Lessons to be learnt – the shooting of Gabrielle Gifford and the violent rhetoric in American politics
I like everyone am still reeling from the tragic events in Tucson Arizona on Saturday.
The attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Gifford, and the tragic death of innocent bystanders, including a 9-year-old little girl, taken tot he public event because, as her uncle Greg Segalini told the Arizona Republic, she had recently been elected to the student council and was interested in government, has brought a stark reality on many as to the way American politics has been conducted over the past couple of years.
The gunman, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner has yet to cooperate with police and therefore no one is any nearer to knowing exactly what his motivations were. However one thing has become clear, people are sitting up and taking a stand – a stand to say enough is enough, an end to the violent and hateful rhetoric that has dominated American politics.
When you have politicians or those out there making a career out of political commentary, using language such as “Second Amendment remedies” or who put out an image with crosshairs over candidates who chose to use their democratic to vote for healthcare, and use rhetoric such as “It’s time to RELOAD” to put this point across, we really have to ask ourselves is this the way we want politics to be? Is this even politics or is it just jingoistic visceral sound bytes that are doing nothing more than stir up a divide and a hatred between fellow members of a nation just because they have different political ideas?
Now I am not saying Sarah Palin is directly to blame for the shooting in Arizona. She did not after all put a gun in the assassin’s hand and as yet we know not really, beside some obscure You Tube videos, what motivated Jared Lee Loughner. But given Sarah Palin took down her “take back the twenty” website last night and removed all traces of her “target list” from her sites, surely even she knows that what she has done is push too far – if she felt she was not wrong in what she said, surely that would still be up?
Sadly for Sarah but good for the rest of us who have been sick and tired of the fear mongering from the far right in America, which includes Fox’s Glenn Beck predicting “rivers of blood” and casting himself as a “progressive hunter”, no matter how much Palin attempts to scrub her past, the internet has a funny habit of keeping things in the foreground. For example my twitter feed was full of retweets of people posting the “target list” – and I retweeted it too – not because I say Palin did this, but because I have had enough of the people who think using incendiary language is okay in democracy.
Keith Olbermann, on his Countdown program delivered a special comment on the shootings:
“Left, right, middle – politicians and citizens – sane and insane. This morning in Arizona, this age in which this country would accept “targeting” of political opponents and putting bullseye’s over their faces and of the dangerous blurring between political rallies and gun shows, ended.”
He concluded his show by saying:
“Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our Democracy, and I apologize for and repudiate any act or any thing in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence. Because for whatever else each of us may be, we all are Americans.”
You can see his Special here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/08/keith-olbermann-arizona-shooting_n_806311.html
And this is a lot more than Palin did – not long after her site had been removed and her list scrubbed, she put out a statement on her Facebook account where she spoke of her “sincere condolences” to the “tragic shooting in Arizona” but unlike Olbermann who was man enough to admit that in the past he may have said something that had “inadvertently encouraged violence”, Palin acted as if she had not. Which when you look back at the mentality of certain right-wing figures, is the norm – when your words come back to bite you in the ass, act as if you never said them in the first place.
Palin also took pains to remove a Facebook post she had made where she also criticized Gifford’s and where she also posted her “target list”. As sayitaintsoalready.com points out:
About two hours ago I took this picture of one of Sarah Palin’s Facebook pages — the page that targeted Gabrielle Gifford’s in a gun sight:
A little digging though and one finds the post still around: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=373854973434
In the post she says:
We’re paying particular attention to those House members who voted in favor of Obamacare…..We’ll aim for these races and many others. This is just the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington.
The emboldened words are my emphasis to highlight the incendiary language used.
“For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action,”
Palin also removed the tweet associated with this Facebook post:
Now again let me make myself clear – I am not, NOT saying Sarah Palin is directly responsible, however what I am saying is that yesterday’s event shows that we must draw a line underneath this kind of rhetoric. It should not be part of the norm that we think this language should be part of political debate.
Gabrielle Gifford for her political views had been a target of threats before and her opponent, Republican Jesse Kelly, in the midterms had put together a fundraiser where he invited supporters to help him remove Gifford from office by joining him to shoot a fully loaded M-16 rifle. Kelly was quick to dismiss his event and the shooting on saturday as having any connection and he would be right for the most part but when you put up a post on your Upcoming Events when you are running for political events which reads: “Get on Target for Victory November Help remove Gabrielle Gifford’s from office Shoot a fully automatic M-16 with Jesse Kelly”, (the punctuation is not mine but a direct quote from the event board – see image to left) the question should be “was that really the right way to conduct politics?”
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik blamed the “vitriolic political rhetoric” that has consumed so much of America.
“When you look at unbalanced people, 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,”
Everywhere I go today this is what I am seeing, this is what I am hearing – enough. How have we come to a point where our politics is okay with people not debating the issues but using smears, fear and vitriol to campaign?
As Gary Hart, a scholar in Residence at the University of Colorado wrote in the Huffington Post “words have consequences”.
The degree to which violent words and phrases are considered commonplace is striking. Candidates are “targeted”. An opponent is “in the crosshairs”. Liberals have to be “eliminated”. Opponents are “enemies”.
He goes on to say that if we continue to tolerate this kind of vitriol or treat it as “cute” or “reward it” then “we place all those in public life, whom the provocateurs dislike, in the crosshairs of danger.”
MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan was more measured in his own blog post on the Huffington Post when he said:
It goes without saying that the events of today are a wake-up call for every American, regardless of their position in this society. And as we stand as a group at this violent fork in the road, will those within the power class take this wakeup call to acknowledge the responsibility they have to utilize their influence to serve the interests of increased fairness in America…the personal indulgence of this exploitation by some in order to accumulate wealth and power is done so at a mortal danger to all Americans
Much as America did after 9/11, its citizens need to take a stand, a stand of unity, a stand of togetherness and a stand of “no more”. If America wishes to restore its country, restore the people so that no matter your political divide nothing will make you see reason in using incendiary language, then maybe out of the tragic events of saturday a lesson can be learned.
As Nancy Pelosi, when still Speaker of the House at a weekly news conference in 2009 said:
“I think we all have to take responsibility for our actions and our words. We are a free country and this balance between freedom and safety is one that we have to carefully balance…his kind of rhetoric is just, is really frightening and it created a climate in which we, violence took place and … I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made.” (The Hill)
My deepest sympathies to those whose lives were lost:
- Arizona Supreme Court Judge John Rolls
- Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, Gabrielle Gifford’s’ director of community outreach
- Dorwin Stoddard, 76, pastor at Mountain Ave. Church of Christ
- Dorthy Murray, 76
- Phyllis Scheck, 79
And 9-year-old Christina Greene, a little girl meeting her Congresswoman because she herself was interested in politics.
My thoughts are also with the others injured as a result of the shooting and with Gabrielle Gifford and her family – latest reports suggest that doctors are optimistic about her recovery, although it is clear, she will never be the same person she was.
You can always count on the Westboro Church:
- Michael Shaw: Reading the Pictures: The Giffords Shooting and the Palin Graphic: Almost Predictable (huffingtonpost.com)
- The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords (newstatesman.com)
- Giffords warned heated rhetoric could have “consequences” (thehill.com)
- Rob Warmowski: Following Giffords Shooting, Sarah Palin’s Crosshairs Website Quickly Scrubbed From Internet (huffingtonpost.com)