There are just a few thoughts I have about all of this that I wanted to share.
First, Sarah Palin. As Xeni Jardin says, “I try to avoid blogging about Sarah Palin, for the same reasons I’ve tried to avoid blogging about Snooki and Paris Hilton, and feeding any number of garden variety internet trolls.1 ” That hasn’t been my policy, but increasingly, I think it ought to be.
I don’t think that her bullseye map was particularly egregious … that sort of thing has become part of the political discourse in our country, for good or ill, and as much as I do tend to think it’s for ill, I also think it’s unfair to hold a half-term governor, failed politician, and trainwreck of a reality TV star personally responsible for the problems in our discourse. Those problems began long before she stumbled, incoherently mumbling, onto the American stage.
I do think that her use of the phrase ‘blood libel’ was particularly unfortunate and ill-thought-out, but come on … it’s Sarah Palin. Raise your hand if you’re surprised. Ezra Klein takes essentially the same tack, saying that while it’s reasonable of her to feel aggrieved at being blamed for a shooting that was almost certainly the fault of untreated mental illness, she squandered almost all of that goodwill trying to make herself the victim, both of the shootings, and, weirdly, of centuries of antisemitic prejudice. Poor Sarah.
As far as discussing angry, violent, political speech in particular, I’ve found myself nodding along with almost everything (the conservative/libertarian) Conor Friedersdorf has written about this. Two of his posts in particular are worth checking out.
First, in Tone Versus Substance, Connor distinguishes between the problems of tone in political speech (the crosshairs, talk of ‘attacking’ the Democrats, that kind of thing) and problems of substance. His argument is essentially that thought much of the focus has been on the tone, we ought to be discussing substance more, particularly overblown and untrue substance.
… remarks about death panels communicated an untruth: the notion that Barack Obama’s health care reform effort sought to empower a panel of bureaucrats who’d sit in judgment about whether an old person’s life would be saved or not. That is the sort of thing we ought to find objectionable, even if the substance is communicated in the most dry language imaginable, because were it true, radicalism would be an appropriate response. “They’re going to start killing old people? We’ve got to stop this!”
I’d add that the same thing is true about those who talk about Barack Obama instituting a socialist dictatorship, about him being Kenyan and not eligible to hold the presidency, and about him ‘hating America.’ All of these are untrue, and what’s more obviously untrue. I have a hard time believing that any more than a tiny percentage of those who repeat these claims actually literally believe them to be true. And yet, if they were true, as Connor says, radical response would be appropriate! If we’re talking about an nascent dictator, a foreigner who’s infiltrated the government, seized the reigns of power and is trying to deliberately destroy America … hell, sign me up! I’ll fight in that war! Sic Semper Tyrannis!2
But I don’t believe that. And neither do the people who say this shit. And neither, unless you’re extraordinarily gullible, do you. Sadly, at any given moment, there are a number of extraordinarily gullible people listening, and if they do believe this, then picking up a gun isn’t entirely wrong. The people who said it were, “just funnin’.” They, “didn’t mean nothin’ by it.” And that’s true. But maybe from now on out we could try to not fabricate blatantly untrue (and scary) shit about our opponents, even if it’s fun.
His second post discusses the charges that both sides of the political spectrum make about the other, accusing them of being worse when it comes to extreme rhetoric. I believe that the Right is much worse than the Left when it comes to this, but then, I’m a leftist. Of course I believe that. Connor’s point is that that kind of accusation and analysis goes on all the time, and he suggests a solution:
Folks on the right think leftists don’t confront the indefensible speech uttered by their side. And vice-versa.
So why don’t the folks at The Corner enter into a bargain with a prominent blogger on the left. What do you say, Matt Yglesias or Kevin Drum or Jonathan Chait? Here’s how it would work. Every day for a week, Monday through Friday, The Corner’s designated blogger could draft one post for publication on the left-leaning blog. The catch? They’d be limited to offering five direct quotations per day of lefties engaged in indefensible rhetoric, however they define it (in context, of course).
In return, the liberal interlocutor could publish the equivalent post at The Corner. And every day for a week, the participants would have to read one another’s five examples for that day, and decide whether to acknowledge that they’re indefensible and assert that the source should apologize if he or she hasn’t done so… or else defend the remark(s).
Maybe I’m wrong. But I suspect that Yglesias, Drum, and Chait would all be game for this sort of exchange. And that it wouldn’t be approved at The Corner in a million years.
Why do you think that is?
My instinct on this matches his. Does yours? Every time this sort of thing gets brought up, the left trots out a list of objectionable quotes from prominent conservatives, nationally syndicated pundits, and elected officials, and the right responds with quotes from a number of actors and some academics I’ve never heard of. Rather than playing that game over and over and over, I’d like to see this tried. I’ve got no problem publicly upbraiding Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore … I wonder if Jonah Goldberg will publicly upbraid Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
The final quote comes from The Onion’s American Voices Article, “Tucson Keeps Church Protesters Away,” about the efforts to keep the Westboro Baptist Church people away from the funerals of those killed at the shootings.
“I’m a big fan of the First Amendment and the rule of law and everything, but what if, just this once, the FBI and the Tucson police went to the movies for a couple hours while we tuned these bastards up with pipes?”
You know, guys when we discuss avoiding violent rhetoric … well … you might want to look at that.
EDIT: Please do not comment unless you accept the basic dignity, equality, and inherent worth of all people.
- That quote bugged me a little bit just because it reinforces the idea that the most frivolous, silly people in our culture are all women, which is all kinds of misogynist. Thus, rather than focusing on Snooki, I would include the entire cast of Jersey Shore, Ashton Kutcher, and former President George W. Bush. [↩]
- Similarly, if there really is a holocaust of the unborn going on in America, then picking up a gun to end it makes a kind of sense. That was basically Scott Roeder‘s train of thought. But overwhelmingly, the people who keep saying that they believe in the holocaust of the unborn don’t actually believe in violent solutions. There’s a reason. [↩]