Congresswoman Giffords, violence, rhetoric and other thoughts

Happy 2011!  I had made a resolution to post at least once a week this year and am already behind.  I have had a difficult fall with lots of energy sapping family and work issues.  It also didn’t help that for someone like me, the political news was depressing.  There were a number of bright spots including the Massachusetts election, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t tell, and ratification of START.  But overall it was pretty bleak.

But watching the first week of the new House was most entertaining.  At least it was until Saturday.

Bob and I were driving back from western Mass after a day of packing up my mother’s old apartment and when we got to Worcester, I turned on the NPR station to see if there were any news.  That was how we heard about Congresswoman Giffords, Judge Roll and the others who were shot and wounded.  I think that the assassination or attempted assassination of any political figure regardless of party or political philosophy is horrendous.  But this shooting is the culmination of the violence advocated by the radical right of the Republican party and the Tea Party Movement.

The first official to put the blame squarely where it belongs was Clarence W. Dupnik, the Pima County sheriff.  Sheriff Dupnik was blunt.  He was quoted in the Washington Post

There’s reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol,” he said during his televised remarks. “People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.

He went on to say

It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included,” Sheriff Dupnik said. “That’s the sad thing about what’s going on in America: pretty soon we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.

So let’s look at some actual facts since the Republicans and the Tea Party appear to be painting themselves as victims of the liberal media and claim no responsibility of what happened.

First it is a fact that Sarah Palin posted a map with cross-hairs over the Congressional Districts of 20 Democratic Congresspersons including Giffiords.  She remarked on the fact last year.

Ms. Giffords was also among a group of Democratic House candidates featured on the Web site of Sarah Palin’s political action committee with cross hairs over their districts, a fact that disturbed Ms. Giffords at the time.

“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list,” Ms. Giffords said last March. “But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.”

The image is no longer on the Web site, and Ms. Palin posted a statement saying “my sincere condolences are offered to the family of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today’s tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice.” (Late Saturday, the map was still on Ms. Palin’s Facebook page.)

Second, her office in Tuscon was vandalized after her vote in favor of Health Care Reform.  And both she and Judge Roll received threats. 

Third, her opponent in last November’s Congressional race held an event.  This information is from the blog, Firedoglake.

Kelly’s website has apparently scrubbed the event , but here is the account from the Arizona Daily Star:

Jesse Kelly, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to be bothered in the least by the Sarah Palin controversy earlier this year, when she released a list of targeted races in crosshairs, urging followers to “reload” and “aim” for Democrats. Critics said she was inciting violence.

He seems to be embracing his fellow tea partier’s idea. Kelly’s campaign event website has a stern-looking photo of the former Marine in military garb holding his weapon. It includes the headline: “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”

The event costs $50

I’m sure I will have much more to say on all of this as time goes on but I want to end with this from Paul Krugman’s column today.

It’s important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It’s not a general lack of “civility,” the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there’s a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren’t the same as incitement.

The point is that there’s room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.

And it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.

Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.

And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.

Of course, the likes of Mr. Beck and Mr. O’Reilly are responding to popular demand. Citizens of other democracies may marvel at the American psyche, at the way efforts by mildly liberal presidents to expand health coverage are met with cries of tyranny and talk of armed resistance. Still, that’s what happens whenever a Democrat occupies the White House, and there’s a market for anyone willing to stoke that anger.

But even if hate is what many want to hear, that doesn’t excuse those who pander to that desire. They should be shunned by all decent people.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been happening: the purveyors of hate have been treated with respect, even deference, by the G.O.P. establishment. As David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, has put it, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.”

And this sums it all up.

Dan Wasserman

One thought on “Congresswoman Giffords, violence, rhetoric and other thoughts

  1. Pingback: Please join us today for a moment of prayer & reflection at 11am EST to honor @Rep_Giffords, her staff & other victims of this tragedy. | The America News

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