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Monday, January 10, 2011

It's not the bottom, its the gap

Six people are dead, including a Federal Judge, a nine year old girl and a 79 year old woman. It has been reported that as many as 20 people were shot, fourteen of them are critically wounded - including Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

It happened outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona on a crisp, clear Saturday morning. A motive for the shooting has yet to have been determined. The shooter is said to have been a "deranged young man" who acted alone.

Everyone on both sides of the aisle is, of course, decrying the senseless violence. Republicans are scrambling to distance themselves from the folks on the fringe while some Democrats are seizing the opportunity to foist them on their own petard.

Yes, there is a direct link between the rhetoric of violence and acts of violence. That point is so obvious to me it boggles my mind to think that there are some - apparently a great number - who actually don't get it.

This quote from this morning's NY Times editorial clearly summaries the problem for me:
"It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge."
Of course, most of the people who are Tea Party members don't read the NY Times. They are encouraged by folks like Mrs. Palin to distrust the "mainstream media" and get all their information from Fox News Service.

However, "mainstream" Republicans do read the NY Times - at least, many I know do - and I can't help but think that this is as serious a 'wake up call' for them as it is for any anyone else on any side of any aisle who fans the flames of anger in this country - or anywhere else.

Images such as the one to your immediate right have to stop.

Yes, you read that right.

It's a "Liberal Hunting License Sticker" being sold at a place called the "Patriot Shop" and goes for a mere $3.25.

The add declares:
Liberal hunting season has been declared. Get your permit today!

"Liberal Hunting License -- 2009-2013 -- No Bag Limit -- Tagging Not Required."

Measures 3-3/4" x 3-3/4"

*Disclaimer: For novelty purposes only.

Since when has declaring open season on liberals - or any human being - been funny?

I suppose this little note at the end of the page makes it alright:
"All purchases at PatriotShop.US support our Mission of Service to America's Armed Services, and help ensure that The Patriot Post is distributed to hundreds of thousands of military personnel and students without a fee. The Patriot receives no corporate, foundation, political or special interest funding. Our mission and operations are funded by — and depend entirely upon — the financial support of American Patriots like YOU!"
There now, don't you feel better? Doesn't that just make you feel 'red, white and blue' all over?

Violence seems to be an increasing part of the American culture. It's not just post 9/11. I was a young student in middle school when President John F. Kennedy was shot. That was soon followed by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. It was a terrible time in our history - one I had hoped we had learned from and would never happen again.

So, why doesn't this image on Sarah Palin's web page not raise at least an eyebrow of concern? It's entitled "Don’t Get Demoralized! Get Organized! Take Back the 20!"

Is a visual image of Palin's famous line, "Don't Retreat. Reload."

If you look closely (you can make the image larger by clicking on it), you will see the name of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the cross hairs of the target.

Would the fact that Giffords was once a Republican but became a Democrat have anything to do with this? No? How about that she's a woman and is Jewish? Nah!

Perhaps I'm being too facile - but probably not mistaken, especially in terms of what seems to fire the bigotry and racism and anger and hatred of those on the fringes of sanity.

While the Palin Political Machine is exhausting itself trying to back peddle away from even a whiff of any intent to do violence (they have, apparently, taken down the page) to any of the "targeted" legislators who voted for Health Care Reform, this sentence from the website can not be easily dismissed,
"This is just the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington. Please go to and join me in the fight."
John Cole perhaps said it best,
"The point we have been trying to make for the last couple of years is that Republicans need to stop whipping up crazy people with violent political rhetoric. This is really not a hard concept to follow. There are crazy people out there. Stop egging them on."
On January 5th, The Rolling Stone website posted an essay by Matt Taibbi entitled, "The Crying Shame of John Boehner"

There is a bone-chilling piece wherein Taibbi reports an exchange between Boehner and Ohio Democrat, Steve Driehaus after Boehner suggested that by voting for Obamacare, Driehaus "may be a dead man". Taibbi writes:
"Driehaus is quick to point out that he doesn't think Boehner meant to urge anyone to violence. "But it's not about what he intended — it's about how the least rational person in my district takes it. We run into some crazy people in this line of work."

