THE UNASKED QUESTION

Even the most casually observant American, especially one who spends any non-negligible amount of time on the internet, realizes that there are a lot of nutty people in this country. Everyone has one neighbor they make a point of avoiding. Everyone has one co-worker who is a plausible candidate for an office/factory/whatever killing spree. Everyone sees anonymous comments scattered about the internet that leave little doubt that there are people out there who are…out there in more ways than one.

Given the number of nuts we know to be out there, we are remarkably tolerant of the kind of political dialogue that A) stokes the paranoia of people who are already nuts and B) strongly encourages people who could otherwise be normal and sane to adopt the attitudes, beliefs, and thought patterns of someone who is nuts. The average gun- and silver-hoarding militiaman is, by and large, a sane person capable of leading a normal life who instead withdraws into a world of conspiratorial thoughts, paranoid reasoning, and dangerous beliefs. The average 9/11 Was an Inside Job idiot is another example. These people are not born, they are created. They have and will always exist. The question is why America seems to have so goddamn many of them.

Part of the answer lies in our values and laws. People have the freedom to disseminate any information (factual or otherwise) or opinion they choose. That is something that should never change. The real issue, then, is why we are so socially tolerant of behavior and belief systems that are so aberrant. Herein lies the problem. In some ways American society is stunningly judgmental; in others we are too hesitant to judge. This, I believe, is the partisan political component of Saturday's events in Arizona, because the mainstream Republican Party has fallen particularly short on this issue (although all of us share blame to some extent).

There is a very simple, useful question that we do not often enough ask in the United States, especially where politics are concerned. The GOP, in the last several years, has avoided it altogether. We need to make a concerted effort to stop excusing or encouraging insane behavior and ideas with one question: "What in the hell is wrong with you?"

No one asks that anymore, which is odd given how often the need to do so arises.

When someone shows up at a presidential event with a semiautomatic rifle over his shoulder, conservatives rush to justify it. He has a permit! It's a 2nd Amendment right! Guns don't kill people, people do! Nobody is willing to grab the guy and ask, "You brought an AR-15 to an event where the President of the United States is appearing in public? What the fuck is wrong with you?"

When a Republican candidate suggests "Second Amendment remedies" to the "problem" of having Democrats in elected office, the Republican primary voters of her state reward her with the nomination for the Senate. They do not stop and ask, "What in the hell is wrong with this person?"

When radio and TV pundits tell a country already overpopulated with potentially violent, armed nutcases that Obama is just like Hitler and Stalin and One World Government is on the way and the Federal government is coming to confiscate your guns and so on and so forth, Republicans say "Wow, look at his ratings! I gotta get me on that show!" They do not pause and ask the media personality, "What in the hell is wrong with you?"

When the Republican nominee for Vice-President distributes an advertisement with 20 Democratic members of Congress in rifle crosshairs and constantly uses what she innocently calls "hunting imagery" like "locked and loaded" to "take down" the opposition, right wingers trip over themselves to explain away her behavior as harmless. None of them look at their own movement and ask, "My God, what in the hell is wrong with some of you?"

When someone shows up at a Tea Party rally with a sign that says "We came unarmed [this time]", his fellow protesters think it's so cute that it becomes a popular catchphrase and t-shirt slogan. They don't say, "Put that down, you imbecile. What's wrong with you?"

When a Republican media darling Congresswoman says "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us 'having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,' and the people — we the people — are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country", far too few people in the party are willing to ask her, "Michelle, what in the hell is wrong with you?" and her district returns her to Washington repeatedly.

When a young man devolves into incomprehensibility and obvious mental imbalance right out in public for everyone to see, he is much more likely to find a community of people with similar beliefs who will encourage him rather than a shocked society that asks, "Dude, what the hell are you talking about? You need help."

I've called out the GOP here because violent, overblown, apocalyptic, and, most importantly, false rhetoric is a much bigger problem on the right. We are all afraid to say that and they squeal like teakettles if anyone even suggests it. If your first reaction is that "both sides" share equal blame, listen to or read some Coulter, Savage, Limbaugh, Beck, et al and ask yourself who you think you are kidding. Read The Eliminationists and get back to us with some equivalent examples of "leftists" trafficking in similar rhetoric.

The point is that this is yet another opportunity for our society to reject the prosaic "just a bad apple" theory of why violence like this happens. We can say: Yes, there are always going to be nutjobs out there…so in what way is it remotely responsible for the media, party leaders, and elected officials to fan the flames with violent, paranoid rhetoric? Why is there so much rationalization and so little condemnation when we hear and see this kind of behavior? Because everyone is Entitled to Their Opinion, no matter how insane it may be. While that is true in the legal sense, it is not absolutely true. We need people in general, and Republicans in particular, to take a more active role in condemning this kind of rhetoric – before something terrible happens, not when the body count starts rising.

I've offered just a few examples here of the kind of words and actions that are likely to push otherwise normal people toward skewed ways of seeing their fellow Americans and to push people who are already borderline nuts over the edge. When you encounter this stuff, how do you react? Do you justify, condone, rationalize, and excuse? Or do you state in no uncertain terms that balanced people in a civilized society consider such behavior unacceptable?

