ThoughtPossible.com :: In the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 19 other people, six of whom have already, tragically, died from their injuries, the national political establishment (media, pressure groups and elected officials) has turned its attention to the perils of extremist and vitriolic rhetoric. We are being asked to consider whether the use of metaphorical violence (putting Rep. Giffords in the crosshairs, which both Sarah Palin and her 2010 opponent did) leads to actual violence, and while direct responsibility is not being alleged, the ethical obligation to honor our democracy with civil discourse must be considered.
There is no question that specific individuals and specific organizations have very consistently ratcheted up the vitriol and hostility in our political rhetoric, for personal and partisan gain. Former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) yesterday repeated his criticism of the last year of his party’s near religious commitment to extremist rhetorical distortions and misleading statements about Pres. Obama and the nature of the reform legislation he and the Democrats in Congress have passed.
He urged “even the staunchest Republicans” to have the integrity and the civility to say “We are all Democrats today, for Gabby”. And while civility has been the watchword, and we have heard outraged disdain for the shooter and for anyone who believes this kind of action is legitimate, in concept or in action, political strategists have already begun seeking to defend individual politicians and specific conservative groups against the rhetorical “attack” that their rhetoric has been too violent and extreme.
So let’s say it clearly and resoundingly, and let’s all say it defiantly, together: THERE IS NO CIRCUMSTANCE IN WHICH VITRIOLIC DISTORTIONS OR HATE-SPEECH ARE JUSTIFIABLE; THERE IS NO CIRCUMSTANCE IN WHICH THREATS OF VIOLENCE, METAPHORICAL OR LITERAL ARE EXCUSABLE.
People who have ideas and a will to serve have no time and no use for such disgusting distortions, and people of conscience know this. However heated political debate may become, metaphor ceases to be useful when it becomes outright distortion. Some politicians have chosen to view extremist distortions as politically expedient, even openly calling for armed rebellion, to capitalize on populist anger and anti-establishment feeling. But that political expediency comes with a cost.
One election may be easier to win if such ideas spread at the right pace over the right landscape, but the landscape will then become a distorted form of what we once hoped were its best aspirations, possibly in dangerous ways. False claims can turn out to hurt those who make them, when the fact that they were false finally gets through to the people whose votes decide the shape and direction of government.
To honor the principled, and always civil service of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the tragic sacrifice of her community outreach director Gabe Zimmerman, federal district Judge John Roll, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green and the other victims of this disgusting atrocity, let’s commit ourselves to marginalizing any public figure who uses lies, distortions, hate-speech, or the language of incitement, to defame his or her opponents and to manipulate the American people. Their actions are a stain on our democracy and a perversion or our country’s great spirit.
Let’s commit to being principled and coherent in our devotion to building a more perfect civil order, a system of debate and idea-sharing aimed at constructing pragmatic responses to real-world problems. Let’s commit to being better than any ideology, better than any tribalist camp, better than any Balkanizing defamation, better than the sordid temptations of internecine conflict that threaten to undermine the meaning and the quality of public service to an open democracy.
- CBS News: “Schieffer: Rhetoric and Its Consequences”
(Says Violence Stirred by Inflammatory Political Discourse Endangers Our Way of Life)
- Huffington Post: “Our Leaders Must Renounce the Ideology of Political Violence”
(The time has come for political leaders of both parties, whether liberal or conservative, to renounce the ideology of political violence. Ideas have consequences. The idea that “the guys with the guns make the rules” has inevitable consequences that can no longer be tolerated)
- CBS News: “Dem: Tone Down the Political Rhetoric”
(Says Hoyer: Political Environment Getting Worrying, Attack on Giffords Is an Attack on Democracy)
- CafeSentido: “Former Republican Rep. Inglis says ‘We’re all Democrats today’”
(Inglis: “I hope what even the staunchest Republican could say is, ‘We’re all Democrats today for Gabby,’ and let’s just come together as a nation and figure out a way to get out of these problems”)
- The Examiner: “AZ shooter is a nutjob, but violent rhetoric still matters”
(“[I]t would be naive to assume that nutjobs are immune to the influence of violent rhetoric. On the contrary, they are likely the most gullible, malleable, and primed to be incited to violent action.”)
- ThoughtPossible: “McCain Calls Obama ‘Decent Family Man’, Demands Civility” (2008)
(“[McCain] called on his supporters to be “respectful”, said that’s what this campaign was supposed to be about, a respectful debate of the issues by two qualified individuals.”)
- CafeSentido: “Is Glenn Beck Deliberately Inciting Violent Acts Against Progressives?”
(“Glenn Beck has a moral obligation to answer the question: what does he aim to achieve with this campaign of libel and incitement? Is he aiming to inspire desperate people to desperate action? Is he aiming to make ordinary people into desperate radicals?”)