Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Telling the Truth about Tucson

It is very interesting to see the reaction in the American media to the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona last Saturday night (January 8). Some are taking the view that no one can be blamed for the actions of a clearly deranged individual. Others are saying that while the shooter was indisputably insane, both sides of the political spectrum need to take responsibility for heated political rhetoric in the last several years that may have inspired this demented young man to pick up a gun and shoot a politician, a judge and a number of others.

Bullshit. There is only one political party in America on one side of the political spectrum that has made a specialty of drumming up intensive hatred of the government and that has repeatedly encouraged people to consider taking up arms against the government. That party is the Republican Party, with its young Frankenstein monster the "Tea Party" movement never being told that it should calm down and be less angry and extreme. There is a very long trail here that simply has no counterpart in the Democratic Party or on the left-wing side of the spectrum.

Barry Goldwater, Republican candidate for President in 1964, made the famous statement during his campaign that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." This was in the same time period when peaceful Civil Rights activists were being beaten by right-wing supporters of racial inequality and in some cases killed by lynch mobs in the South. Goldwater made clear where he stood by voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was much appreciated by Southern opponents of Civil Rights and desegregation. The South was the one area of the country where Goldwater did well in the 1964 election, setting the trend of solid Southern support for Republican candidates for President in nearly every election since then.

Ronald Reagan, running for President in 1980, made his first speech after winning the Republican nomination at a site in Mississippi just a few miles from an infamous spot where Civil Rights workers had been brutally slain in 1964. He talked of restoring "states' rights," an unmistakable reference to right-wing, Southern opposition to the Civil Rights movement, which made clear that his choice of location for his first major speech as Republican Presidential candidate was no mere coincidence. Reagan was laying claim to the heritage of violent opposition to the Civil Rights movement, and saw no need to pay homage to the Civil Rights martyrs of that region. Reagan would go on to coin the phrase, "Government is not the solution; government is the problem," which has ever since been the mantra of the anti-government conservatives.

In the 1990s, Republican politicians often shared the sentiments of the anti-government, gun-crazed militia movement, which was in many ways a forerunner of the Tea Party movement. Bill Clinton,a Democrat and a liberal, was demonized with outrageous accusations by right-wing, conservative politicians, including the claim that he had engineered the killing of his friend and aide, Vince Foster. Among conservatives and militia members in this era, there was much paranoia directed toward the United Nations, which they feared was setting up a secret government that would soon enslave Americans and take away their liberties. The mood of anti-government hatred and the glorification of anti-government violence reached its peak in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murray government building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh in 1995.

Under President George W. Bush, right-wing hate and anger cooled down a bit, perhaps because Bush's continually expanding wars against Muslim nations provided an external outlet for conservative anger and paranoia. Though there was angry left-wing opposition to Bush's policies, especially his wars, it never led to the kind of mass cult of paranoia and violence that was typical of the Clinton era. With President Obama's election, there was a resurgence of 1990s-style anti-government sentiment and a renewed glorification of anti-government violence. Once more, wild, extreme accusations were made about a Democratic, liberal President, whose African-American heritage seemed to inflame conservatives into paroxysms of rage and paranoia. Sales of guns and ammunition skyrocketed. The right-wing media, which had been in their infancy in the Clinton era, were now well-tooled operations of mass propaganda and coordinated fear-mongering, and were able to terrify many Americans that the quite mild, liberal and pro-corporate policies of the Obama administration, such as a health-care reform effort that was quite disappointing to liberals and the left wing, were pushing the country to the edge of the apocalypse. The spring and summer of 2009 saw the rise of the Tea Party movement, with angry opponents of Obama and Democratic policies showing up at political rallies armed with guns and shouting out their paranoia and anger with red-faced fury. In Texas, an anti-government zealot flew a plane into a building. The FBI issued a warning about rising activity by right-wing extemists and militia groups.