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82 Responses to “THE UNASKED QUESTION”

  1. RosaLux Says:

    Yea, but the deeper – and more intractable problem – is the atomization of modern life, and the tendency for people to "cocoon" into their own private universes. In an ideal culture, what a strong sense of what's been called "social capital," people would have a strong network of friends and family that would act as a check on an individual's development of insane, delusional ideas. People with insane, delusional ideas would be confronted, or challenged constantly, and so forced to moderate their opinions. In OUR world, we lead isolated existences and spend most of our hours staring at screens alone (telling statistic: average time per day with the TV per household: 8 hours). Crazy people cocoon into their own delusional fantasies without any reality check. They are free to only watch the news, or read the websites, that verifies or prods on their preexisting delusions.

    I agree that we need to do a better job of calling out violent rhetoric, BUT the problem is really so much deeper. We're piss-poor in social capital – the bonds of trust and sociality are nearly wholly broken. To address this we would need a wholesale reevaluation of the way we live. The change that we need is not political, but primarily cultural.

    Oh yea, and we also need to end anonymous postings. You're much less likely to spew some crazy bullshit on a website if you have to stand behind it with your real name.

  2. Xynzee Says:

    Obviously there's a difference between the rhetorical "you gotta fight…" in militant terms.
    However, given context (for which I'm unclear) I'm surprised that a sedition charge wasn't brought against Angle.

    One of the problems for the GOP is that they're losing control of their voters because of Limbaugh et al and they're slowly devolving into a rabble. This crap isn't new but has been brewing since 80s. My dad was visiting my bro in 90-something at an AFB in NC when Helmes visited and made a comment that if Clinton came for a visit he'll need to bring a body guard! WT…!!! My dad felt this rhetoric was inappropriate and filed a complaint abt it. If this kind of crap is stated to the armed forces how hard will it be to keep them under control. Be afraid, be very afraid…

  3. daphne Says:

    Great points. I would suggest that the most salient one is not "What the hell is wrong with you" but "These people are not born, they are created." It's the best terse response to wailing rightwing protests of "we're not responsible" I've yet read.

  4. Ike Says:

    Well, a good portion of the country is indoctrinated in Crazy from a very early age. Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Jesus Christ, Noah's Ark, Jonah and the Whale… When the Land of Make Believe is your frame of reference for the universe, anything is possible.

    "To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions." -K. Marx, 1844

  5. Tosh Says:

    Most are not going to like this:
    What we have is the affect of racism and a black man as president of these United States.

    I've always said anglos have no idea what they have created and if the denial is set aside, even as an academic argument, the situation becomes an Occam's Razor. Just try it.

    It will explain why the current situation is normailzed and perfectly acceptable, but nobaody wants to hear that.

  6. Da Moose Says:

    need to correct the jump for this link:

    "devolves into incomprehensibility and obvious mental imbalance"

  7. Tosh Says:

    That being said all this is neither shocking or new. We just are aghast when it bubbles up in such a manner, when it was there all along. Even all the denials, verbal machination and requisite rationalization that will soon erupt from the media machines are an affect of that racism… All perfectly normal.

    This is why we have such a difficult time tring to get a grip on this: We do not approach the situation with the subtle and wholly appropriate perspective and appreciation.

  8. Ben Says:

    @ Rosa Lux:

    I agree if you're talking about mental illness. The state of mental illness detection and prevention in the US is abysmal, and part of that is due to the decline of social support networks, no question (among a dozen other things that are just as important and intractable. Sigh).

    But if you're talking about "political craziness" of the kind that Ed talks about in his post, supplement your Putnam with Diana Mutz. People don't talk politics with their close associates, they talk to their acquaintances, and when one talks politics one is more likely to A) become more hardened in one's views and B) become convinced that the other side is delusional / doesn't make sense, whether they talk to someone of common or opposite political persuasion.
    There are exceptions to this trend (e.g. people who aren't that committed to their political views) but they tend not to talk about politics in the first place.

    So an increase in social capital means either an increase in close friends or acquaintances, neither of which tends to moderate or change political viewpoints. It probably would take something akin to what Ed is talking about to change this dynamic: completely changing current practices of political discussion and cultivating a habit of groups of people calling an individual on their bullshit.

    Cf. Cass Sunstein's work (well, collection of others' work) Going to Extremes, where of all the possible combinations of group discussions (1 on 1, 1 on 1 within the context of a group discussion, 1 on many, many on many) only 1 on many doesn't result in everyone's own position just getting further entrenched.

    @Ed:
    This is somehow one of the most measured and reasoned political reactions I've read, despite being peppered with "What in the hell is wrong with you?"s. Kudos.

  9. ladiesbane Says:

    Ed, these are exactly the same questions my mother's prayer intervention group asks, knowing the response they'll get, from their group who plead to keep homosexuals from teaching in public schools, etc. They know the response they'll get, "asked and answered", as we used to say.

    They also believe that D&D and heavy metal cause people to go on killing sprees.

    What they don't seem to realize is that I indulged in both, and have killed no one as a result.

