Arizona: On the One Hand, On the Other Hand

This piece concerns post-catastrophe American media-rhetoric, in light of the murders in Arizona.

The shooting and murdering in Arizona: yes, awful. Agreed.

The post-catastrophe rhetoric: also awful, but perhaps not in (or maybe in addition to) the ways many people claim.

Interestingly, I find myself disagreeing with John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, two funny, smart performers and satirists.

Stewart went mostly serious at the start of his post-catastrophe show, while Colbert almost stayed in character, but both made the same point: that it is foolish for pundits and news-readers, etc., to try to ascribe blame. As evidence, both shows played clips of people ascribing blame–Foxoids suggesting that the murderer is a “leftist pot-smoker,” others bringing up Palin’s famous targets.

Stewart especially has firmly ensconced himself in an “on the one hand, on the other hand” position. Ironically, in his D.C. spectacle and on his post-catastrophe shows, he appears to want to appear “fair and balanced,” to seek for himself some respectable high ground, or high-middle ground.

A problem with this, I think, is that the rhetoric of some parts of the Right is different in kind, intent, and ferocity than that of the Center. Truth to tell, we almost never hear from a legitimate Left in mainstream media because even the most basic tax-plan, for example, is characterized as “redistributing wealth,” as opposed to pooling money to build roads (which is not–this just in–Communism). That is, as many people have suggested, the “Center” keeps getting pushed to the right, and centrists keep chasing it, so that Obama, for example, is hardly liberal.

But back to the main point: the Right’s rhetoric about government take-overs, Obama as socialist, Obama as non-citizen, Obama as African (race-baiting and xenophobia), Obama as fascist, wiping out liberals, defending “gun rights” (which Obama and his attorney general obviously accept as settled law), fearing and hating brown persons who cross the border to work, women as pit-bulls (Palin), districts (and their representatives) in cross-hairs, etc., is different. True, mainstream Dems deploy the usual kinds of political/rhetorical “trickeration,” to borrow from Coach Bobby Bowden. They’re no more honest than GOPers or Tea-pers. But mostly they don’t indulge in a rhetoric-without-boundaries. Consequently, Stewart’s equivocation of persons and rhetoric from both “parties” doesn’t work, not does his odd desire to appear respectable.

An example: one of the clips he showed to demonstrate that “both sides” were rushing to ascribe blame was of James Carville, who opined that members of the Tea Party tolerate extreme rhetoric. Now, that may be a contestable point, but it is also a plausible thesis, and it is not ascribing blame. The truth is, more folks who place themselves right of center indulge in and/or tolerate more rhetoric that is more extreme than do folks who place themselves on in the center. There is a difference. And to be clear, I’m concentrating on the rhetoric here, not on which “party” is ideologically correct. That particular point of Carville’s is one worth making, in my opinion, regardless of what Carville’s views on politics and policy are. To to use the clip to support this “both parties are equally bad” notion is a mistake.

Can we legitimately claim that extreme rhetoric and symbols (cross-hairs) CAUSE murders? No. But I think it is not unreasonable (pace, Eric Blair re: the not-un) to assert that extreme rhetoric and symbols don’t help matters–matters such as how we characterize one another, whether we bait people so as to reel them toward fear and hatred, whether we degrade those who disagree with us, and so on. Of course Carville is a political hack. Not news. But his rhetoric is also qualitatively different from that of Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Jim DeMint (“we’ll break Obama”), Karl Rove (“death panels”), and Sarah Palin.

An addendum: describing murders (in this case) as “unthinkable” and “senseless” has gotten old, ineffective, and inaccurate. In fact, murders (etc.) are thinkable. We think of them because they are part of our history. Consider the percentage of presidents, for example, who have been shot at or killed or both. Consider the scourge of lynching. And what does “senseless” mean in this context? I suppose it means that most people could not rationalize committing such murders themselves, cannot see sense or reason in it. Fine. But in fact in terms of American history recent and distant, such murders make sense insofar as they fit into a pattern or patterns. We’re an extremely violent culture. We’re obliged to make sense of, to analyze, that circumstance. And I think someone, anyone, of stature in the Republican Party should denounce extreme rhetoric used by someone on his or her “side.” Imagine how good for the country it would be for John Boehner to tell Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to tone it down and speak more responsibly. It would be an act of statesmanship.


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