Then came the 2010 election season. Republican politicians were eager to cozy up to the Tea Party, seeking to harness their passion and fury. Rarely did any Republicans, even those previously known as political moderates, speak out against the paranoid fantasies and violent rhetoric of Tea Party members and right-wing extremisists. Instead, they openly or implicitly endorsed such sentiments. Republican Congresswoman and Tea Party groupie Michelle Bachman urged her followers to be "armed and dangerous" in opposition to new energy policies under debate in Congress. Sarah Palin urged conservatives, "Don't retreat; instead, reload!," and placed gun-targeting cross-hairs on an internet map of Democrat candidates whose defeat she was advocating on a website. One of the candidates targeted on this map was Gabrielle Gifford, the Democratic Congresswoman shot in the head on Saturday night. Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for Senator in Nevada, spoke approvingly of "Second Amendment remedies" and armed insurrection against the government.

In all of these ways, the Republican Party and its right-wing, militia and Tea Party allies have poured huge amounts of energy into creating mass hysteria, paranoia and anti-government, particularly anti-Democrat, anger. It is one thing to express opposition to policies, but it is something very different to give explicit or implicit approval to people brandishing guns and fantasizing about heroic violence against politicans and the government.

The Tucson shootings were aided and abetted by the Republicans and the right-wing in America. There is nothing equivalent on the Democratic or left-wing side of American politics. It is time to call a spade a spade and not pretend that there is equal blame to go around on both sides. There is only one side that is dedicated to pushing fear, hatred and violence. Those who have made their careers and even considerable fortunes by feeding these flames of fury, fear and violent fantasy need to be held responsible.

Furthermore, it is time to realize that the massive amount of violent fantasy and imagery in our culture is a sickness. It plays into a worldview that the only solution to any problem is through heroic violence. Consider how government is represented on American television shows. It is portrayed as useless, corrupt, evil. The only government agencies shown in a positive light are those engaged in violence: police and soldiers. Almost no other part of government is represented in an appealing manner, while violent vigilantes and brothers-in-arms are continually glorified.

So, if you were a deranged young person like the shooter in Tucson, you would find massive encouragement in American culture and right-wing politics for becoming a gun-toting, tyranny-resisting hero in your own twisted fantasy of violent manhood. We need to start speaking out and turning away from this. We need to start valuing our government officials and public servants, in contrast to the right-wing campaign now under way to villify teachers and others on the public payroll. They are not our enemies. They work for us. Are they perfect? No. Are we perfect? No. Do they deserve to die for trying to do their jobs? What do you think?

Peace. That is not a wimpy, foolish thing. It is sanity. We need it. Badly. We do not need more glorification of war, weapons, violence. We have already had too much.

12 comments:

Hecate said...

Great post!

Lhinelle said...

I politely disagree with your post.

Firstly, I doubt that laying the blame of one clearly disturbed individual's actions at the feet of a stereotype (here the redneck, gun-totin' bible-thumpin Republican) is going to effect any kind of real change. I rather see it as passing the buck and saying, "Yup, such-and-such kind of people are nuts, and if they weren't so nuts *everything* would be better!"

Secondly, your statement that one party is encouraging people to take up arms against the government is also highly questionable, and here's why.
While it can be said that many who identify as Republican also support the Second Amendment--the right of a citizen to bear arms--this does not mean that such folks (or anyone who thinks the Constitution is ok as is, 2nd Amendment included) are out to destroy our government or go randomly kill folks because they can.

Indeed, I can personally identify as a gun-owner. However, I do not identify myself as a member of either major political party and I certainly do not plan on breaking any laws with my firearm. I am a woman, and where I live it is perfectly legal to keep a firearm in one's home for self-defense should someone break in and attempt to harm me and mine. My gun is for my protection. I train with it at the range--legally--and keep it in a safe location which is also reasonably easy to access in the event of such an emergency. I have taken gun safety courses and encourage EVERY gun owner to do so. Check your state laws and follow them!

While keeping guns out of the hands of criminals is every gun control law's ultimate goal, there is no reason to prevent *legal* gun owners from protecting themselves.

Finally, the idea that there are no left-wing groups that are at the same "craziness" level as the Tea Party is a great assumption. We tend to view socialist or other left-leaning groups as peaceful, democratic citizens while right-wingers are gun-totin' nutjobs. May we please remember that in the end, Joseph Stalin, leader of Communist Russia, has more deaths attributed to his regime than the more famous killings attributed to Adolf Hitler. Different sides of the political spectrum, but each extreme enough about their beliefs to kill whomever was in their way.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin)
*I apologize in advance that it's a Wikipedia article, but it's the best I can do at the moment.