    The Tea Party Right is culpable for inciting the easily swayed (that being a euphemism for a certain type of weak-minded mentally ill person) to riot. They think that they can employ a consistently violent metaphor, as did the gangsta rappers they detest, and act surprised when people get capped, and decry all responsibility. There is a degree of culpability. There is blood on their hands.

    And to answer your question: two things. First, I point out that some nutjobs listen to the Bible, or aliens, or "the voices", but that doesn't mean the rest of us have to; and also, that the Left may be weak sisters and political cannibals, but I never see them using the language (rhetoric, metaphor, analogy, imagery) of violence in their persuasion or plans — so the worst they are going to incite their weak-minded followers to do is vote for an ineffectual pissant.

  10. Natalie Says:

    I think this is a salient part of the discussion that we need to be having. To suggest that the political left is wholly innocent of such talk, intended or otherwise is naive. However, this sort of talk does seem to be a specialty of the modern Republican Party. By driving out the few moderates they had to begin with, they have fewer people to ask this question of everyone else.

    Olbermann pointed out the other night that this sort of chatter was very typical of the organized left in the 60s and 70s. So it's not just them. But it is true that they're the best part of the issue for the time being. I for one was particularly amazed by the man with the AR-15 at the Presidential appearance. I mean, who does that? Yes, it is your 2nd Amendment right. But is it a good idea? Hell no. We've created a society where everyone and anyone has easy and quick access to guns and this has only made it worse.

  11. Noskilz Says:

    Although I can't say I'm very optomistic about the GOP dialing back the hyperbolic bombast, this is probably one of the better takes on the situation I've seen of late.

    I suppose I'll just have to make do with the seemingly genuine surprise from some quarters that while they may have been doing everything possible to make the world a paranoiac's wonderland, they weren't actually counting on such people to act.

  12. Xynzee Says:

    If I recall Oregon had a a specially instituted hate speech law. Where if someone acted upon your rhetoric you were culpable. Granted it was aimed specifically at white supremacists, but it would have been an interesting test case of state v state if it had occured there.

  13. JTM Says:

    Yes, the right wing anti-government hate machine didn't force Jared Loughner to murder, or alter his brain chemistry to turn him into a psychopathic monster, or put the gun in his hand. But they sure as hell told him where it would be a good idea for him to point the barrel.

  14. John Says:

    And so it has begun. The slow, agonizing death spiral that befalls all great empires that have reached their zenith, and whose next stage is the inevitable fall. It has become perfectly acceptable for politicians to constantly use violent rhetoric and calls to violence in their campaigning. And when those calls to violence are acted upon, no one is held accountable. Even when clear-cut evidence in the form of "I read X book by Y author that gave me targets and reasons to do it" notes left by the perpetrators is left behind, those who put out the hit are never brought to justice.

    Make no mistake. They are putting out hits. They're simply doing it in a manner that absolves them of all accountability under our worthless legal system.

    "So and so is ruining our country, and the best thing in the world would be for them to get killed!"

    The next day, so and so is murdered. And yet only the murder is prosecuted, not the solicitation to commit murder, despite the very clear and incontestable evidence of it.

    No one is held accountable. They simply play their fiddles while Rome burns around them.

  15. Sarah Says:

    As far as calling out public personalities publicly, that can be difficult depending on how much power is wielded by that personality. I seem to recall Michael Steele calling out Rush Limbaugh a couple of years ago, then being forced to backpedal.

  16. Sarah Says:

    "I've called out the GOP here because violent, overblown, apocalyptic, and, most importantly, false rhetoric is a much bigger problem on the right. We are all afraid to say that and they squeal like teakettles if anyone even suggests it. If your first reaction is that "both sides" share equal blame, listen to or read some Coulter, Savage, Limbaugh, Beck, et al and ask yourself who you think you are kidding. Read The Eliminationists and get back to us with some equivalent examples of "leftists" trafficking in similar rhetoric."

    Yes. Exactly. There's one guy (name withheld) making the claim that calling righties nasty names like "teabagger" (one of the milder names I've seen and which I personally would use) alienates them and pushes them to become more radical. That devolves the whole thing into a kindergarten playground fight, especially when I see nasty names like "libtard" coming from the right. "You started it!" "No, you!" "You!" "You!"

  17. Southern Beale Says:

    This incident has caused me to revisit Rick Perlstein's New York Times column from last September, which was prompted by the cluster of Koran-burning pastors. It's pertinent to the discussion here because Perlstein discusses how our news media now covers these crazy fringe wackos whereas in the past they did not.

    Interesting reading. I'm still of two minds about the value or detriment of catapulting these people to the national stage. I'll be doing a post on it later today … still trying to wrap my head around some ideas.

  18. Misterben Says:

    Part of the problem is that our society is in the midst of a leadership crisis. A society only functions well when the majority of its citizens are behaving responsibly and fulfilling their roles. The majority of our leaders in politics, government, the private sector, the media, and even academia, have of late failed to behave in responsible fashion.

    Ed points out with great clarity how the Republican leadership, both in the party and in the media, has chosen to ride the Teabagger wave instead of doing the responsible thing and asking them "what the hell is wrong with you?" They are a part of the problem, which is that our leaders seem to have forgotten that being among the elite is both a privilege and a responsibility, that their role carries both opportunity and obligation. Mastering the news cycle and spinning public opinion are not the same thing as responsible leadership; the elites in this country seem to have forgotten that.

