A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Yelling Fire in the Arena of Political Discourse

This week, America is reeling from the attempted assassination of US House Representative Gabrielle Gifford in Tucson, Arizona on January 8. It appears that, fortunately, she will survive. Six others who were in attendance at one of Gifford’s public meetings weren’t so lucky. One of the dead was a 9 year old girl with political aspirations.

The shooter was immediately taken into custody. He has been described as a “pot-smoking loner” who distrusts the government. Other reports have linked him to a white supremacist group. To many, he appears to be another damn fool who should never have had access to a gun in the first place, but it’s too late now. The damage has been done and it is permanent.

A number of other commentators see this event as a result of the divisive nature in political debate that has dominated the country’s airwaves for the last 25 years. At one time the rules were different. Politicians working inside the Beltway could use the nastiest and most scurrilous language to abuse and disabuse their foes in the halls of Congress. Whatever was said was entered in the Congressional Record of course, but there was an understanding that none of the rhetoric was personal. Hell, there have been reports down through the years that political adversaries on both sides of the aisle would meet over a brew, and slap each other on the back as they joked at Capital Hill watering holes.

That’s inside the Beltway. The voters, constituents and citizens living outside the Beltway have no such understanding of bygones being bygones. A few desperate, disillusioned individuals are easily influenced by the toxic rhetoric heard in Congress and later repeated in the media. These individuals obviously feel that the system doesn’t work for them, doesn’t apply to them, and that they should take matters into their hands. Obviously, the shooter in Arizona is one such individual.

There’s no way to fully understand what sets these people off, but we can speculate all we want, and we will. In the last few years, one group has shown itself to be aggressive in making their political feelings known. The media have been full of images of these people shouting down perceived enemies at public meetings, marching with signs printed with slogans in questionable taste, and generally creating for themselves a stereotype that they are a bunch of stubborn, narrow-minded zealots who will not give an inch to their opponents. Of course, I am referring to the Tea Party extremists who have taken the lead of the Republican Party.

Yes, it’s true that not all Tea Partiers act like they were never taught any manners. It’s also true that they, like the rest of America, have a right to making their views known. Still, the classic example of free speech is you can say whatever you want, but just don’t yell Fire! in a crowded theater. Unfortunately, many Tea Party people have been doing the equivalent of such a reckless act: yelling Fire! in the arena of political discourse.

There are a few good examples already noted in the case of Representative Gifford. Her opponent in the latest election offered supporters the chance to shoot off M-16s at a campaign event to defeat Gifford. What the hell this was meant to prove is beyond my liberal comprehension.

Then there is Tea Party diva Sarah Palin. In her campaign against Democratic politicians in the last election, she enumerated which ones were the most vulnerable to Tea Party conquest by using graphics on her Facebook page that are — in retrospect and in light of recent events — disgusting. In Gifford’s case, Ms. Palin overlaid the crosshairs of a gun onto a map depicting the representative’s district. As Gifford herself said in a televised interview, she was “targeted” for defeat by Palin. Couple this with the former governor’s use of the word “reload” to rile up the Tea Party base, and many people can easily draw a direct, logical line between her words and the shooter’s actions.

Perhaps this is unfair to Palin, but like it or not, this is the perception she and her Tea Party ilk has cultivated. Perception is the key word here. It may not be true, and it may not be factual, but it can be a bitch. Palin and company are feeling the backlash now. Now that the lives of the innocent have been sacrificed on the altar of extremism, it is time for both sides to stop shouting Fire!

(Thank you for reading on this, the 5th anniversary of arteejee!)


Blogger troutbirder said...

Very well said. Thanks Although a strong believer in calm and rational discourse, I must admit last spring, while on a birding trip to Florida, I drove past my first live Tea Party street corner demonstration, rolled down the window and gave them the one digit salute. My spouse is still embarrased about that one. :)

January 11, 2011 at 7:37 AM  
Anonymous Janey said...

Right "on target" as always, RTG! Well done!

January 11, 2011 at 8:01 AM  

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