Why Republicans Won't Really Change Their Tone
I have been annoyed by the commentary over the last few weeks regarding the tone of the political discourse in America. The mass shooting in Arizona set off a huge debate in this Country, much of it dishonest, about what was/is to blame in general when these events occur. It is true that we don't know what exactly set off Tucson shooter Jared Loughner. However, it is dishonest to say that it was just an isolated incident and the ugly political debate, especially on the right, plays no part in contributing to an atmosphere that makes it more conducive for these sorts of events to happen. This is just intellectually and morally dishonest on a grand scale.
Something else that gave me a headache was this effort by those on the right to make the false equivalence claim - that "both sides are doing this equally".... "both sides are guilty".... yada yada yada. They are attempting to whitewash the last two years, and rewrite history to fit their own narrative post-Tucson. Almost as annoying... the media is playing right along with Republicans/Conservatives who make this argument. Of course both sides say things that are inappropriate... that cross the line, etc. But this idea that all sides are somehow equal in doing so is just laughable. There is no equivalence whatsoever in terms of the number of occurrences, the level of ugliness or seriousness of threats, or the outcomes. Clearly right wing pundits and politicians are at the top in all three of those categories...by far. I have been watching in awe as the media has pretended otherwise....playing right along, as if they are being told what to say. Time and time again I have seen/heard hosts....whether on CNN, NPR, or my local AM news station KMOX - St. Louis (the defacto voice of the Right in the midwest) play along with Conservative guests when the equivalence argument is made...failing to challenge the right in any way.... no follow-up questions...nothing. Beyond ridiculous.
Let's review shall we...
This is not simply about the comments that are being made over the national airwaves, it is also about the context...or the backdrop in which the comments are made. It is the context that matters more here.
And what has been the context over the last two years? Well, this most recent political context took shape in 2008 (and you could probably go as far back as 2007) during the Presidential campaign. Over that period (2007-2009) we know of two major reports that news organizations put out regarding the changing attitudes & changing tone in the Country. One was about the Homeland Security assessment regarding the rise of Right Wing extremism in America, due to the recession and the introduction of a Black President...or Candidate who actually had a real shot. The other report came from the Secret Service, describing the fact that threats against Obama were at unprecedented levels, with 2-fold & 3-fold more threats than his white predecessors. So knowing this.... you would think that the responsible thing for politicians (regardless of Party affiliation) would be extra careful about language and tone, right? But we know that is not what happened. Politicians on the right lost their minds...and the tone got out of control. Open racism was allowed to take root at Republican rallies in Pennsylvania, Ohio & throughout the Country. Despite these reports of increased threats, Palin continued to be irresponsible throughout the campaign. Instead of challenging followers behaving inappropriately...by telling them to stop racist comments.... Palin seemed to ignore them. Instead... she whipped up Republican followers and seemed to focus on a certain part of her base by using certain buzz words that challenged not only Obama's right to run for President...but questioned his citizenship and loyalty to the Country during a time of conflict and deep social/political division. By demonizing Obama & stripping him of his right to be a "real American", taking away his Americanness, suggesting he was a traitor & a terrorist, suggesting he was a socialist, and by dehumanizing him...in a way gives the green light to any number of lone nuts. Remember the context we were (and still are) in.
Everyone is suggesting that after Tucson.... pundits and politicians (especially those on the right) are suddenly going to play nice and behave in a much more civil and respectful manner. But if history is our guide... that is probably not going to be the case. This goes back to this attempt by right wing pundits and the media to frame Tucson as an isolated incident. People are acting as if Tucson was the first incident where a nut engaged in some sort of political violence or targeted a political figure. How media pundits do this with a straight face is a mystery to me. How they get away with it is even more perplexing. Just in the last two years, the number of high profile incidents of a political/ideological/religious nature...or influenced by the national debate at some level, has been unprecedented.
Just in the last 2 years or so... we have had the following (and keep in mind...we have already established the context.... and we STILL had folks taking guns to political events, and politicians suggesting 2nd Amendment remedies... the context...the reality of how volatile the Country was didn't stop those on the right from continuing their madness.)
♦ Jim Adkisson - shot up a Unitarian church in Tennessee. Fueled by Right wing talk show pundits. The rhetoric didn't stop.
♦ Raymond Hunter Geisel - threatening Obama. Republicans didn't stop. Just an isolated incident?
♦ Richard Andrew Poplawski - killed Police officers in Pittsburgh because he internalized rhetoric on the right that told Americans that Obama was coming for their guns. Just an isolated incident? Oh yeah... Republicans didn't stop their rhetoric after this either.
♦ Scott Roeder - Killed Dr. George Tiller (nicknamed "The Baby Killer" by the right). Isolated incident? Republicans didn't stop their rhetoric after this incident either.
♦ James Von Brunn - launched terrorist attack at the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. Isolated incident? The violent rhetoric didn't stop.
