizing in its discourse. One feeds off the other, and back again. If you can't see that, then I can't help you!

Equivocation and equivalence

The greatest and most abject demonstration of public violence that I have ever witnessed took place two years ago. The psychological flogging and figurative raping of a fatherless child of the civil rights era. Caroline Kennedy was ultimately politically assassinated and her geniality confined to Blackberry secured conversations with her friend The President.

I ask you then, who did that to her, to us all?

Who deprived us of her hard earned clear sighted humanity?

Isn't she a terrible loss in retrospect for the American political landscape?

Does it take a corpse to warrant the use of a mirror and a tag?

Do prejudices out of envy and calculation call for a profession of silence while hatred and bigotry from isolation swell from a minute of self-fulfilling retribution?

Who's going to ease a residual pain from some forty eight years into the past that was shut tight by black-marketing the drama's next of kin?

I know Al Giordano and I took it on the chin while Caroline Kennedy got mauled by a self-"lefteous" mob... Believe me, a left hook can be just as intently vicious as a direct from the right!

fleischer episode often misreported


Fleischer was primarily trying to tamp down anti-arab incitement. 

There are deeper social causes for the bloody events in Tucson

The United States is in the fourth year of its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 30s. Millions of American workers feel intuitively that the politicians of both the Republican and Democratic parties are for sale. The frustration and anger of the ever-growing section of the population is increasing month by month. Strikes and almost any other form of social protest have disappeared. The accumulating social discontent will find a new form of expression, how and when is only a matter of time.

Reflections on Tucson

When I first heard about the shootings in Tucson, I immediately assumed that this was the work of a right wing - tea party type.  I was no different from the folks on the right who assumed right after Oklahoma City that the perpetrator must have been a "middle eastern terrorist" or the older, white gentleman who told me on Saturday that "there are a lot of Mexicans in Arizona causing all kinds of trouble and I bet that shooter was a Mexican".  So I didn't say anything at all because I realized that we see what we want to in these situations.  I expressed no opinions and didn't respond to those who did even though my recent experiences organizing in another of the districts targeted by SarahPac, I suppose, make me more of an expert than most of the pundits on what it can be like when the volume of vitriol is turned up all the way.  

It is terrifying to receive death threats but even worse when you have children and you find yourself panicked about being on time to meet the school bus.  These most recent experiences were not the first but the first I have experienced as a parent.  My father's friend and colleague was killed when he was a freedom rider during the struggle for civil rights.  My parents helped to start the anti-war movement at Kent State and even though we left right before the killings there, we experienced the tragedy profoundly.  And in West Texas we were shot at - My Dad, very pregnant Mom, and me because of the organizing my parents were doing around school integration and dealing with the pollution in the local water supply  (you could tell the kids whose families were too poor to buy bottled water because they had brown teeth).  So--this violence is nothing new to me.  Being screamed at, called a traitor, threatened, etc have long been a part of my life and are things you must deal with when you try to make change.

Yes, I do wish the vitriol could be dialed down.  I can't make others do it.  I can only manage my own behavior and words and I struggle to do so effectively often.  Hopefully I can be open to constructive criticism about my choices and learn from my errors.  The whole discussion of "equivalency" seems to me to be a distraction.  It is a way of deflecting responsibility from our own behaviors, from honest self-critique.  I can patiently explain to people why their words upset me, but that is about it.  It seems to me like the loudest voices on the left and right project onto each other the failings that they can't face in themselves.  

So, I have spent the time since the tragic shootings and killings on Saturday crying, reaching out to friends and family, and trying to inventory how I have conducted myself and what I might want to improve moving forward.  Thank you, Al for creating a space and providing a starting off point for each of us to share and to process what we are going through.

ps.  Nancy M!!  I am so happy to "see" you here.  I miss you from the early Obama blog days.  Warmest greetings to you!  Tamsin

I get that...

Bob Brady is being ridculous with his proposed legislation.

I get that the echo chambers feed off each other.

I get that people shouldn't "Rush" to judgment and blame one group of people or the other when a tragedy like this happens.

I get that unstable people can do horrific things.

However, I don't get why you, Al, are seemingly suggesting that the hypocrisy of the self-described true progressives, which I also see, is somehow "morally worse" than the constant, carefully-constructed violent rhetoric Repubs have been injecting into the national discourse for many years.