I agree that the extreme views of Tea Partiers are disturbing at best, yet I doubt they have anything to do with the shooting at Tucson, Arizona. An individual can be mentally unstable for several reasons, not just by being part of a large political movement.
Instead, let's please look for ways to prevent one armed person from threatening and possibly killing several unarmed people.

Thank you.

Lhinelle said...

Part 2

While keeping guns out of the hands of criminals is every gun control law's ultimate goal, there is no reason to prevent *legal* gun owners from protecting themselves.

Finally, the idea that there are no left-wing groups that are at the same "craziness" level as the Tea Party is a great assumption. We tend to view socialist or other left-leaning groups as peaceful, democratic citizens while right-wingers are gun-totin' nutjobs. May we please remember that in the end, Joseph Stalin, leader of Communist Russia, has more deaths attributed to his regime than the more famous killings attributed to Adolf Hitler. Different sides of the political spectrum, but each extreme enough about their beliefs to kill whomever was in their way.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin)
*I apologize in advance that it's a Wikipedia article, but it's the best I can do at the moment.

I agree that the extreme views of Tea Partiers are disturbing at best, yet I doubt they have anything to do with the shooting at Tucson, Arizona. An individual can be mentally unstable for several reasons, not just by being part of a large political movement.
Instead, let's please look for ways to prevent one armed person from threatening and possibly killing several unarmed people.

Thank you.

Katrina Ostrander said...

I might be a little hesitant to say that "Republican politicians were eager to cozy up to the Tea Party, seeking to harness their passion and fury." The obvious tension between Christine O'Donnell and her RNC superiors comes to mind, and this article covers a few other instances.

This latest bit is also worth considering: After Giffords Shooting, Several AZ Republicans Resign Amid Fears of Tea Party Violence. I've noticed a definite dichotomy between mainstream conservatives and the fringe of their party.

So on the one hand, yes, Republicans have not done enough to decry the violent rhetoric being used by some of their associates, on the other hand, to say that the two groups are "cozy" and "allies" might be taking it too far.

Maelstrom said...

Thanks for an alternative viewpoint. Not to rehash what I wrote in the original posting, let me just emphasize that a key aspect of my accuation against Republicans and right-wingers is that for decades, they have been preaching an anti-government message that, in my view, is very destructive for our society, including the militia movement and the recent crop of Republicans who seem to like the idea of taking up arms against our "evil, tyrannical" government. That is really my main point, not anything about guns or the Second Amendment.

Maelstrom said...

Katrina, I think you are underestimating the closensess of the relationship between the Republican Party and the Tea Party. You note that the RNC was not close to Tea, but the RNC was also not the main funder of Republican campaign activity in election 2010. The main funder was Karl Rove's group, I forget its name. It is true that Karl Rove initially spoke against Christian O'Donnell, but remember he endorsed her subsequently. Also, FOX news has become the de facto leader of the Republicans, and it was not only pro-Tea Party, its programs really helped the Tea Party come into existence with the first place. No major Republican official like Mitch McConnell or John Boehner has been anything but complimentary to the Tea Party. I agree that there are indications of some tension between SOME Republicans and the Tea, but the overall picture is of Republicans bending over backwards to please and court the Tea Parties. Republicans wanted the Tea Party on their side, and now they are going to have to live with the consequences. To flip this another way, I challenge you to show me any proof that the Tea Party is affiliated with the Democratic Party or with liberals. As they are obviously anti-Democratic, anti-liberal, and pro-conservative, it is hard to argue coherently that the Tea Partiers are anything other than allies of the Republicans.

Maelstrom said...

Katrina, thanks for the Alter.net article. Very interesting. It shows that the Republicans, at least those in Arizona, are now becoming afraid of the Frankenstein monster they have created. Republican officials resigning due to fear of the Tea Party after the Tucson shootings: I think this proves my main contention very nicely, that the the anti-government attitude fostered by the Republicans, which has metastasized in the Tea Party, is something conducive to violence by anti-government zealots. The Republicans are now learning the old lesson: As ye sow, so shall ye reap. If you tell people it is great to be anti-government and to bring guns to political events, you are setting up a bad BAD situation.