♦ Joseph Stack - out of work, anti-government activist flew plane into IRS building in Texas. Isolated incident? The rhetoric didn't stop. In fact, one GOP politician seemed to sympathize with the terrorist, who killed at least one IRS worker in the incident.
♦ Byron Williams - Was stopped by police in Northern California while enroute to attack Liberals. Fueled by Glenn Beck and others in the Right wing media. Isolated incident? Republicans refused to change their tone.
♦ Danny Ray Tollett - Brutally attacked Muslim convenience store workers in Louisiana. Shot 2 Muslims at close range...in cold blooded attacks. Fueled by anti-Muslim theme carried by Right wing media. Isolated incident? Republicans failed to change their tone.
♦ The Denver Plot - see specifically counts 9, 11 and 12 - White supremacists planned to harm candidate Obama. Attack foiled in planning stage. Isolated incident? Republicans continued with their rhetoric.
♦ Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman - Allegedly planned to harm President. Isolated incident? Republicans failed to stop their rhetoric.
♦ Michael Enright - Stabbed NYC Cabbie in the neck because he was Muslim. Ahh what the Hell... just another isolated incident. Republicans continued on with their madness (particularly about the "Mosque at Ground Zero" which really didn't exist...but they knew that framing it that way would scare the Hell out of a lot of people...so they went with it...almost costing a father...a family man...his life).
♦ Charles Habermann - Charged just recently with threatening Rep. Jim McDermott. Just an isolated incident? Republicans carried on.
♦ Gas line intentionally cut at Congressman's home, after wrong address is posted online...with blogger encouraging followers to 'pay a visit to the victim'. Just an isolated incident? Republicans refused to stop their rhetoric that whipped followers into a frenzy over Health Care Reform.
♦ Travis Corcoran - Another right wing radical... praised the shooting of Giffords. Just an isolated event?
♦ Just in the past week, we have the backpack bomb found along the MLK commemorative parade route in Spokane Washington. Luckily...the device failed to detonate. An isolated incident?
♦ Now Conservative pundit/blogger Erick Erickson JUST THIS WEEK suggested that he may use a shotgun to threaten U.S. Census workers...gloating about it on the airwaves. An isolated incident? No condemnation by other Conservative media figures. So this is the change in tone that the goofballs on the news programs have been talking about over the past two weeks? Give me a break!
With the exception of the last three...these are incidents that took place before Tucson. So Tucson didn't happen in some vacuum... There is an abundance of context. This is what makes the behavior of those on the right so vile. And this is not even a full list.... there were threats against Pelosi....and arrests in several other cases. The list is long. Again...as I mentioned...the last two years have been unprecedented in terms of threats of political violence or actual incidents, which matches up with what the U.S. Secret Service has stated regarding their data on the increase in threats.
At what point can we stop using false equivalencies and stop suggesting these events are somehow "isolated incidents" separate from the volatile atmosphere created primarily by those in the world of right wing Conservative media?
I see nothing that would lead me to believe that some magical shift towards civility is going to take place after the tragedy in Tucson Arizona. Republican/right wing pundits are not going to stop what they have been doing for the past few years. This is their bread and butter (getting their followers riled up.... feeding them misinformation, and manipulating people). This is a key part of Republican strategy. Giffords & all the others are considered collateral damage to those on the right. Republicans can't afford to be civil because they have grown so dependent on a certain kind of volatile, ugly rhetoric to maintain media success & energize their political base. It has worked for them (unfortunately). And I see them continuing with that approach. Just this week... Rush Limbaugh... the Supreme Leader of the Republican Party & Conservative movement in America, engaged in more ugly behavior... joking about the way that the Chinese President Hu Jintao spoke during his official State visit to the U.S. Of course the media ignored this...just like it practically ignored the MLK bomb case in Spokane.
By allowing the pundits, bloggers and talk show hosts (the unofficial but true leadership of the Conservative movement) to spew the ugliest rhetoric and lies, the official political leadership and the so-called "stars" within the Republican party can get away with using the plausible deniability argument...and that's exactly what they have done here. predictably, they have used the Hell out of this argument since the Tucson attack. I have mentioned several times, including on my right wing media information page, that this is how the right operates. Of course, no one is actually suggesting that anyone on the right has given direct orders to any extremists or extremist groups.... but they have created an atmosphere conducive to violence...and in some cases, they have indirectly given a wink & nod approval for such actions (in some cases, simply by their silence when violence or threats of violence occur. Silence in this context...after they have worked so hard to rile the crazies up... equals tacit approval).
A few people on Social media (twitter to be exact) suggested that the Right has somehow been let off the hook by Obama after his call for civility. I initially wanted to agree with that. I think that the media at large may let Republicans off the hook, and networks may continue to play the false equivalence game. But I don't think Obama's speech in Tucson means that we shouldn't tell the truth. I plan to continue stating what needs to be said.