    The scary thing is, this is not the first time a society has had this problem. Lots of societies have. Usually right before things fall apart completely.

  19. Cokehead Says:

    Well, first, what I do, is I laugh. I laugh a lot.

    And then I, as a commenter pointed out in the last post, bring the crazy up to eleven in an attempt to out-crazy them. When my stepdad says that Obama's a communist, I add that he is also a nazi who eats children for breakfast, and for lunch, he grills delicious aborted fetuses over the warm fire provided by copies of the bible that his aides steal from old ladies and churches.

    Either they get jolted out of the crazy, or they just stop talking to me. I like both potential outcomes, myself.

  20. anotherbozo Says:

    @misterBen: " The majority of our leaders in politics, government, the private sector, the media, and even academia, have of late failed to behave in responsible fashion."

    Look again. Our government leaders are quite responsible—to their corporate clients. Brutally efficient, even, when you realize whom they're really serving. Not us. Big pharma, big oil, coal, agribusiness—just inventory K Street for the constituency. The efficiency of our government becomes clear when you accept my premise.

  21. Tim H. Says:

    Such behavior is one explanation for belief in an afterlife, oblivion's too good for those contraception errors.

  22. Tim H. Says:

    More opinion on the subject here:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/01/we_have_our_own_barbarian_subc.php

  23. Grumpygradstudent Says:

    I don't disagree with your general critique of the right's rhetoric, but I don't think it applies very well to this particular guy. I defy anyone to extract a coherent ideology from his online ramblings. The only real evidence that he is even a right-winger is that he shot a Democrat. My guess is that he would have been just as happy to shoot a Republican if one happened to be his representative (but I could be wrong about that…hopefully that will become clearer as more details about him come to light).

    It's also incorrect that nobody said "what the hell is wrong with you" to this guy. His school had kicked him out for saying/doing threatening things. He had also had some sort of run-in with the law previously. At least somebody in the world could tell that the guy was dangerous and said that to him directly and to his parents.

    I think your critique is valuable, because there are undoubtedly hoards of potential Timothy McVeigh types who actually DO have a coherent ideology and might be a few rhetorical prods away from engaging in genuine political violence to further it. I just don't think this particular guy really fits.

  24. Fifth Dentist Says:

    @ Sarah

    As an old fart I remember when I noticed this taking off: The 1996 election in which Republicans took the House.
    In a GOPAC memo that year Newt Gingrich distributed a list of words to call Democrats.
    It included: anti-family, anti-family, anti-child, cheat, corrupt, destructive, disgrace, failure, intolerant, liberal, radical, sick, and unionized.
    Granted our history is full of incendiary rhetoric and charges. But the one that, in my opinion, included in that list, was "traitors."
    There is no excuse for calling someone a traitor becaue of differences in political philosophy and because you play on the other team.
    The full memo is available at: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4443.htm

  25. B-iLL Says:

    The biggest takeaways I've seen from this tradgedy are the fact that the media or Right-wingers are not calling this guy a terrorist and the fact that he was booted from Community College for mental issues but was handed a glock without the blink of an eye.
    Is it simply because he is white and used a gun instead of a bomb that he escapes the terrorist tag?
    I think this has a lot less to do with political motivations than this twisted nutjob's own psychotic faultlines. He would've targeted classmates, work associates, or any other group just as randomly as these victims. I don't think that the violent rhetoric, undoubtedly deplorable, contributed much, if anything, to this guy's actions. As "Bowling for Columbine" pointed out, there is something inherently violent about our nation and culture that will always be in our DNA.

  26. Kulkuri Says:

    Besides the politicial talking heads fomenting violence, there are what I call the "government-hating circle-jerk echo chambers" that are forwarding racist hate-mongering e-mails. With these groups, even if you were to say "What the Hell is wrong with you?" all that would happen is they get smarter about how they send out e-mails. Instead of sending to a list, they would send e-mails to those that don't agree with them individual e-mails. So clicking on 'reply all' would have no effect.

    The thing that frightens me is that a lot of them call themselves Christians and are paid-up members of the NRA.

  27. Scott Supak Says:

    My family winces when someone says something stupid around me, because they know I'm going to go off on a tirade of facts and reason.

  28. John Says:

    Seriously? Still with the frickin' Tea Party slanders? The man was a paranoid schizophrenic who listed the Commmunist Manifesto and Mein Kamf as favorite books. The is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY IN HELL that Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, or any of your personal boogey men had a damn thing to do with any of this, and the fact that you left wing, looney, IDIOTS keep trying to bring it up speaks more to your lack of character than anything else. Quite repeating blood libels. NOW!!

  29. Amanda Says:

    My own father is one of these crazies, although I am not sure he would take it to the extreme. Some examples of his actions and my responses, as requested:

    1. He constantly refers to Ellen Degeneres as Ellen Degenerate. I respond to that ever time with a "Dad, that's really rude and disrespectful. Don't say that again when I'm around" because I know he says it when I'm not and he gets a laugh.

