There are all kinds of other topics that need discussing, but they will have to wait until Tuesday as, for better or for worse, the Tucson shooting, and the issues that swirl around it, still demand to be front and center.
In his Monday column Paul Krugman talks about what he calls “eliminationist rhetoric.”
I don’t know if he coined the phrase or has just appropriated it. Whatever the case, it goes to the heart of what is problematic in a certain kind of political speech that has come out of the weeds and into the open these past few years. It is not the fiery rhetoric that has been part of politics since the country’s founding, rather it is another darker strain of partisan vitriol that characterizes one’s opponents, not as the loyal opposition, but as monsters.
Here’s a clip from Krugman’s column:
….As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.
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.
The NY Times Monday editorial has this to say:
Jared Loughner, the man accused of shooting Ms. Giffords, killing a federal judge and five other people, and wounding 13 others, appears to be mentally ill. His paranoid Internet ravings about government mind control place him well beyond usual ideological categories.
But he is very much a part of a widespread squall of fear, anger and intolerance that has produced violent threats against scores of politicians and infected the political mainstream with violent imagery. With easy and legal access to semiautomatic weapons like the one used in the parking lot, those already teetering on the edge of sanity can turn a threat into a nightmare.
Last spring, Capitol security officials said threats against members of Congress had tripled over the previous year, almost all from opponents of health care reform. An effigy of Representative Frank Kratovil Jr., a Maryland Democrat, was hung from a gallows outside his district office. Ms. Giffords’s district office door was smashed after the health vote, possibly by a bullet.
And there is this from the Wall Street Journal:
Jim Gilchrist, who founded the immigration-law enforcement group Minuteman Project, said he sensed a “violent streak” in American politics and brought a bodyguard to public events. “I am in fear of my life from people like this who are on my side of the argument,” as well as from extremists “from the ultra-left,” Mr. Gilchrist said.
As signs emerged that the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was a disturbed loner, party leaders weren’t suggesting any direct link between specific political statements and his actions. Authorities haven’t commented on possible motives.
But the shootings appear to be yielding the kind of ruminations on civility and violence not seen since domestic terrorists blew up the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Some lawmakers and liberal activists implored President Obama to use the moment the way President Bill Clinton did in 1995, not only to call for national unity but to denounce a political culture of violence…..
….In the run-up to the November elections, Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle talked of “second amendment remedies” to voter frustrations.
Candidate Allen West, now a Florida congressman, said during the campaign of his Democratic opponent: “Let me tell you what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to make the fellow scared to come out of his house. That’s the only way that you’re going to win.”
And finally this from E. J. Dionne at the Washington Post:
Let’s begin by being honest. It is not partisan to observe that there are cycles to violent rhetoric in our politics. In the late 1960s, violent talk (and sometimes violence itself) was more common on the far left. But since President Obama’s election, it is incontestable that significant parts of the American far right have adopted a language of revolutionary violence in the name of overthrowing “tyranny.”
It is Obama’s opponents who carried guns to his speeches and cited Jefferson’s line that the tree of liberty “must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
…The point is not to “blame” American conservatism for the actions of a possibly deranged man, especially since the views of Jared Lee Loughner seem so thoroughly confused. But we must now insist with more force than ever that threats of violence no less than violence itself are antithetical to democracy. Violent talk and playacting cannot be part of our political routine. It is not cute or amusing to put crosshairs over a congressional district.
Liberals were rightly pressed in the 1960s to condemn violence on the left. Now, conservative leaders must take on their fringe when it uses language that intimates threats of bloodshed. That means more than just highly general statements praising civility.
Quite honestly, other lives may depend on it.