Driehaus says Boehner was "taken aback" when confronted on the floor, but never actually said he was sorry: "He said something along the lines of, 'You know that's not what I meant.' But he didn't apologize."
Political rhetoric is notoriously (and, unnecessarily) filled with vitriol. Passion is okay. It's fine. It's important. It's expected, actually. But, vitriol begins to cross the line of decency and begins to enter a danger zone of violence.

There is something different, however, about this particular moment of violence in our history.

I believe we have created our own culture of terrorism.

Blogs and radio talk shows and cable television programs exploit the dark visions of political extremists for their own profit and political gain.

That's how terrorism works. Terrorists always exploit the poor. Why not, the thinking goes. Everyone else does.

They have a point.
"When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled 'made in Germany' it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, 'Americanism."
Those are the words of Professor Halford E. Luccock of the Divinity School of Yale University in a sermon he delivered at Riverside Church.

That was 1938.

The short hand version, attributed to Sinclair Lewis is “When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross”.

Many people are saying that, as a country, we have hit bottom. I beg to differ. I don't think we have. I think - fear - we may have to sink even lower before we find the soul that we have lost.

Which is why I'm not as concerned about the bottom as I am the gap.

The economic disparity in this country grows larger every day.

It will get worse, I fear.

In a BBC radio broadcast last night, one reporter mentioned that the unemployment rate in the US has finally begun to decline, but noted - as only someone who is not an American could - that this may well be due to the fact that many of those who are unemployed have simply stopped looking for jobs.

I think he's onto something more than just clever "outsider" rhetoric.

Poverty has a way of eroding the soul. Despair has a singular ability to distort and color reality in dark, depressing shades of gloom and doom. It becomes its own swirling vortex from which even the strongest have difficulty emerging.

When those who are emotionally unstable are also affected by poverty. . .and when gun control is so lax in this country that even a person known to be emotionally unstable as to have been kicked out of his college program can still buy a gun. . . and when political vitriol is seemingly inescapable in print, audio and visual and electronic media. . . .well, the only thing surprising about the shooting in Arizona is that it didn't happen sooner.

Pima County Sheriff Charles Dupnik said it best,
"I think it’s time as a country we need to do a little soul searching because I think that the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from the people in the radio business, and some people in the T.V. business, and what we see on T.V. and how are youngsters are being raised. It may be free speech but it does not come without consequences. Arizona has become the Mecca of prejudice and bigotry."
The good Sheriff is absolutely right. Soul searching is exactly what we need to do. We have lost the soul of this country and things will not change until we find it again.

I think that begins with holding ourselves accountable for allowing political vitriol such as the ones I've sited here.

Yes. It starts with me and it starts with you. We can not sit still while this insanity swirls around us. As we used to say, back in the late 60s, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

Then, we hold accountable every other public and political figure who uses violent language, imagery and/or metaphor for political gain or financial profit.

I think a fitting tribute and legacy to Christina Taylor Green, the nine year old girl who was killed in Tucson while seeing Representative Giffords, would be a bill that would hold all public figures and politicians accountable for violent rhetoric and imagery. All. Of. Them.

And... and... and... as we're doing that, we put every effort, every energy into closing the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Jesus said, "The poor will always be with you."

That's as much a statement of fact as it is a call to service.

Let's put down the guns, and the gun metaphors, and get on with closing the gap between the rich and the poor.

Then, and only then - in those acts of kindness and mercy and justice - might we be able to find the soul we have lost.


"Sir" said...

"Yes, there is a direct link between the rhetoric of violence and acts of violence."

Of course there is and it has been very interesting listening the news debates over here - obviously from a slightly different perspective - when some of your right-wingers have been interviewed. Denying the problem loudly doesn't make the problem go away. We've a more pragmatic attitude to issues of free speech here and it is a right more clearly balanced by widely accepted understandings of reponsibilities. People here can not understand why Palin has neot been arrested for incitement to hatred.

We also don't do guns as a right. We have more than enough problems caused by the illegal holding of guns.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

If I remember correctly, your bobbies don't carry guns. Is that right? I'm willing to be that your crime rate is, per capita, lower than ours.

Boggles the mind.

brent clarke (lost in texas) said...

