“You’ve got to think about it, our democracy is a light, a beacon, really, around the world because we effect change at the ballot box, and not because of these outbursts, of violence in many cases. Change is important, it’s a part of our process, but it’s really important that we focus on the fact that we have a democratic process.”
-U. S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
“I think it’s time as a country to do a little soul-searching. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.”
-Clarence Dupnik, Pima County Arizona
Today, Gabrielle Giffords fights for her life, one of 19 victims of a political assassination that include a federal judge and 9-year old girl. The shooter is undoubtedly an insane man who acted on the murky motives of psychosis. Another time, another day, that may have been explanation enough. In 2011, it is not.
Over the next few days, conservatives will condemn these political assassinations in stentorian tones, repeating over and over that they do not condone violence. John "Hell No" Boehner, who must no doubt be pleased with the media stock photos of him and Giffords sharing a laugh, tells us that "Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society." (Apparently, those of us who are not public officials are out of luck.)
But that isn't the issue.
The question isn't whether conservatives condone murder. Few people do. But they have fomented it with their unveiled threats to water the the tree of liberty with blood of supposed tyrants; with their dark talk of a second civil war; with their wild accusations that anyone not like them is a dangerous socialist; with their portrayal of President Obama as a psychotic villain; with their threats and calls to arms; with their advocating the lynching of US senators; and with their use of rage and lies as a substitute for the honest debate that they cannot win. And for some, though the Susan Collinses and Olympia Snowes will deny it, it has come with their silent acquiescence to behavior that one hopes troubles them deeply.
Sarah Palin has reportedly removed the above graphic (the emphasis on Rep. Giffords is mine) from her web site while at the same time denying that it in any way signifies the culture of violence adopted by the extreme right and encouraged and exploited by establishment Republicans. Giffords' opponent last fall, one Jesse Kelly, disputes that campaign commercials depicting him with a gun and wearing hunting fatigues were in any way relevant to the actions of a madman. Others urge us not to jump to conclusions about causality and gather their guns around them as if the Second Amendment had been assaulted and not nineteen innocents at a Tucson shopping mall.
There is a place in our political culture for anger and outrage: Both have fueled movements for justice. But that's just the point: They were means -- and not the only ones -- to humane ends of extending the blessings of liberty. They weren't expressed through intimidation and terror with the intent of silencing and disenfranchising the Not Like Us.
These people are nothing but thugs. They should be treated as such. Palin's graphic has one thing right: It's time to take a stand.