Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Arizona Question

It's now been five days since Gabrielle Giffords and several other people were shot (and in some cases killed) in Arizona, and I think enough time has passed for a clear picture to emerge regarding the general reaction.  I think there's an awful lot going on that's worth commenting on.

First of all, Kevin Drum is entirely right that anyone blaming Palin for this is an idiot.  Of course, I haven't actually seen anyone blame Palin directly, so much as argue she's an obvious example of political discourse gone toxic, which kind of makes his point a bit, well, pointless.  I do agree with his argument that Glenn Beck is far, far worse in terms of violent rhetoric, but Palin's high profile makes her slip-ups more apparent, and I don't have much patience for the argument that she shouldn't have to answer for them just because others have/are doing worse (especially since Giffords herself called attention to it at the time).

A much better consideration of Palin's rhetoric is here. I'd never heard of the rhetorical triangle before, but it makes intuitive sense.  Moreover, he does very well in explaining what many of the right are thoroughly able to grasp: context matters.  I'm sure it annoys conservatives that liberals might process gun metaphors differently, but then those are the same people who argue it's "reverse racism" that white people aren't supposed to say "nigger". 

Of course, false equivalency and victim complexes are the meat and drink for the American right.  That's how the spectacularly foolish Jack Shafer can insist that people calling for an end to violent rhetoric are attempting to "police" speech, which leads to he himself calling for an end to calling for an end. Holy obvious double standard, Batman!  Liberal requests to stop doing things is censorship and policing speech; his requests are... well, what exactly?
It's also why Ross Douthat is happy to argue that archery targets and gun-sights should be considered metaphorically equivalent, and that if neither side has exactly zero occurrences of Offence X, then both can be labelled as equally guilty (though I have no intention of defending the video he links to, and there's certainly truth to the idea that you need to be sure your house isn't made of glass before you chuck this stuff around).

None of this speaks to the larger point that we don't really know what happened, beyond the fact that a clearly deeply troubled individual attacked a congresswoman and the crowd she had gathered.  Did he do it for political reasons?  Authority issues?  Some twisted grab for fame?  To quote Jon Stewart: "I have no fucking idea."  Neither, so far as I can tell, does anyone else.

Here's my problem, though.  It seems to me unarguable that the heated rhetoric of the last two years could be responsible, and that it's been overwhelmingly coming from the Right.  Anyone arguing against either point is pushing an agenda and nothing more.  We need to talk about what happened, and discuss ideas as to why it did.  What's outrageous about the response of some on the right is their total refusal to even discuss the possibility.  Palin, for example, in addition to releasing a spectacularly narcissistic statement, had her PR guys tell the press the cross-hairs on her map were "surveyor's symbols". 

They weren't.  We know they weren't.  We know they weren't because Palin herself had previously referred to them as bullseyes.  As I said, Giffords herself objected to the map targeting her, and now she's been shot (yes, very likely by coincidence) Palin's response is to pretend she never said what she said, and whine about how she's being victimised.

If the allusions to guns and violence really are part of the problem here, then the total refusal of powerful conservatives to own their own words is another.  Bush's pathological inability to apologise and reflect was bad enough, but this is on a whole new level.

In short: I don't know whether there is a link between Palin and Loughton. Or the Republicans and Loughner.  All I know is that these people don't think a half dozen brutal murders and a dozen or so injuries are even worth an honest conversation.

While we're on the subject, Peter King can fuck right off.  I have little tolerance for the Second Amendment; I think it's been twisted beyond all recognition by the gun obsessed, and America would be better off were it to be consigned to the scrap-heap of history.  But if it is going to be held as some kind of sacred right, that right cannot be conditional on how close an elected official is.

I know the gun control debate is over, and we lost.  I know people will continue to insist that gun massacres could be stopped if only the citizenry were better armed, despite it making little sense.  But the idea that the best way to deal with six people being murdered is to ensure the most important one is less likely to be shot at again is just sickening.   Either the States needs gun control, or it doesn't.  You don't get to argue gun control is only necessary when the important people show up.

(I really am trying not to resort to an emotional appeal, here, but my mind keeps going back to that poor nine-year old child who died in the massacre, and wondering why King thinks girls like her should only get special protection if there's a someone from Congress standing over the road).

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