It is a bitter winter that drives thuggery-as-politics from Beirut, Baghdad, Kandahar, and Karachi to Tucson, Arizona. As you’ve undoubtedly heard, seen, or read, on Saturday a twenty-two year old man used a 9mm Glock to attack a group gathered to engage with their elected representative to national government
A congressperson is in critical condition after having a 9mm bullet shot through her head. A federal judge, a seventy-six year old pastor, and a nine year old child are among the six human beings executed by the attacker. Six people were killed; fourteen, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, were wounded. Giffords remains in critical condition as these words are posted.
It is far too early to judge who or what demons drove Jared Lee Loughner to commit murder and mayhem outside a grocery store in Tucson. But it would be callow to allow media and politicians to package Saturday’s tragedy in a "lone nut case" box and dismiss it. House Speaker John Boehner is correct to note that "This is a sad day for our country." But no one with a pulse can fail to see that Arizona has been a field of angry and threatening political rhetoric that has accompanied the rise of the so-called Tea Party.
From the NY Times, Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics:
During last spring’s health care votes, the language used against some lawmakers was ratcheted up again, with protesters outside the House hurling insults and slurs. The offices of some Democrats, including Ms. Giffords’s in Tucson, were vandalized.
Ms. Giffords was also among a group of Democratic House candidates featured on the Web site of Sarah Palin’s political action committee with cross hairs over their districts, a fact that disturbed Ms. Giffords at the time.
"We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list," Ms. Giffords said last March. "But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that."
The image is no longer on the Web site, and Ms. Palin posted a statement saying "my sincere condolences are offered to the family of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today’s tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice." (Late Saturday, the map was still on Ms. Palin’s Facebook page.)
(The map from Sarah Palin’s Facebook page is also reproduced in this post.)
Here is how Palin framed her message that accompanied the map, on 23 March of last year:
We’re paying particular attention to those House members who voted in favor of Obamacare and represent districts that Senator John McCain and I carried during the 2008 election [...] we’re going to hold them accountable for this disastrous Obamacare vote.
A list of seventeen representatives and the congressional districts that elected them followed this excerpt. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was on Palin’s list. The "crosshairs map" appeared just below it. Note the prominent text at the top of the map: "It’s time to take a stand."
A stirring call to political engagement? Or part and parcel of the "imagery of armed revolution" employed by the Republican Party last year, "as they sought to exploit the Tea Party phenomenon," as Matt Bai pointed out in the NY Times on Sunday?
I don’t see anything explicitly illegal in Palin’s message. She is protected by the same right to freedom of speech that protects me in writing this blog post. But "not illegal" in this case cozies right up to 'inflammatory as all get out.' And 'inflammatory' is what Palin’s Tea Party politics have been from the start.
Failure to take responsibility for even considering what part Palin’s posturing may have played in Saturday’s executions, an aide to the failed VP candidate, Rebecca Mansour, went on record with the statement, "I don’t understand how anybody can be held responsible for somebody who is completely mentally unstable like this." Mansour wasn’t talking about her boss. She was talking about Jared Loughner, the shooter in Tucson. Mansour, according to a NY Times report, claimed that the crosshairs in Palin’s map were not meant to reference guns.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik put it this way in an Associated Press article published by the SF Chronicle on Sunday:
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," the sheriff said. "And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
The "mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
Osama bin Laden did not pilot the airplanes that slaughtered thousands on 11 Sept 2001. Sarah Palin did not wield the weapon that put a bullet through the skull of a U.S. Representative, the Glock used to murder a nine year old girl, a federal judge, a pastor, and three others. But Ms. Palin’s office must think Americans are phenomenally stupid if they expect us to swallow public pretense that their vitriol has no effect.
The term 'Islamofascist' is insidious, misrepresentative, inflammatory, and counterproductive to any conceivably successful strategy to contain extremist violence. Christopher Hitchens' attempts to give it validity do not sway me. It is nonetheless interesting to consider Hitchens on how, in his view, the cult of bin Ladin resembles cults of fascism:
"The most obvious points of comparison would be these: Both movements are based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind. ("Death to the intellect! Long live death!" as Gen. Francisco Franco's sidekick Gonzalo Queipo de Llano so pithily phrased it.) Both are hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons), and both are bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories. Both are obsessed with real and imagined "humiliations" and thirsty for revenge."
Does any of that sound familiar?
I challenge the toxin-tongued hysterics who recklessly sling this term and similarly venemous polemic rather than engage in meaningful political discourse.
I challenge them to step back from the precipice of Tea Party Infusofascism.
Will they do so? Or will they continue to foment a second civil war, a conflict that would bring unbearable calamity to the United States and the world?
Time will tell.