First, the Sarah Palin site didn't use crosshairs. That is a surveyors sign. Second, the Democratic leadership Commitee used a sign showing targeted Republican states in 2004. They showed actual targets. Or we could look at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) website, where in February of this year they used a national map with targets to delineate republicans they wished to defeat. What about the "docudrama" about the assassination fo George W. Bush? How about the signs, too numerous to mention, calling for the assassination of Bush, Cheney, etc. Once again, Bloggers like you and Mother Russell would have a wee bit more credibility if your ox gored everyone equally. I wrote as much to Mother Russell when she took the brave step of protesting for religious tolerance in Los Angeles. It would have been a little more dramatic if she had gone to, say, Tehran, or Islamabad, or Pyongyang, instead of the heart of one of the most liberal and inclusive cities in the world. Im just saying. Loughner was, is and will continue to be (minus boxcars of meds) a nut. Nuts know no political persuasion, they are just nuts. His favorite books were, by his own admission, Mien Kamph and the Communist Manifesto. He had a skull altar in his backyard. That does not make him a fascist/marxist, devil worshiper. Just as having a copy of Sarah Palins books does notmake him a tea party member. He was a member of the crazy party. If, as some of his high school classmated intimate, he was a pot smoking leftist, would it be ok to demonize anyone of the left? I think you would have aproblem with that, as would I. Why? BECAUSE HE WAS A NUT!!! Seriously, Mother Elizabeth, I enjoy your writing, and I sometimes agree with you (rarely) but I can appreciate your point of view, but American politics is a contact sport and commentators, pundits, and politicians should not censor their beliefs for some mythic idea of playing nice. I want disagreement in the public sphere. I want Anthony Weiner and Michell Bachman to make their case in the starkest terms possible. Republican democracy never loses when people speak their mind. Sometimes it gets ugly, but nobody ever said democracy was easy.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

I was wondering if anyone was going to throw the "Jewish" card on the table. It needed to be. That kind of prejudice is, sadly, still out there.

I was also just telling a friend on Facebook today, "I feel like it's 1968 again--just without the tear gas and the dogs." I was only 8 at the time, but I remember between all that and the Vietnam body count, the world seemed like a very scary place.

I'm here! Now what? said...

Thank you for the wonderful piece. Can we use the Tucson tear drop?

Bateau Master said...

We all have an ability to rationalize our vitriol, and many have short memories of their words concerning the last administration. Like thinking media amplify the chosen taking points and we have Chicken Little all over again. So in the famous words of Sgt Hulka, "Lighten up, Francis!"

In technical terms, we have a certifiable wackadoodle, who's first arrestable offense was horrendous. That is all. Amongst 309 million people, we are going to have wackadoodles. The defense is not whipping one political voice because you don't care for the message. It is vigilance, it is security - providing security - personal & collective. To hold a rally/meeting without a police presence is idiotic. At our annual community Easter Egg hunt, we have police present - and bored out of their minds. That's collective security - personal security is even more important. If you are not of the mindset to protect yourself and those around you, you become sheep.

Brother David said...

From the testimony concerning the London Metropolitan Police murder/execution of Brazilian immigrant worker Jean Charles de Menezes, the service sent out specially designated officers who carried weapons, so called weapons officers, because traditionally most British police officers do not carry weapons.

Unfortunately, few if any of the "lone nutters" ever boast at trial of being influenced by the vitriol. It would be so much harder to distance themselves from a situation if one did. But the facts seem to be that innately they know it is true when they begin the backpedaling as soon as an event occurs, usually before anyone has even pointed fingers at them.

If Statesonians also got a handle on this gun problem it would really help my nation as well. The extra large cartridge magazine this gunman used was illegal to sell under the recently expired and not renewed US federal weapons ban. It enabled him to fire and main more folks before he had to stop and reload, which proved to be the moment of his downfall as bystanders, including on of his victims, jumped him and prevented more carnage.

walter said...

..It seems to Me that here is no other way around breaking the link but forgiveness. I am aware some may say it is too soon to forgive; but timing is a personal thing and may be still very political. I am not going to be as clear as usual because the issue at hand is still too fresh and too vulnerable to manipulation. I just say this: how many of us are awake At the interests we pay on our debts some of which are based on manipulated consumptions continue to go up because there is not gold standard backing? The consequences of destructive behavior from the judicial point of view nobody challenge here in an appropriate psychiatric evaluation, but for us to forgive Its all another dimension. I need to reflect on this some more..In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused and truthful. ILove my Little Girl, ILove my Traveling Mercies, ILove my Brother.

