Monday, January 10, 2011

A pox on both their houses?

My post yesterday on the rhetoric of violence brought some pushback from some of my conservative friends -- as I expected. I don't want to be some lily-livered simp who doesn't have the courage of his own convictions, but I'm not interested in clinging to my convictions despite all relevant evidence, either.

My core argument revolved around this set of propositions:

 

* The Obama Administration stands on the cusp of becoming a tyranny, is a nearly unprecedented threat to the freedom that all Americans cherish.

* And the Tea Party movement sees itself as heir to an earlier generation of Americans who threw off the shackes of tyranny with a violent revolution.

 

And I concluded: "We'll stop believing in your propensity for violence when you stop telling us all about it."

Of course, some responses are more substantive than others. Here's Emaw, from my old Kansas stomping grounds:

This is one of the best rationalizations for your own prejudice I've read yet. Good job!

This one got under my skin the quickest, until I realized that Emaw hadn't bothered to make an argument for why I'm wrong. 

More substantively came this response from namefromthepast, a high school friend of mine whose anonymity I'll respect. He posted this link of anti-Bush death threats, and commented: "Just a little reminder. Confusing how you quite innocently nearly skipped over the moonbat left and their history of violence and threats of violence. " 

And no doubt, those pictures are ugly, stupid stuff. I repudiate it--and I repudiate other lefty hints of violence that a conservative friend privately relayed to me. There are undoubtedly idiots throughout the political spectrum. I make no excuses, and I condemn them fully and wholeheartedly.

But I look at this -- and at Michelle Malkin's very, very long list of liberals who crossed lines, both rhetorical and otherwise -- and I have a couple of thoughts: 

* All of the links in Malkin's post go back to years of posts she's done, documenting "the left's" outrages. Everybody tries to police the lines of acceptable discourse and action, and for conservatives to suggest that liberals are somehow uniquely cynical in this effort is, well, cynical. (There. Nyah-nyah-nyah! You guys do it too! That's how we're playing this, right? That makes it ok, right?)  

* But ok, so I was wrong to say that the rhetoric of violence occurs "exclusively on the right." Clearly, that was an overstatement.

A more accurate way of saying it is that the rhetoric of violence -- language that seems to indicate a desire for action, instead of just colorful use of metaphors -- is embraced more fully by thought leaders, candidates and elected officials on the right. 

Steve Benen:

I realize major media outlets feel contractually obligated to embrace the false equivalency, but folks should know better. Remember the Senate candidate who recommended "Second Amendment remedies"? How about the congressional candidate who fired shots at a silhouette with his opponent's initials on it? Or maybe the congressional candidate who declared, "If I could issue hunting permits, I would officially declare today opening day for liberals. The season would extend through November 2 and have no limits on how many taken as we desperately need to 'thin' the herd"? Or how about the congressional candidate who said he considered the violent overthrow of the United States to government an "option" and added that political violence is "on the table"?

All four of these examples came from 2010 -- and all came from Republican candidates for federal elected office. And this doesn't even get into Republican activists and media personalities.

Salon's Alex Pareene adds similar examples from Red State blogger (and CNN contributor) Erick Erickson and Fox News' Dick Morris, among others. I've tried to limit myself to examples where commentators seem to me to have strayed beyond the bounds of metaphor into concrete calls for or musings about the possibilities of political violence.

Now: I don't know if we just went through an unusual cycle where grassroots-slash-fringey Tea Partiers managed to obtain high-profile candidacies that they wouldn't normally, and thus bring fringe views-slash-rhetoric to the table, or if this really is the elite of the GOP and and prominent allied commenters signalling to the rest of the party what kind of norms are acceptable in discourse. But it's there, and it's happening.

And in my view, it's bad. Do both sides do it? Undoubtedly.

Do both sides' elites do it to the same degree? Not from what I can tell; this really does look to me like it is primarily (though not exclusively, perhaps) a practice of the right.

But I might be wrong. Perhaps it's simply a function of who is in power and who feels disempowered as a result.

For what it's worth, I don't blame the actions of Mr. Loughner on this rhetoric. He's crazy. I still wish a lot of commentators would have (ahem) held their fire before launching this debate. They didn't.  My purpose here is to explain why I find the rhetoric coming from across the aisle so alarming. That's all. Perhaps it is merely rationalizing my own prejudice, but my prejudice in this case isn't against conservatives, but against those who employ the threat or promise of violence as a means of rallying political support or otherwise achieving political ends.

If we come back four years from now, when Sarah Palin is president, and you have Democratic members of Congress and prominent liberals talking about overthrowing the government through violent means, I hope and believe you'll find me castigating them in unequivocal terms. (You might find me reminding you of the current debates, as well; I'm only human.) Suggesting that your political rivals need to be shot is wrong, no matter how cutely or coyly phrased -- and no matter who does it.

5 comments:

emawkc said...

Okay. To clarify my criticism of your justification of your own prejudice: Your line of logic could just as easily be used by any number of David Duke types to justify their prejudiced view of black people.

It would go something like: "Hey, look at all these examples of black people employing the language of violence, burglary, thuggery, misogyny, etc., etc. Therefore, if something horrible happens, it's okay if I assume a black guy did id, because they've been telling me for years that they're going to do it. Doesn't make me prejudice, just makes me a keen observer of people I don't like."

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I had an interesting response to a blog post I put up on the day of the shootings (this, for the record, is an academic blog, not a political one). The post was a plea to practice compassion, rather than anger -- I didn't reference the shooting specifically, because I figured that everyone would know what I was responding to. Then, a regular reader of mine (whose politics I don't know) from the other side of the Atlantic made some off-the-cuff comment to the effect of, "Oh, I don't know... politicians in my country make me think that anger might well be channeled into productive political assassinations."

Gulp.

To his credit, half an hour later he re-posted, stating that he'd only just read what had happened, apologizing for his unthinking sensitivity, and begging me to delete his comment. But I thought it was interesting how pervasive this line of rhetoric has become, to the point where we put it out there without thinking, and even in an attempt to be humorous.

Left or Right, we should all take a moment to examine what we've come to.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

(Sorry: that should have been "unthinking insensitivity" in the previous comment.)

namefromthepast said...

Perhaps this debate is drifting towards the heart of why politics and violence are so connected.

Government has no real power other than its monopoly on the legal use of instigating lethal force.

Without the use of force or threat of force governments get very little respect from those who disagree with its directives.

Those who promote varying degrees of government intervention certainly realize that without government's power thier ideas would have to appeal to human nature and free will-therefore rendering gov't intervention pointless. The exceptions are the rules, or should be.

The reason why violent rhetoric exists when discussing government-no matter who you are or how peaceloving you claim to be-you are debating how best to guide government, or in other words, how best to guide the potential use of lethal force.

Anonymous said...

Joel,

Well said, and yes, a pox on both houses! The problem is we have lost the moral high road, and no one seems to be interested in finding it again.

And that is unfortunate, for it is the only place where there is room enough for all of us to stand. Without the moral high road the only place left to walk is in the valley of the shadow of death.

Da