More noise than signal


On the other side of the Atlantic, Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has been shot in the head.

The event itself is of course a tragedy for the Giffords family and a sad day for American politics. From a, and I say this with no ill-will meant, relatively disinterested viewpoint, the outstanding aspect of this case is that it seems to mark the start of a complete meltdown in the American political process.

While I appreciate sitting on the other side of an ocean isn’t the ideal vantage point on the system, I’ve kept up enough to know that as long as I’ve been aware of American politics, the right-leaning side of the debate is moving steadily to positions and opinions more commonly associated with people in mental institutions rather than political institutions.

As far back as the hounding of Bill Clinton over his illicit blowie, right wing commentators have been amping up the rhetoric to unprecedented degrees that would not be acceptable in normal conversation, but apparently cannot be challenged in the political arena. The current crop of  right leaning commentators represents the nadir of this trend.

After Washington Post journalist Dana Milbank criticised Fox News’ coverage of the recent election, Bill O’Reilly ‘jokes’, “does sharia law say we can behead Dana Milbank?”. Ha ha. Glenn Beck fantasises on air about strangling Michael Moore. Modest health care reform is met with screams of socialism, communism and bizarre comments on ‘death panels’. Not from some fringe nutter, but from someone who was close to becoming vice-president of the USA.

Notably, the response from Sarah Palin, who recently urged her supporters “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!”,¬†after this shooting was to pull down an image from her website with gunsights over Giffords’ state. Very thoughtful and sensitive.

Almost immediately the noise machine kicks in, slamming anyone for “politicising” an, as I write this, thankfully only an attempted assassination, act that’s political by its very nature, and then saying that both sides are guilty of this hateful rhetoric, and anyway responsibility for the act lies only with the gunman.

Of course, there’s no examples of notable left wing commentators or politicians calling for the murder of their opponents. The best they trot out is third party website comments, claiming that all comments are officially endorsed by the website they appear on. Which is a convenient lie. The truth is that the violent rhetoric comes only from notable commentators on the right.

Ultimate responsibility for pulling the trigger comes from the man who pulled the trigger. Initial reports are that this was clearly a disturbed young man who may not be playing with a full deck. It would, however, be completely disingenuous to say that he was not effected by society around him. We all are. We are human. We are social creatures. We are all, unless you’re a hermit, part of society and society become a part of you. The truth is that framing discourse in language couched in violence leads to a society in which violence is encouraged and implicitly condoned. Unavoidably.

There’s a lot of bluster covering up some very guilty consciences on the part of many commentators, of that I have little doubt. There’s a lot of bluster from those without consciences as well, of that I have even less doubt.

We’ve seen this before in the Christian Right Fruitbats, with polemics about the evils of abortions and so forth leading to violence and murder of doctors, indefensibly by people who would consider themselves ‘good’ Christians.

Sadly, the main surprise in the case of Gabrielle Giffords is not that it happened, but that it has taken so long to happen.