Walter Vitale said...

Hmm...maybe we can begin by toning down the violent rehtoric by the starting with the man in the White House. This from here,


LoieJ said...

The violent rhetoric isn't just from the right. See for yourself:

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michele Maklin? You're kidding me, right? She has absolutely NO credibility, even among most conservative Republicans.

You'll have to do better than that.

Quoting Maklin is the popular journalistic equivalent to quoting the researcher Kinsey. Both are so psychologically unstable as to tarnish any of their "findings".

I will give you this much, PS: there are elements of violence in punching and "kicking ass". Even "Abort Sarah Palin" is passable because, well, it's impossible, isn't it? It's odious but it doesn't cross the line the way guns and gun metaphors are.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Y'all - I think the only thing more dangerous than our very lax gun laws is our deep denial about the connection between violent rhetoric and acts of violence.

Social scientists have been documenting the link between hate speech and hate crimes for over 30 years. That's part of the reason hate crimes are now on the book. When are we going to "get it"?

Yes, there's blame on both sides, but for every ONE example you can give me from the left, I can give you TWENTY from the right. While that's a valid enough point in and of itself, the real point is how politicians and people in the media are exploiting this vitriol to their own political gain and personal financial profit.

Get it?

It does no good to point fingers and say, "Oh, yeah? But look what s/he did/said." Some of us stopped doing that in the 6th grade.

We need to take a breath, step back, and have a good examination of conscience. The soul of this nation and our people are at stake.

Desperate people in desperate times do desperate things. William Blake said that years ago and it's still true. We need to look at what causes people to be desperate.

My analysis leads me to believe that it's due, in large part, to the ever-widening gap between rich and poor.

Rather than "lighten up" (BTW, I experience that as very dismissive, Bateau Master, and it's own form of violence) let's focus on the gap instead of the bottom of this pre-adolescent game of "shame and blame".

As I said, it begins with me and it begins with you. We need to hold ourselves and each other - across partisan lines - accountable for our actions and how it feeds the desperate and unbalanced in our midst.

And yes, please use the Tucson logo. I did.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous. You are certainly entitled to your opinions. You do not have the right, however, to have them posted here without taking responsibility for them.

Anonymous comments like yours, I believe, are part of the problem. No accountability. No responsibility.

Well, I'm taking responsibility to hold you accountable. If you want them printed, you follow the rules above and sign your name.


Charlie Sutton said...

Years ago, a columnist I enjoyed would have a column on comparisons every now and again: "I am persistent, you are stubborn, he is an obstinate mule."

I read "Stand Firm in Faith," and I will admit that there are statements there at times that are stupid and some that are angry and hint at violence (and very occasionally more than hint).

I do check in on some "progressive" blogs, and while the bloggers themselves never call for violence, there are commenters who are obviously filled with rage. It is common to see references to "haters" as though each and every person who is opposed to the normalization of same-sex sexual relationships as being motivated solely by hatred and/or ignorance, when in fact there are many opponents who come to their positions out of research and prayer. It is impossible to have a civil decision about anything if you believe that those who do not agree are irrational and motivated solely by some base emotion.

In light of my opening words, perhaps when "progressives" read progressive blogs, what they see looks like perfectly rational and reasonable, while anything a conservative says seems more like a rant. And vice-versa, of course. I remember when David Anderson was asked why he was involved in opposing the movement to regularize same-sex relationship in ECUSA, he replied, "I enjoy a good fight." To me, that was a tongue-in-cheek comment. The real answer would have taken much longer, but he was being a bit playful. To "progressives," however, it was seen as a statement of fact: David Anderson was admitting that he is an ornery cuss.

I do not listen to talk radio, except for what is on NPR. Rush Limbaugh is a lot of hot air. I did not know who Glen Beck was until a few months ago, and I have never listened to him or to Ann Coulter. There are far fewer liberal talk-show hosts - I think that there are some, but I generally do not like the format. Most of the NPR talk shows are left-leaning, but they are thoughtful enough in how they are presented that one can, to a large extent, filter the biases.

