Sunday, January 9, 2011

On Politics, Violence and Crosshairs

The tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has set off a fierce debate about the rise of violent language and images in our nation's political discourse. Many people, such as Rep. Raul Grijalva, have blamed Sarah Palin for the tragedy because during the 2010 midterm elections, the former Alaskan governor placed the democratic Senator on a "hit list" as a "target" to be "taken out" as evidenced by gun cross hairs placed on her district: 
However, Sarah Palin wasn't the only person who made "targets" during the 2010 midterm elections. The liberal website, the "Daily Kos" published a map of archery bullseyes: 
This isn't a "tu quoque" defense of Sarah Palin's picture but a simple point that both parties and ideologies use some kind of "targeting" image to motivate their followers into political action and defeat the political candidate at the ballot box. Conservatives put out "most wanted" playing cards that are very similar to the playing cards distributed by the United States military  to indicate which members of Saddam Hussein’s government they wanted dead or alive. Liberals also did the same thing with playing cards as well even though they didn't attach instructions to the playing cards. 
It even occurs in the media's coverage of political news. Listen to a journalist named Howard Kurts as he admits that the media is not exempt from the use of such rhetoric:
Let's be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn't act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?
Its hard to tell where such rhetoric is just rhetoric or when such rhetoric crosses into dangerous territory. What should be done when a politician like Congressman Paul Kanjorski, the Pennsylvania Democrat, thinks that the newly elected Governor of Florida should be shot?
"That Scott down there that's running for governor of Florida," Mr. Kanjorski said. "Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to have him [sic] and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him. He stole billions of dollars from the United States government and he's running for governor of Florida. He's a millionaire and a billionaire. He's no hero. He's a damn crook. It's just we don't prosecute big crooks."
How do you feel about President Obama telling his supporters this during the 2008 presidential campaign? 
“If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said in Philadelphia last night. “Because from what I understand, folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.”
Are such comments merely political rhetoric or a real call to action?  The truth is that the use of violent images and rhetoric has been occurring throughout political history in America and in other countries around the world. Sometimes these statements are nothing more than words. Other times they are a real call to action in which people really do engage in violence to achieve their political goals. 
Please understand that I'm not justifying or supporting the use of such rhetoric on either side of the political isle. All I'm saying is that this has been going on for a long time and it will continue for a long time in the future. It is an effective tool for politicians and political groups because by depicting politics as a bloodless war and using violent rhetoric is an effective tactic on getting their base motivated and focused on a singular goal. 
Personally, I don't find that that Sarah Palin's use of cross hairs or the Daily Kos' use of archery bullseyes as contributing to the tragedy in Arizona. Its just political rhetoric. That's all. Neither side actually encourages violence and most people understand that because they know they just want to get people into the voting both. 
The only thing that has me confused here is that people are blaming conservatives for the violent rhetoric. There are facts indicating that the alleged killer, Jared Loughner, was a far left liberal who was mentally unstable:

Even if those who thinks Sarah Palin's target advertisement somehow contributed to the shooting in Arizona are correct, it doesn't make sense when it was a far left person who killed a moderate or conservative democratic senator. If the people in the twitter page are correct about the killer's political leanings, its hard to see how conservative rhetoric would explain the liberal on liberal violence here.But then again, politics may have nothing to do with the tragedy. The shooter may have been motivated by anti-semitism.

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