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Showdown at the Blame Game Corral

10 January 2011

1:07 PM

10 January 2011

1:07 PM

Alastair Campbell, of all people, shows how the ghastly Tucson shootings are to be exploited for political purposes:

What the right are now doing is trying to portray the killer of Tucson, Arizona as a crazed loner operating in some kind of vacuum. But even if it turns out that he had never heard of the Tea Party, did not know who he was shooting, and was in fact a card-carrying member of the Democrat Party, (all three unlikely) it is time for the right-wing prophets of hate, many of whom have grown rich and famous on the back of their bile, to recognise the harm they do to public discourse, and their possible role in the actions of those who follow and listen to them.

That’s a pretty succinct distillation of the case. The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter if Jared Lee Loughner had any kind of connection with any kind of mainstream conservatism. The association is made anyway. And if he really is a lone fruitcake, well, it’s easy to imagine how he could have been inspired by the conservative movement even if he wasn’t so inspired or only might have been. So easy to imagine, however, that we might as well pretend that this is how it went down. Truly, Campbell remains a special class of heel.

As it happens, I’m quite happy to see a shift in right-wing rhetoric but not because I think it encourages nutjobs to contemplate assassinating members of Congress but because it’s laughable at best and more often simply moronic. So I agree with Conor Friedersdorf:

Since Barack Obama took office, prominent voices on the right have called him an ally of Islamist radicals in their Grand Jihad against America, a radical Kenyan anti-colonialist, a man who pals around with terrorists and used a financial crisis to deliberately weaken America, an usurper who was born abroad and isn’t even eligible to be president, a guy who has somehow made it so that it’s okay for black kids to beat up white kids on buses, etc. I haven’t even touched on the conspiracy theories of Glenn Beck. The birthers excepted, the people making these chargers are celebrated by movement conservatives – they’re given book deals, awards, and speaking engagements.

If all of these charges were true, a radicalized citizenry would be an appropriate response. But even the conservatives who defend Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, D’Souza, McCarthy, and so many others don’t behave as if they believe all the nonsense they assert. The strongest case against these people isn’t that their rhetoric inspires political violence. It’s that they frequently utter indefensible nonsense. The problem isn’t their tone. It’s that the substance of what they’re saying is so blinkered that it isn’t even taken seriously by their ideological allies (even if they’re too cowardly, mercenary or team driven to admit as much).

Quite so.

Meanwhile, it’s also the case that reponses to these matters fall along predictable lines. Philip Klein neatly exposes the New York Times’ very different reactions to the Tucson shooting and the 2009 killings at Fort Hood. In the latter case it was important not to jump to any conclusions; in the former such caution is deemed superfluous.

But of course this cuts both ways: if a muslim loses his mind and starts shooting then this, prima facie, is an act of terrorism and much more than simply the murderous unravelling of a deranged mind. When a white man does something similar, it shouldn’t really be considered terrorism at all and certainly not part of any larger body of work or representative of the greater congregation.

In each instance, both right and left see what they want to see and never mind that neither can claim any kind of consistency of view, far less principle. Lunatics are lunatics, regardless of pigmentation or religiion and while their grievances may differ they belong to the same class of disturbance. Rather than see them as representative of the enemy or opposition it might be wiser to treat them as individuals and murderers who happen to be motivated by one thing or another. And if it weren’t this thing then it would be another because that’s the kind of people they are. In few of these cases does the identity or nature of the motivating thing matter very much.

As I said yesterday, in some ways the surprise is that there’s not more political violence in America than there actually is. That’s not a cheery thought but anyone hoping that American political discourse will become less cretinous after this is, alas, probably too much of an optimist for me.

But in this game the facts don’t matter much; all that counts is who gets to write the legend. 

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