Guns and Battlecries

The Politics of Speaking Up

So, how’s that “reload” slogan workin’ out for you, Sarah?

I know, I know, it seems like piling on. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Everyone on the left has pointed out that Sarah Palin, the patron saint of the Tea Party, had drawn up a map in which several Democratic districts were special targets for extra effort in last year’s election. She marked these districts on a map with rifle sights.

One of them happened to be the Arizona district of Democratic moderate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, up for a tough third term election. Giffords, as we well know now, is hanging on precariously for her life in the aftermath of a horrific shooting in front of a Tucson Safeway Store. Six people were killed, and numerous others were injured. The shooter, a disturbed young man named Jared Loughner, apparently targeted Giffords, using an automatic Glock pistol.

Commentators and politicians are complaining that Palin and some of the more outspoken rhetoric dished out by Tea Party and conservative supporters contributed to an out-of-control atmosphere of confrontational politics in Washington and across the country.

I don’t mean to pick on Palin. All right, yes I do. In spite of her condolences, Palin has never owned up to the severity of her rhetoric and tactics or their possible consequences. It’s especially fair to single out Palin because, prophetically, Giffords herself did, calling her out for the “target” tactic. She insisted that Democrats and Republicans and political opponents had to work together to end the poisonous political and electoral climate. Giffords had voted for President Obama’s health care bill, for which she suffered the political consequence of a very close election victory.

I doubt that Giffords, who is a popular moderate in Congress, would suggest that the shooting was Palin’s fault, nor am I suggesting this. But irrational people (with guns) operate in an environment that is full of hateful and enabling rhetoric, which as historians we have seen in the American past.

That’s no excuse to tolerate such behavior now, or dismiss it as all in a day’s work, including President Obama’s “gun to the party” comment. We shouldn’t let Palin get away with it either. During the presidential election, her outrageous, stoke ‘em up rhetoric, did indeed stoke 'em up – to the point where one man, referring to Obama, shouted “kill him” during a rally. Palin said nothing.

And that’s the problem. Until we have tragedies like this, nobody says anything.

Maybe, if, for instance, the next time Bill Maher snides and snarks up about rednecks, we ought to deluge him with letters or e-mails. Maybe the next time another congressman calls the president a liar during a state of the union address, someone ought to yell “shut up,” and it would be good if it was a GOP leader.

If we wring our hands now, and also let the National Rifle Association spokesmen scare the beejesus out of every elected official in the land, it’s a little late. People have died. Freedom of Speech? Sure. But it doesn’t mean we can’t call the speech ugly and dangerous. Don’t let the stink pass as something windblown and out of our control. Don’t keep spewing out hate until there are battles in the streets, or some other guy with a fast-loading gun feels entitled to use it.

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Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:29:27 -0400

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