    2. He watches Glenn Beck like it is actual news and does not allow my mother to watch the evening news on NBC/CBS/ABC because it is too "librul." When I visit I tell him that I don't want it on when I'm there. He concedes, but not without some comment like "Well, this just proves that libruls are intolerant of other viewpoints. Sometimes the opposing view can seem radical, but it's just as valid."

    3. He likes to diss the teachers' unions, and every time he does it around me I remind him that his daughter is a teacher and if not for the teachers' unions I would be working like a slave for even lower pay than I am already receiving and if little Billy in 6th grade decides to accuse me of touching him in his no no area because I failed him on a quiz, guess who will be paying for the lawyer? Not him, that's for sure, and that usually shuts him up.

    4. Abortion: Dad liked to talk about how even in the cases of rape or incest the baby should be carried to term and put up for adoption, and in the case of the health of the mother he is willing to leave it in the hands of god but babies should always be carried to term. I always responded to this with a scenario of me being raped and impregnated, and when his response was "It doesn't matter, carry it to term and put it up for adoption. You don't want to be a murderer" I told him never to talk to me about abortion again.

    5. He has consistently over his lifetime referred to blacks as "coons."

    We can talk about the problems of the social environment in this country, but I don't think talking to these people is ever going to result in any productive results. They have their scripts provided to them by and they will keep repeating it until you give up. And you will give up. It is literally like banging your head against a brick wall. You could even say "What the hell is wrong with you?!?!" and they'll respond with something like "Maybe I'm just too patriotic and American and I'm PROUD of it! What the hell is wrong with you?" Progressives cannot progress because there is this fantastic Great Wall of Bullshit that has been built in this country that we cannot tear down with reason, truth, legalese, understanding, or even compromise. These people will not be swayed. They will agree to disagree at their tamest and then we're just left where we were when we started. With people believing that global warming is a myth, that Obama is a Nazi coon, and that a public option for health care would bankrupt the country and all you can do is watch and wait for the consequences.

  30. Amanda Says:

    "They have their scripts provided to them by (pick a crazy pundit or representative)…"

  31. Ed Says:

    Written defamation is libel, not slander.

  32. Voting Solves Nothing Says:

    "The average 9/11 Was an Inside Job idiot is another example."

    Idiots? Really? There's more proof that 9/11 was an inside job than there is for ANY world religion, but I don't see you calling christians idiots. You just lost a reader.

  33. Georgia Jeff Says:

    First I applaud Ed for having the guts to say that we all bear some responsibility for the assassination attempt in Arizona. And that is what it was, an assassination attempt, regardless of the mental instability of the perp.

    Second, I have sent an email (ignored I am sure) to Fox news telling them what shitty journalists they are. They have gotten it wrong repeatedly, and had to correct their reporting, starting with reporting that the congressman was dead. Fox news has perfectly personified the song 'Dirty Laundry'.

    Third, I think that turning this into a simple liberal-neocon squabble of finger pointing is counterproductive misses the fact that I think 'anotherbozo' gets correct. Great violence has been perpetrated against the average American by congress, especially over the past 16 or so years. From both parties, in favor of 'big business'.

    Fourth, I think this is not a black and white event, this is a shade of grey. I can't name a single sovereign country in existence that doesn't train 'seemingly normal and intelligent people' to commit 'mass murder'. They are paid and respected members of those nations. They are called 'soldiers' or 'snipers' or 'operatives' , etc.

    The fact is that violence and death are inseparably linked with politics throughout human history. Gavrilo Princip was probably not much different from Jared Loughner, in ways that caused their destinies to be crossed. Except Loughner wasn't as tightly focused as Princip, or Oswald, or Booth, or … well pick your 'nut-job assassin'. And political oppression in the form of 'tighter national security' has done nothing to stop political violence.

    Ed was on the money, in my opinion, because this is a part of the human condition. Name calling, finger-pointing, political posturing, targeted legislation; all will fail until the discussion is couched in a framework toward a solution to the state of the human condition where violence is required to make a political change.

    Haiti is a fine example a cultural representation of this isolated act. Lots of misery and violence while the rest of the political world, more or less, ignores it.

  34. Paul W. Luscher Says:

    You've said it all.

    There is definitely something WRONG in this country, when one part of the political spectrum uses language which whips up fear, hate, and paranoia, implicitly encourages guns and violence as the cure-all..and tells us that it is True-Blue Patriotism…..

  35. mother earth Says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful post. I've been thinking about the links between this shooting and the violent rhetoric that has increased from the right and seemed to explode with the Tea Baggers and Birthers. One thought that I can't dismiss:

    If my children, while in high school, had posted on Facebook or a personal blog a picture of their high school with rifle target marks on it and names of teachers and administrators, they would have been suspended immediately. And it would have been to the great relief of the other students and parents. If they had posted on Facebook or another website something about don't retreat but reload in reference to their school, same results.

    It is total bullshit to act like words don't have consequences. And to act like Sarah Palin is somehow exempt in the name of politics to adhere to civilized and acceptable behavior.

    Any kid in high school today knows if he/she acted or spoke in such a way, there would be immediate negative consequences.

    The least we can do is speak up, call out these actions by asking what the hell is wrong with you.

