The immediate facts of this tragedy are undisputed: a solitary man with a semi-automatic weapon attempted to assassinate his own congressional representative at a public event and, in the process, also shot 18 others, killing six. The follow-up debate concerns allegations of 1) the complicity of violent and inflammatory rhetoric from the right in recent years (with Arizona being a particular hot spot) and 2) inappropriate efforts by the left to capitalize politically from this tragic event by asserting the previous allegation – particularly as it applies to the graphical gun sights on Sarah Palin's controversial get-out-the-vote map.
I know this topic doesn't necessarily belong in a poetry blog, but last Monday I wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper (in reply to another) and, as of today, I'm pretty sure it isn't going to be published. Which seems like a terrible waste of the time I spent writing it. So, I thought I'd post it here, preceded by the letter that instigated it.
After all, this is MY blog, and hardly anyone ever reads it anyway.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Monday, January 17, 2011
I've finally figured out why Democrats and the media have such disdain -- even hatred -- for Sarah Palin. To the left, she is what the Soviet Union was to the United States during the Cold War and what terrorists are to the U.S. now -- a common enemy, someone to fear.
By making people fearful of the Soviet Union and terrorists, the U.S. government has been able to accomplish its goals. By demonizing Palin, the Democrats are attempting to convince their masses that Republicans are simply evil.
The anti-Palin sentiment goes much farther than simple disagreement with her political views, which, by the way, mirror those of many other high-profile Republicans. It has become frighteningly personal.
Democrats, Sarah Palin is one woman. Your energy would be better spent on more constructive efforts than making her a symbolic enemy. It accomplishes nothing.
JASON GABBERT, APPLE VALLEY, MN
My response, written that same Monday (as yet unpublished):
Apparently, liberals are obsessed with hating Sarah Palin. So, to the writer of Monday's letter, I'll say yes, Sarah Palin is only one woman - but she also has a very large and influential megaphone. From accusations of government "death panels" to the sarcasm of "How's that hopey changey thing working out for ya?" Sarah Palin has made a lucrative career out of her ability to generate contempt for government and liberal politicians.
But she doesn't work alone. Consider Rush Limbaugh ("Liberalism is an ideology built on lies"), Glenn Beck ("[Obama] has a deep-seated hatred for white people") or the title of Ann Coulter's 2003 book: Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism. In tandem with these pundits and like-minded others, Palin actively works to incite hatred against liberals. Even former Republican Rep. Robin Hayes of North Carolina got in on the action in 2008 when he proclaimed "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God." But do they really, or is this just part of the conservative game plan?
Were liberals out of line for taking offense when Palin trained rhetorical gun sights on congressional seats held by Democrats, then revisiting that offense when a gun finally went off? We all know the name of Jared Loughner now, but do we also remember the names of Joshua Cartwright, John Bedell, James von Brunn, or Jim Adkisson? Not likely. Each of them are mentally disturbed extemists who have opened fire on liberal targets in the last two years. How about Byron Williams, a Beck devotee who sought to assasinate wokers at two liberal institutions last July? Is this form of hatred somehow less significant than a liberal's vocal disdain for Palin and her ilk?
When conservative pundits grow wealthy by routinely throwing gasoline on the fire of their listeners' rage, fears of violence can (and do) become reality. Perhaps Sarah Palin and her posse could "man up" to the consequences of their reckless rhetoric while also acknowledging that liberals are indeed "real Americans" who take the responsibilities of politics and government very seriously. Until then, I don't see things changing much.
JIM BENZ, MINNEAPOLIS, MN...
Frankly, this kind of stuff drives me crazy – and I don't need a "motive," at least not for the purpose of formulating an intelligent, well-informed opinion. But when I think about the kind of rhetoric being passed off as "truth" by well-paid pundits on the right, I don't have any trouble discerning motive. In fact, I think it's downright crazy when people like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck pretend they have no ulterior or ideological motive in making the kind of fraudulent statements they frequently make – and then expect us to believe them.
Partisan ideology, you see, is the province of the left. On the right they are concerned only with "reality," "truth" and "common sense."
Concerning the so-called "crazies," I've heard it said that people who suffer from schizophrenia are not illogical so much as they are people who apply an intense logic built from increasingly faulty assumptions at odds with objective reality. Attending a similar public event several years before this tragedy, Jared Loughner reportedly asked Gabrielle Giffords, "What is government if words have no meaning?" For Michelle Malkin and her like-minded associates, apparently words don't have meaning – at least not when someone tries to hold right-wing ideologues accountable for what they have said.
Even so, it's pretty clear that Jared Loughner was an unstable individual who may very well have done what he did regardless of the inflammatory rhetoric that has embroiled our political environment. In other words, political pundits don't kill people, people do. Which is to say other people – as in "crazies."
But it seems kind of funny that the same political faction that connects Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to al Queda (remember "the ground zero mosque"?) is now sensitive to liberal critiques that zero in on a right-wing political call to arms that is accompanied by regular occurrences of "patriots" brandishing their weaponry (both physically and rhetorically) while shouting, "we're not afraid to use them, either!"
So, perhaps as a nation we could at least agree to stop slandering the opposition and instead commit ourselves to engaging in meaningful debate that sticks to the issues and works toward serious solutions for the problems we face as a nation – or would that be too radical, even crazy? But seriously, the political right is currently asserting that "hate" has no legitimate place in the political arena. My question is, can they live up to that sentiment?
[In the meantime, please pardon my rhetorical flourishes.]