James said...

The shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was left-wing, yet the right-wing is to blame?

http://www.bnp.org.uk/news/arizona-murders-communist-extremists-and-their-media-lackeys-shoot-themselves-foot

"The tragic shooting in Arizona of a Jewish American congresswoman and some bystanders has taken a new twist with the news that the assassin is himself Jewish and is a well-known leftist radical, directly contradicting media claims that that he was linked to “right wing organisations.”

The shocking incident, which saw a crazed gunman shoot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and nineteen others, six of them fatally, was initially blamed on “right wing extremists.”

The media in America, and here in Britain, then claimed that the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was linked to the patriotic American Renaissance organisation, based on what was claimed to be a memo from the American government’s Department of Homeland Security.

This story was latched onto by the Daily Mail in London, and repeated unquestioningly.

Finally, the far left Communist party front organisation, Searchlight/Hope not Hate repeated the allegations and threw in the British National Party for good measure because Nick Griffin had addressed an American Renaissance meeting in the past.

Now, however, it has been revealed that there was no such memo and that the Department of Homeland Security has “not established any such a possibility,” as reported by the Washington Post.

Furthermore, the news that the shooter was Jewish and was known amongst friends as a left-wing radical, has further undermined the spurious attempt to drag American Renaissance, and by implication, the British National Party, into the story.

This is the sort of twisted, deviant lying which we have come to expect as normal from the extremist communists in Searchlight/Hope not Hate, but it is a worrying trend when such obvious lies and malicious smears are repeated by parts of the mainstream media.

It is precisely this sort of undemocratic lynch-mob mentality which has come to mark the “democracy” as practised by the far left: a vicious hypocrisy which reveals itself to be the worst of the fascism which they claim to oppose."

Maelstrom said...

To be clear, I have not contended that Jared Loughner, the shooter in this case was a Republican or a Tea Party member or a conservative. I would dispute your contention that he was a liberal leftist, as the evidence seems to be that politically or ideologically, he was all over the map. My main contention, which some readers seem to have difficulty comprehending, is that the right-wing and the Republican party in the USA have worked for decades to promote anti-government attitudes, including looking kindly on violent anti-government movements and rhetoric, which creates a climate in which killing government officials is made to seem heroic, especially to those with paranoia or other mental disorders. My secondary contention is that American culture IN GENERAL is overly fond of guns and violence, which can also play on unstable minds with visions of ending their lives in a blaze of heroic glory. Those who try to deflect these issues by turning the discussion toward gun rights or mental illness are not engaging the issues I am raising.

James said...

I would say that anti-government attitudes go right back to the 18th century and are part and parcel of American identity. The violent rebellion of 1776 was anti-government. George Washington was anti-government, Ben Franklin was anti-government. Thomas Jefferson said that the tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of tyrants.

Now the FBI is snooping on internet bloggers who are critical of their local representatives:

http://alternativenewsdaily.com/fbi_visiting_bloggers_after_tuscon.aspx

But presumably you'll be okay.

Maelstrom said...

James, I will readily concede that anti-government attitudes have a long history. I just don't think they are anything but destructive in the current time. I mean, Jefferson and quite a few other of the early chaps had slaves but that does not mean we should continue to observe this venerable "tradition," does it??

Ananta Androscoggin said...

As to slavery, it was the Republicans who floated the proposition during baby Bush's terms to turn the jails where illegal aliens awaited their trials and then their deportation, into Forced Labor Camps.

As to their alliance, here in Maine, the Tea Party set the Republican platform for last year's election, as well as got their guy elected as our new Robber Baron governor.

Having recently experienced the incivility of Pagan Conservatives, their repetitive use of "tea party" and "republican" talking points instead of evidence or reasoning skills, and the prideful way one of them spoke repeatedly of having killed people when he was in the Army, has left me with the feeling that I must contact our state's two Republican so-called moderate senators and let them know, "Thanks to the post-Safeway-Massacre discourse, I have been forced to conclude that the only Good Republican is a tried, convicted, and hanged for High Treason Republican

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