  36. Nick Says:

    I think Georgia Jeff said most of what needed to be said. The only thing I'll add is that as much as I despise Palin, Beck, et al, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of assigning blame for violent action to political speech. It creates a precedent of "It wasn't the nutjob's fault! It was Sarah Palin's!" which taken to its logical conclusion makes Sarah Palin an accessory to murder. That may sound fine to a few people here, but it would have a rather chilling effect on freedom of speech. I recall a buddy of mine during the run-up to the 2008 election telling me that listening to Sarah Palin speak made him feel like "some good old-fashioned clock tower democracy." Had I been unable to recognize his hyperbole for what it was, and assassinated Palin as a result, would that be his fault or mine?

  37. Kevin Says:

    Thoughtful broad point Ed, but I challenge your assertion that the problem is "much bigger on the right". I'm not good enough to research my own list of similar rhetoric that comes from the left, but take a quick look at Michelle Malkin's website today (shrieks and howls expected) for a long list of examples. Even if I spot you a 80% discount on her credibility, there are many disturbing examples from the left that fit your broader point.

    Sometimes I suspect that you slant your posts on purpose just to see whether the result is a day long chorus of "right on Ed, give it to those Rethugs!" or if somebody is actually going to challenge you.

    I picture you doing the same thing with your students just to see how far they'll let you go before someone finally says, "Wait a minute, I don't think that's true!" As a teaching tactic, I bet it could be quite effective in political science and rhetoric classes.

  38. Matt Says:

    For bonus points, count how many folks who are *insisting* that violent RW rhetoric had nothing to do with this have attacked "violent video games" for "indoctrinating our children" in the past. I suspect there will be quite an overlap…

  39. bb in GA Says:

    This incident is not the one. You will have an epic FAIL on trying to take down political dissent from the Right this time around. This crazy is just too disconnected from the political philosophy process to make it stick.

    I don't even think you can get more gun control laws out of this. Maybe you can some executive regs…FDA, EPA, AM & FM?

    But take heart, Leftists.

    You will succeed someday not too distant as your young, well trained, correct thinking, new generation of Liberals/Leftists grow to political maturity.

    With some luck, I will outrun the demise…but will oppose till I assume room temp.

    //bb

  40. chris Says:

    Good post. Thanks, Ed.

    Kevin, you poor thing, let me help. Google "right wing hate". Take your time and read a bit. Now google "left wing hate." See the difference?
    Michele "ragegasm" Malkin? Seriously? Maybe you need to read a little deeper on her site.

  41. 400metres Says:

    It's all just another day at the office for the Party of Personal Responsibility (i.e., the party-of-its-never-my-responsibility-for-anything-that-goes-wrong-even-when-it-clearly-is).

  42. Tosh Says:

    I stand by the prior post and I am still VERY skeptical of the narrative that is developing, as we should be, but this guy is looking more pathological/clinical with each passing minute.
    Will he be guilty but insane, not guilty by reason of insanity, or just guilty? How will the right and left spin and analyze, or otherwise develop the narrative? Inquiring minds wanna know…

  43. Tosh Says:

    bb is most likely correct as this is not the battle the left wants to fight. They may only make themselves look silly by attempting to pin this on hate speech proponents. This is not to say there is not a valid argument to be made , just that is is a slippery slope and the position of the right is to basically do nothing and assume a defensive posture.

  44. Tosh Says:

    (a well developed storyline for the right: "Yep… he's loony.)

  45. Sarah Says:

    It is true that there doesn't seem to be any direct connection between the spew from the right (did you know that some outfit called the "Patriot Shop" is selling "Liberal Hunting Permit" stickers with a donkey silhouette in a bullseye and wording indicating "no bag limit" and "no tagging required"?) and this shooter, in that there are no reports that the shooter actually indicated he was inspired by Sarah Palin's poster. That doesn't excuse their inflammatory rhetoric, and they are trying to pin the shooting on the left by labeling him as a "liberal lunatic." http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=439×153766

  46. Tosh Says:

    @Sarah: its called plausible deniability. I can, with certainty, that the right vitriol found a home between this guys ears, because of or in spite of his mental status.

    The Beckerhead has decided to go on the offensive. This will force the media to respond… This is going to be interesting.

  47. Tosh Says:

    @Sarah: also a rationalization (plausible deniability.) Happens all the time to help folks sleep at night

  48. Mrs. Chili Says:

    This is exactly right. I've been begging to have people in the media call out the crazies for what they really are for YEARS now. Our chickens, as has been famously said, are coming home to roost.

  49. tybee Says:

    looking back at political/election rhetoric over the past couple hundred years, i'm not so sure that this is such a modern event.

    reading the political sections from newspapers in the early and middle 19th century is an eye opener.

  50. ladiesbane Says:

    @ bb: please! Shout "fire" at a crazy man and he's liable to do just that. Would you shout "jump" at a man on the roof? He was suicidal before you got there, but shouting "jump" might prod him to take that final step. I don't believe you'd do that. Or maybe you thought Iago was a patriot, and Desdemona got what she deserved. After all, he didn't lay a hand on her.

