Monday, January 10, 2011

More to think about

Whatever the ultimate motives of Loughner for this weekend's shooting spree in Arizona, there is little doubt that the venom that was (and still is) being spewed regularly by media and political figures representing the GOP and "Tea Party" provided plenty of background noise, a Zeitgeist, inviting an escalation in politically-motivated violence. The hysterical freakout over the passage of a very tepid health care reform bill has already been well-documented elsewhere, as were the incidents of right-wingers bringing firearms to Congressional town hall meetings the year before, and the eliminationist rhetoric on the airwaves, Internet, and Tea Party rallies.

At this point, it's critical to call bullshit on those who essentially fueled the fire for their own political and financial gain, who now find it convenient to play victim as their own actions come under belated public scrutiny. Sarah Palin is a great case study, since her reaction to the wave of vandalism of Congressional district offices was not to decry those pathetic acts of terrorism (which even folks like Boehner did to some extent), but to put up a crosshairs graphic targeting some of these same representatives (such as Giffords), and to tweet statements such as "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD" suggests a level of irresponsible opportunism that is nothing short of stunning. Her reaction and that of her staff and defenders in the aftermath of the near assassination of Giffords (and the murders of six who were in the wrong place at the wrong time) has been to play victim - hardly a promising sign. To me it is dishonorable to refuse to own up to one's mistakes, and I will offer that stoking violent rage with rhetoric more befitting a militia compound in the Idaho wilderness is a mistake of gargantuan proportions. I also largely agree that much of the defensiveness we see now from our right-wing extremists does seem like a tacit acknowledgment of guilt.

Anyone who has read me long enough will know that I don't advocate restricting the right to free speech. I will most certainly be against any legislation that would affect our ability to communicate our ideas, our beliefs, our values (whether we agree or not). What I will say, like any good Existentialist, is that with freedom comes responsibility. Palin and others who have used their national and international forums to pander to the revolutionary inclinations of right-wing extremists may not be legally accountable for the actions of those who choose to act on their words and imagery, but they are responsible for contributing to an environment in which such violence becomes more likely. Their choice now is to either accept that responsibility, acknowledge their previous actions, and seek out less inflammatory means to make their point, or to - as Palin and her fans seem eager to do - shirk that responsibility. Needless to say, I'll have no respect for the latter course of action.

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