A Golden Opportunity for the Right: Take the High Road and Condemn Violent Rhetoric
January 10, 2011
The tragic shooting of Gabrielle Giffords provides conservative pundits and politicians a golden opportunity to take the high road and condemn the violent, hateful rhetoric that encourages political assassination attempts of the kind we recently witnessed in Arizona. It doesn’t matter whether the shooter was a left-wing nut or a right-wing nut, and make no mistake, Jared Loughner is a nut, as his YouTube videos demonstrate. The right thing to do under these circumstances is to condemn the reckless rhetoric that creates a climate in which it’s inevitable that a nut will eventually act out in a way that leads to the deaths of innocent people.
Because the intended victim was a Democrat, Democrats and left-leaning pundits can not lead on this subject in this environment. Any thing they say about the hateful, violent rhetoric that passes for political discourse in the United States these days will be automatically condemned as purely political posturing. These kinds of accusations have already been leveled. No. Right now, in this environment, only Republicans and right-leaning political commentators have the opportunity to do the right thing—and that would be to make every effort to reign in the rhetoric that leads nuts like Loughner to exercise their 2nd Amendment remedies. Seriously, how hard would it be for conservative politicians and pundits to admit that violent, hateful rhetoric creates a climate that invites tragedy? How hard would it be for the "adults" among us to universally condemn the rhetoric that leads to this kind of tragedy? Wouldn't that be the responsible thing to do?
To her credit, Sarah Palin quickly scrubbed her website and pulled down the graphic that had rifle-scope cross-hairs pointed directly at Gabrielle Giffords’ House district in Arizona. Her doing so constitutes an implicit admission of her own culpability in Giffords’ shooting. If she were entirely innocent, she wouldn’t have felt the need to pull down the image. Admirably, Palin recognized that her own rhetoric made her complicit in this tragedy, and she responded appropriately. She scrubbed the violent rhetoric. The question is whether other right-leaning politicians and pundits will do the same. Many people are complicit in this tragedy. How they respond will tell us a lot about their values and their commitment to our democratic republic.
No sane person is calling for Palin to be prosecuted for her cross-hairs graphic. While she may be complicit in Giffords’ shooting, she’s not criminally liable for it. Being complicit means being partially responsible, but that the level of involvement does not rise to a level that is criminally actionable. That could be said of a number of politicians and pundits in regards to a number of tragic events in American history, but the point here is that Palin did the right thing when there was even a remote possibility that she had made a tragic mistake. She scrubbed her website. She toned down her violent rhetoric. Will other conservative pundits and politicians do the same? That remains to be seen.
So far, the right has been mostly silent about the tragedy. What scant responses there have been are childishly defensive. And it’s not surprising that the right is being defensive right now. After all, there are very few left-wing militias (if any), and talk radio is dominated by people who push both a right-leaning agenda and who, on occasion, suggest violent remedies to political problems. If anything, right-wing pundits and politicians try to shut down discussion of this issue. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) told a CNN reporter in response to a question regarding Palin’s cross-hairs ad, “I think you’re responsible, by bringing this up, of doing the very thing you’re trying to condemn.” Alexander continued that, “I think the way to get away from it is for you not to be talking about it.”
How exactly, one wonders, is “not talking about this problem” going to help? The fact of the matter is that right-leaning politicians and pundits have subtly been pushing violent, hateful rhetoric for years, and it is entirely disingenuous of them to now claim no responsibility for the tragedy we recently witnessed. But it doesn’t really matter to the 9-year-old victim of this tragedy who, exactly, was pushing the violent rhetoric that inflamed Loughner, nor does it matter to the Federal Judge who was killed, nor to any of the other victims. It doesn’t even matter what Loughner’s “true motivations” were. What matters to all of us is the fact that words have consequences and that the nature of our political discourse has become more extreme and more violent in our recent history. This event provides Republicans and conservative pundits with an opportunity to tone down the rhetoric of hatred and anger that leads nuts like Loughner to kill innocent people. Democrats and liberals can’t lead this fight because the intended victim, this time, was one of their own. At this particular, historical moment, only conservatives can lead us to a more rational and civil national discourse, but will they?
The jury’s still out on that, but the point being made here is that it would be beneficial, both morally and politically, for the right to condemn violent and hateful rhetoric in the wake of this tragedy. Defensive responses are tantamount to an admission of guilt, and while some right-leaning politicians and pundits have every reason to be defensive, it would serve them better, politically, to do the right thing and condemn all rhetoric that incites violence, whether it be from the right or the left. Not only would that be a service to the nation and to the Republican Party, itself, it would be the right thing to do. It is entirely up to them whether or not they heed this call and seize this golden opportunity.
Originally published here: Old Elm Tree.