We would be better off if we could tone things down in general, and not simply get all worked up and seeing to get others worked up - facts before feelings. But I do not think that is going to happen. For one thing, our culture seems to value feelings over facts. For another, the nation is divided at a basic level - we see things from radically different perspectives and sets of assumptions about what is real and what is good.

It looks like a bumpy ride ahead.

PS - even if Michelle Malkin has no credibility (I do not know; I just learned about her blog yesterday), the sites she links to showing the incitement to violence on the part of liberals are real sites - she did not invent them.

IT said...

As George Packer writes in the New Yorker:

"In fact, there is no balance—none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous."

LoieJ said...

I'm not sure why you would denigrate something published by Michelle Malkin. I'm hardly upholding her viewpoints or her writings. She published items showing that the hate speech isn't one sided. Or are you saying she made those things up? I've heard plenty of negative and sarcastic speech from the network that doesn't even claim to be fair and balanced, ie, NOT FOX.

Regarding the crosshairs/surveyors sign. That's been ardently shown to be NOT surveyors signs by people who work in that field. It is claimed so by those who are defending Sarah Palin's use of that graphic. It just depends on who you want to believe.

The rhetoric has gotten way out of hand. But that doesn't mean that any specific instance of that rhetoric has been the cause of what happened on Saturday. We don't know and will never know unless the shooter tells somebody.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

PS - My personal opinion is that Maklin has little credibility as a journalist. Very. Little.

The point is not who shouts the loudest that "Don't Retreat. Reload" is not violent, or whether or not they are cross hairs or targets, or even who has used vitriol how many times. The point is accountability. Self and others.

What we need is a little maturity in our social discourse - not the adolescent game of "shame and blame".

the cajun said...

My darling, you have so much more patience than I as this moment.

I've been getting "anonymous" hate-filled comments over posts regarding the BP aftermath and cover-up.

Un-informed, blindly arrogant, poorly worded, and hateful anonymous comments are deleted.

I wish comment moderation was unnecessary, but, well Saturday's events and the fall out have proven otherwise.

Love I send you.

JCF said...

"surveyor sign": that is LAUGHABLE post-Giffords' shooting revisionism! [Palin herself called them "bulls-eyes"]

Wot IT cited.

"Sir" said...

Trying not to be naive here, and dealing with a completely different legal system, but don't you have laws against incitement?

Is it really true that you can say anything and you are covered by a constitutional right? Surely not?

Charlie Sutton said...

I just listened to the opening story on "Morning Edition" of NPR, which was on assassinations and assassination attempts in the US. A group of researchers talked to almost all of the living assassins (and would-be's) of political figures in the US.

They found that virtually all those who attempted assassination were people who had experienced many failures in their lives in the year or so past, and who longed for attention and respect. Somehow, the idea of getting on the front pages by shooting a public figure seemed to them to be the best way to succeed at something - so they got a gun and set out on their mission.

The assassinations of the Kennedy's seem to have been politically motivated, especially that of JFK - but even then, the assassin was a troubled loner.

American speech does tend to be too filled with references to violence - on all sides. The Human Rights Campaign routinely refers to all those who oppose the normalization of same-sex sexual activity as "haters," which I suppose does motivate the troops - but does little to acknowledge that there are many who oppose such normalization for reasoned principle, not out of some gut revulsion.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Charilie - I appreciate your point. However, while Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin did not pull the trigger, their vitriolic rhetoric, heavily laced with images of war and guns creates a climate in which hate festers and grows, until it finally infects the minds of the unstable.

Comparing that with calling people who work against marriage equality "haters" is patently absurd.

Granted, its not the most temperate of speech, but it does not incite violence. I'm willing to bet solid money that if you and your wife were not able to be married in the eyes of God and the law of the land, you would come to the same conclusion yourself.

There is no legal, no logical reason, to deny the civil rights of one group based on the "ick" factor of another.

Even so call people "haters" is not putting them in cross hairs on the map. Neither is it a call to "fire a salvo" and "join in the fight" to "get rid of these people."

Surely a man as intelligent as yourself can see that. Yes, all the rhetoric in this country needs to be toned down. "We can do better. We can be better" President Obama said.

We won't achieve that goal as long as we have the dangerous combination of vitriolic rhetoric with violent images and lax gun laws.