  51. Tosh Says:

    I know a guy that provides housing for kids in this country learning English as a second language. They are paid for the room and board and he claims to be a good christian. The current student is a saudi (i.e. muslim.) He has a weekly cookout at his home and allowed the student to consume a pork roast. He made a sorta scene of the (basically, non-english speaking) student eating pork and assumed NO responsibility for the event, saying it was not his fault the guy ate pork, even though he very well could have prevented the incident.

    My argument was the situation was contrived and as the student's caretaker, it was absolutely his responsibility for the student's overall well being. Did we create a terrorist?

    I may have to let that guy go…
    (does not suffer fools lightly)

  52. Maleesha Says:

    I really think this is a good clear piece of writing. It's too bad so many can't see how correct and simple it is. What good are all these freedoms and rights when you have to wonder when your child might get shot in the name of one side or another. At a grocery store.

  53. BD of MN Says:

    "We need people in general, and Republicans in particular, to take a more active role in condemning this kind of rhetoric

  54. bb in GA Says:

    ladiesbane:

    Talk about disconnected…other than your Shakespeare reference, I am too dense to understand what you're talking about.

    My whole point is that tactically this ain't the hill Lefties want to make their stand on. I have sympathy for the mentally ill, have some in my family…

    We Southerners have always been more tolerant of crazy people in the family :-)

    Seriously, I think that if you practice evil long enough (let's drag out Charlie Manson or Hitler here), it will make you dangerous crazy. Ordinary crazy people are generally not dangerous to anyone.

    //bb

  55. BD of MN Says:

    dammit. let me try this again….

    "We need people in general, and Republicans in particular, to take a more active role in condemning this kind of rhetoric – before something terrible happens, not when the body count starts rising."

    Too late, I'd say, these names ring a bell?

    Jim Adkisson 7/27/2008
    Richard Poplawski 4/4/2009
    Joshua Cartwright 4/25/2009
    Scott Roeder 5/31/2009
    James W. von Brunn 6/10/2009
    Gilbert Ortiz 7/13/2009
    Warren Taylor 12/23/2009
    Joseph Stack 2/18/2010
    John Patrick Bedell 3/4/2010
    Jerry Kane, Jr.and Joseph Kane 5/20/2010
    Byron Williams 7/18/2010
    Patrick Gray Sharp 8/17/2010
    James Patock 11/3/2010

    These guys just went out to kill cops, IRS agents, or other government employees…

  56. Tosh Says:

    @bb: you read my commentary?
    a sidebar:

    http://www.csgv.org/issues-and-campaigns/guns-democracy-and-freedom/insurrection-timeline

  57. Tosh Says:

    ladiesbane's analogy is concise and speaks with clarity.
    But they/we have that Plausible Deniability thing

  58. Tosh Says:

    @bb: let's talk…
    as a yankee that's spent a lot of time in the south the"awe shucks, I'm just country fried" shit don't really work, past a certain point. Dubya did it for eight years (surprisingly so)

    We read your posts and know you're a pretty on it kinda guy, so the shuffl'n in the georgia clay " awe shucks" thing is kinda disingenuous…

  59. Tosh Says:

    i.e. you ain't dense.

  60. ts46064 Says:

    If your first reaction after hearing about an attempted assassination and killing spree that left 6 people (including a 9 year old girl) dead, and 14 others wounded is "what will this mean for gun rights?"; you are fucked in the head.

  61. bb in GA Says:

    Tosh:

    By all means, I'll try to do better…

    Your side (assuming you are a Liberal/Leftist) jumped on this thing for its political value.

    I am broken hearted for all who have suffered. (Tell me Tosh if I said it right to your specs)

    My response to the political BS from the Left is that this is not the incident worth your energy because (in my judgment) it ain't gonna stick.

    Aw shucks…

    //bb

  62. ladiesbane Says:

    @bb: I think I found the disconnect. The Lefties I listen to, and those with whom I am in agreement, are headed down a path different from the one I think you have been following. I think that crazy trumps ideology — and that applies to people who are strictly consistent with one side or the other, as well as the recent pick-a-mix character.

    But the really dangerous Lefties out there are sometimes not so crazy as foolish, and generally not dangerous. The Right, however, attracts a certain number of people who are technically sane but prone to violence — and the Right should not feed those fires, but some do. While the Righty politicians don't control those meatheaded fratboys and rednecks, they do have a choice: they can provide leadership that endorses wise, reasonable, gentlemanly behavior, or they can whip people into a froth of reckless behavior with a recurring theme of gun-toting violence.

    Whipping people into a frenzy, and attaching that frenzy to guns, is deeply irresponsible. They know who their fringe element is, and they know that some people are in dire straits and losing their collective grip, and they know that guns make scared people feel strong. As a responsible gun user (I now live in California, so ownership is out of the question), I am appalled that they do this. But gun control is N/A in this case; the restrictions in place are to weed out a different sort of problem, and should not be expected to cover this situation. There's no political hay to make here. But the Righty politicians should stop their careless, cutesy-poo gun-language, crosshair-imagery, and "2nd Amendment solution" coyness. It does have an effect on the simpleminded. And it makes it harder for me to defend my pro-gun position to my fellow Lefties.

    And hey, my family has a number of people who are half a bubble off; mostly it adds to their charm. A homogenized society loses a lot of flavor, I think. :-)

  63. bb in GA Says:

    ladiesbane:

    I go w/ most of your 12:06.