Based on your comments above, it would seem you wouldn't support Sheriff Dupnik's comments.  I've been very supportive of what he's been saying.  Many Dem leaders, including Rep. Giffords herself and President Obama, have for quite some time, been asking people to unite more and tone down the violent talk, since "it has consequences."  Dupnik didn't even name any particular people or media outlet, and only said a certain name much later, when he was asked about a specific comment from specific Repub hate-monger.  What's wrong with suggesting people be nicer and try to work together more, like President Obama does consistently?

To me, people asking for civil debate without violence woven into it seems like a good thing to do.  It's a middle ground in all this nonsensical chattering.  One can suggest a candidate for the US Senate like Sharrrrrron Angle should not glibly talk about "2nd Amendent remedies" (wink, wink...nudge, nudge), without then going the Bob Brady route of stifling free speech.  It's not an either/or situation.

Implying violence is the differentiator.  Ari Fleischer suggesting certain talk "has consequences" is dramatically different from Nancy Pelosi suggesting the same thing.  Ari represented a band of murderous thugs, which is simple provable fact, and said it in a threatening manner, while Pelosi says the same words without any sort of threat attached.  This is why I feel the two sides in the debate should not be compared at all.  Repub rhetoric is much more irresponsible and dangerous to society, and voters should be aware of what kind of people they might be voting for.  Instead, almost all of the MegaMedia equates all the talk, or even though you don't like the phrase, enagages in orgies of "false equivalency" all day and night.  If you've seen the video clip of Rep. Giffords being literally bullied into saying, "Okay, yea, sure.  They all do it.  Feel better now?" by Chuck Todd and some other half-wit last year, after her office was smashed up, there's no better example, and how sad and ironic.

I have a lot of Repub business associates, and it's very common for them over the last two years to make jokes about shooting our President, and they literally laugh hysterically about this.  In my personal life, I mostly associate with Liberals, and I literally cannot remember one single time in eight years someone suggesting Shrub get shot.  Repub suggestions of violence are substantially "morally worse" than some people being hypocritical in a semantic argument.

I'd never call for some sort of censorship of speech in these cases, but I'll call out this violent rhetoric until the day I die and try to teach others it's wrong.  You can do both without being hypocritical.


"Ari represented a band of murderous thugs, ...."

"... but I'll call out this violent rhetoric until the day I die and try to teach others it's wrong."

One quote is from the leader of a lynching mob as taken in and understood by forty percent of Americans and pondered on dubiously by another twenty percent.

The other is from the leader of a self-righteous and condescending sect of know-it-alls as well understood by sixty percent of Americans.

One quote, pick one, "lols" at its complement. Both weep at my "enterrement".

Great piece Al

Most excellent piece, Al. Thank you.


Not completely sure what you're getting at, but your comment did help me see some hypocrisy in what I wrote.  Following the lead of President Obama, for some time now I've been attempting "tone down" my own language, and you rightly highlighted a point where my old thinking rose up again.  Thanks for that.

Hopefully, either in my main point above or in some future writing, I am able to return the favor of enlightenment to you.

Obama Opens the Door

President Obama's speech in Tucson this evening was a very good example of how to transcend the temptations of demonizing one's political opponents.

I understand the argument Al makes about the ease with which our friends can slip into the same shallow, violent-image-laden rhetoric that has been the life-blood of the right-wing talk radio universe. And I cannot imagine anything more destructive of freedom than legislated schemes intended to establish "unacceptable" discourse.

But it also settled law (or at least as settled as anything can be given with retro-legislative proclivities of the current Roberts Supreme Court) that context can create conditions under which speech may be found dangerous, the old shouting-fire-in-the-crowded-theater problem.

I find the context under which the Limbaughs and Becks and Palins are operating to be one peppered with heavily-armed individuals and militias who live in a swamp of conspiracy theories and calls for armed struggle. To take one of the more obvious examples, I believe that the anti-abortion leaders' calls for the deaths of doctors performing abortions were intended by those leaders to inspire their followers to kill.

What is missing here is not some piece of legislation, however; what is missing are people and institutions who are capable of changing the debate, of appealing to peoples' sense of decency (as in Joseph Welch's famous put-down of Senator Joseph McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last?") 

One's chances of seizing the high moral ground are shaky at best if one is using the same gutter tactics as one's opponents. President Obama showed this evening how to appeal to what Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature." Obama reframed the argument so that it was about our children and our future, about building a country that was worthy of the dreams of children like the one who died in Tucson. The speech opened a door; the question now is whether Americans are ready to walk through it.





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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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