Saturday, January 15, 2011

Glass Houses

Sheriff Dupnik
Let me say one thing, because people tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol that 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.

The Sheriff did not accuse anybody but the shooter of attempting to murder Congresswoman Giffords, a personal friend of his, and of the murder of Judge Roll, another friend of his, the nine year old Christina Taylor Green, and so many others while seriosuly wounding even still others. Some people did: they were wrong. Neither Gov Palin's obscene literature literally targeting Congresswoman Giffords, nor Sharron Angle's suggestions of impending "Second Amendment remedies" can be said to be a specific call to murder a congresswoman.

Bill O'Reilly's repeated description of a doctor who preformed legal abortions as "Tiller the killer" did not specifically call or his murder either and it one can do nothing more than speculate as to whether the person who did kill Dr. Tiller would have done so, without O'Reilly's repeated mantra.

But Sheriff Dupnik was not proposing government action against free speech either. He was asking people to control themselves: It may be "free" speech, but still it comes with a price.

That this is considered, in some quarters, incendiary, worthy of the Sheriff's impeachment or electoral defeat may be the worst thing, other than the physical pain and deaths, that has followed this horrible event.

In second place would be this:

Do you think it is ever justified for citizens to take violent action against the government, or is it never justified?
Justified 16 28 11 11 16
Never justified 76 64 81 81 79
DK/NA 8 8 8 8 5

Over a quarter of a major political party think that violent action against the government might be justified?

Here's one of them, in a link from a post last weekend. This is an elected Republican--not some guy in the woods, on Meet the Press, commenting in August, 2009 about a person who flew a plane into an IRS office:

MR. GREGORY: ...I am talking about violence against the
government. That's what this is synonymous with.

SEN. COBURN: The, the--but the tone is based on fear of loss of control
of their own government. What, what is the genesis behind people going to
such extreme statements? What is it? We, we have lost the confidence, to a certain degree, and it's much worse than when Tom was the, the, the
leader of the Senate. We have, we have raised the question of whether or
not we're legitimately thinking about the American people and their
long-term best interests. And that's the question. The, the mail volume
of all the senators didn't go up based on the healthcare debate, the mail
volume went up when we started spending away our future indiscriminately.
And that's not Republican or Democrat, that has been a problem for years.
But it's exacerbated now that we're in the kind of financial situation
and economic situation.

This is not the kind of answer any elected official should give, much less a doctor. To say that it is understandable why a person would kill others is reprehensible, whether it has a direct connection to an act of violence. Yet, as E.J. Dionne and Rachel Maddow pointed out on Thursday, many of those who so strongly oppose any form of gun control no longer do so as sports enthusiasts or hunters, or even for protection against criminals, but to enable them to oppose a tyrannical government.

It is of course, very easy to talk about what others, who do not agree with oneself, should do or say. Censorship is, of course, wrong, aside from being unconstitutional. And we cannot be in fear of words with which we do not agree. This space
has found it quite incredible when people calling themselves progressives or liberal begin to froth at the mouth at some of the silliest "provocations". Moreover, we have our share of over the top commentary, especially in the pages of Daily Kos. (This is not a reason to condemn Daily Kos; quite the contrary, really. It is a basis for suggesting our side is not free of foolish and excessive commentaries on the motives and ideas of public servants with whom we do not always agree.)

Is, for instance, "Hillary...a Lunatic Right-Wing Hawk" or the "war monger" described with much approval in those pages during the 2007-2008 period? (9+ / 0-). Should the President of the United States be referred to as "slime"?

No suggestion of an equivalency, false or not, should be seen here. And, one---we surely learned this in first grade somewhere---hardly justifies the other. President Clinton was routinely referred to as a murderer, and the barely printable things that are said about the current president go well beyond name calling when, as noted here last weekend and previously, that include prayers for his death.

The line drawn between this kind of speech and people shooting politicians does not have to be explicit to be of concern. Just as we have no specific idea as to what made Congresswoman Giffords so important to her would be assassin, there was, in the Warren Commission's words:

no evidence that the extreme views expressed toward President Kennedy by some rightwing groups centered in Dallas or any other general atmosphere of hate or rightwing extremism which may have existed in the city of Dallas had any connection with Oswald's actions on November 22, 1963. There is, of course, no way to judge what the effect of the general political ferment present in that city might have been...

the Commission devoted a fair amount of space in their report, as linked above and here, in discussion of roughly the same extreme noise directed against a President of the United States elected as the nominee of the Democratic Party as we have seen since even before the current president was elected. Look at this thing being distributed in Dallas as President Kennedy arrived, and this full page advertisement which ran in a Dallas newspaper on the day of his murder.

And after all we have read about this week's murderer, the similarity of his nonsense to this, about President Kennedy' assassin, should make those who would, in Sheriff Dupnik's words, pooh-pooh the idea that a tolerance for craziness, and its encouragement by politicians eager for any vote, is a recipe for chaos, whether specific acts can be directly traced to specific statements. This is not about Loughner but Oswald, but it is hard to see much difference:

His wife testified that he compared himself with great readers of history. Such ideas of grandeur were apparently accompanied by notions of oppression. He had a great hostility toward his environment, whatever it happened to be

When those of us old enough to have seen this exact same story unfold over and over again, with little difference, but no change in policy because there is no way to specifically connect each event to precise legislative action or failures, we begin to wonder whether we are just lucky to have made it through the maelstrom.


One little postscript is required: We all loved the President's speech the other night, and most of us understood the somewhat odd reaction of an audience mourning the dead and supporting the injured but the idea that it is the President who has changed, rather than that the audience has decided in the aftermath of these events, to pay attention to him the way they did before his election requires a link to just two of his most sensational addresses of the past year, which apparently many have missed. Michigan commencement, Carnegie-Mellon Watching them will underscore the view, acceptable once again this week, that we are dealing with a quite extraordinary man serving as President. Sadly or not, he is neither a dictator or monarch, but he is the best there is in our nation's capitol. As President Kennedy told us almost exactly fifty years ago, though, whether we move forward as a nation depends on us, and not just the president. But that's next week's post.

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