Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Speaking of guns and such

Among the reasons why the open brandishing of guns at town hall meetings and at least one presidential appearance (yes, I know they weren't "brandished" in the legal meaning of the term; I don't care) disturbs me so is the general air of threat and menace it's intended to create - particularly because that threat is not just rhetorical.

Last week, Frank Rich told Rachel Maddow that he
has become increasingly concerned about similarities between the “political rage” he sees today and that which preceded the assassination of John Kennedy in 1963
because of the increase in violent rhetoric directed against the Obama administration.
“I’ve been worried for some time, even before the events surrounding these health care town halls,” Rich [said] on Wednesday. “It began during the campaign, where people were shouting ‘treason’ and worse about Obama at Palin rallies - and, essentially, no one in the Republican Party would condemn it. ... It’s just been stepping up ever since then.” ...

Rich suggested that although President Obama is hopefully well-protected, he sees a potential for something like the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995. “I think we have to worry about right-wing political violence ... that doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in a presidential assassination,” he told Maddow.
Rich is hardly the first to raise such concerns. Dave Neiwert and Sara Robinson at Orcinus have for the past few years tracked the growth of what they call "eliminationist" rhetoric, where your political opponents are no longer "opponents" but "enemies" and those who are different from you socially, ethnically, racially, by sexual preference, whatever, are not merely "different" or even "offensive" but an "infestation" - and they are not to be merely denied or defeated, they are to be destroyed, "eliminated" like vermin, like the cockroaches to which they are often likened. It is a violent, hating thread at the seam of right-wing rhetoric directed at blacks, Muslims, gays and lesbians, undocumented workers, anti-war protesters, whoever is the convenient target of the moment.

I called it, too, the day following the election:
But let's be clear here: Obama overwhelmingly won the electoral vote, but he won the popular vote by just 52-46. That's a clear margin, to be sure, but hardly genuine "mandate" territory. We are still a divided nation and the wackos and nutballs populating the right edge of our political discourse are not going to go away. I do not even expect a moderation in their rhetoric; in fact I expect it to escalate.
And so it has, to the point where earlier this month even hard conservative David Frum felt compelled to call leading right wing voices on it:
The Nazi comparisons from Rush Limbaugh; broadcaster Mark Levin asserting that President Obama is "literally at war with the American people"; former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin claiming that the president was planning "death panels" to extirpate the aged and disabled; the charges that the president is a fascist, a socialist, a Marxist, an illegitimate Kenyan fraud, that he "harbors a deep resentment of America," that he feels a "deep-seated hatred of white people," that his government is preparing concentration camps, that it is operating snitch lines, that it is planning to wipe away American liberties": All this hysterical and provocative talk invites, incites, and prepares a prefabricated justification for violence.

And indeed some conservative broadcasters are lovingly anticipating just such an outcome.

Here's Fox News' Glenn Beck clucking sympathetically that white males are being driven into murderous rage by "political correctness."

Here again is Beck chuckling as he play-acts the poisoning of Nancy Pelosi.

Just yesterday, the radio host Sean Hannity openly contemplated violence - and primly tut-tutted that if it occurs, the president will have only himself to blame.
That attitude by the right-wing broadcasters draws on the fanaticism and hatred that drives their audiences and then feeds it back, reinforcing it in a reproductive cycle of increasing fury that self-justifies, even celebrates, both their paranoia and their bigotry, a fury marked by undeniable calls for violence and assassination.

A wonderfully insightful observation on this came from one of those supposedly-funny-but-usually-not people Keith Olbermann sometimes has on at the end of Countdown. I actually don't remember which one it was - they all kind of blend together in their not-funny-ness - but I do remember this one bright moment, when he, whoever it was, said in the wake of right wing mobs screaming at town hall meetings that "I want my America back!" that the birthers and the deathers are going to get together and "just cut to the chase" and issue t-shirts reading "Can't you see he's colored?"

But do not forget for a moment that Barack Obama is not the cause of this, he is merely the focal point - a useful one for the racism and xenophobia that underlies much of the right-wing rage, to be sure, but still a focus, not a source. As the work at Orcinus makes more than clear, this kind of thinking predates Obama and was already on the rise and would have continued, frankly, no matter who was elected: Obama becomes a source of rage; McCain would have become a source of validation of it.

This is, bluntly, a dangerous time and I am honestly concerned about outbreaks of serious, overt political violence. That does not mean it will happen, only that there is the real potential for it. Dismissing concerns about people deliberately wearing guns to public events, as is being routinely done by far too many, with "they weren't breaking the law" and "well, I wouldn't do it, but..." and to label them as at worst harmless cranks whose real "crime" is to possibly provoke people who favor gun control to organize is to engage in willful blindness of a sort that could have tragic consequences.

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