    Where I might quibble is about who is dangerous. I'm not ready to give the violent Left a pass (Ayers, wife, etc, down to the present) But that might just devolve into a urination festival. Your points are well made.

    //bb

  64. Patrick Says:

    I think there's an initial disconnect here that no one seems to be talking about, a disconnect I've experienced with my conservative friends the last two days in discussing this incident.

    I, and I imagine many others with more left-leaning ideologies, look at this situation and look at this guy and even accounting for his obvious mental derangement, still see this as one more act of domestic terrorism in an eruption of such acts since Barack Obama was elected President.

    My conservative friends all look at me like or write to me as if I'm completely missing the picture and that this doesn't have anything to do with the Palins and Becks and such of the world. They say this guy was just nuts and that I and others on the other side of the aisle are politicizing this.

    For starters, political assassinations are, well, political. There's no getting around that.

    Delving deeper into the disconnect, I don't see how folks don't understand how this guy fits into the eruption of domestic terrorism we've seen in the last couple of years. BD of MN's list in the comments above is a good beginning rundown. I don't recall anyone in the Beck/Hannity/Limbaugh sphere demonizing the government when George W. Bush was in office. But boy did things change once Barack Obama became first the nominee and then the President!

    How is the correlation of the ramping up in violent metaphors and the stoking of paranoid fears by Beck/Hannity/Limbaugh and now Palin, too, not clear? Where was all this anti-government domestic terrorism before 2009? The sentiments were likely there, but the super heated atmosphere paranoia wasn't there.

    From earlier this year, I remember reading some online polls (for what they're worth) asking people if they thought Joe Stack's crashing his plane into the IRS office in Austin was an act of domestic terrorism and a separate poll asking people if they thought Patrick Sharp's attacking a police station in McKinney was an act of domestic terrorism. Both online polls were related to articles in the web editions of local newspapers about the respective incidents, and both polls ran between 50-60 % against the idea that either was an act of domestic terrorism.

    That is crazy. There's no sugarcoating it or being gentle about it. It's crazy. Those were clear cut acts of domestic terrorism.

    I know that correlation doesn't equal causation, but the correlation is pretty clear on this matter even if the causation isn't. We didn't have a wide scale problem with domestic terrorism when we didn't have prominent media figures stoking paranoia about and fear of the government in their audiences. Now that we do have prominent media figures stoking paranoia about and fear of the government in their audiences, we do have a wide scale problem with domestic terrorism.

    We've seen this pattern before during the 1990s. Building up to the Oklahoma City bombing and in its wake, the militia movement enjoyed its biggest surge in membership since its inception. Bill Clinton was in the White House and Rush Limbaugh et al were on the airwaves demonizing him and his administration. When Gore conceded and Bush won in 2000, all that demonization disappeared until Barack Obama beat John McCain.

    I have no doubts that if a Republican wins the Presidency in 2012, we'll see the same pattern happen. The purveyors of paranoia and hatred against the government will effortlessly pivot around to shilling for the government and denouncing its detractors and IRS employees, police serving liens, and anyone working in a Federal building will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

    Domestic terrorism is real and it has a significant correlation to the partisan identity of who is in the White House.

  65. bb in GA Says:

    google Bush hitler assassination novel movie

    aw shIt er.. shucks, why bother…

    //bb

  66. ladiesbane Says:

    Patrick, I'll be honest: I hesitate to to use the word "terrorism" because I don't have a clear definition of the term as most people use it. People who supported the "War on Terror" (like those who wanted a "War on Drugs") seemed to use it broadly, with strong associations, but vague boundaries. If using that term would help form an approach to solving the problem, I would like to hear more. But a loner nut who gets wrapped up in his head might focus on whatever random influence triggered him. I'm not saying there aren't patterns, sometimes, but I don't know that there is a way to prevent, predict, or limit random behavior in a free society.

  67. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    "Idiots? Really? There's more proof that 9/11 was an inside job than there is for ANY world religion, but I don't see you calling christians idiots. You just lost a reader."

    Uh, no. There is actually no evidence that 9/11 was an "inside job". I just want to know how the hell you managed to get access to the internet at this time, Mr. Loughner.

  68. bb in GA Says:

    We now, it seems, have reached our Shirley Sherrod moment in the Loughner fiasco.

    Apparently, his BFF went on the air this AM and allowed how Mr Loughner:

    *did not watch the TV news
    *did not listen to political radio
    *was highly influenced by a documentary that was produced by…wait for it…Lefty Crazies about how Jesus is a myth and 09/11 was an "inside job."

    Now that brings back no one in Tuscon and unshoots nobody, but, if true, would indicate once again that your side truly "Never lets a crisis go to waste." (I know, I know Rahmbo said that he never meant it for this kind of situation.)

    //bb

  69. mothra Says:

    bb:

    Dude. What in the hell is wrong with you? Oh, and please tell me the name of the "Lefty Crazies" who produced the documentary about Jesus and 9/11? Name of the documentary would be helpful, too.

  70. bb in GA Says:

    "I really think that this 'Zeitgeist' documentary had a profound impact on Jared's mindset and how he viewed that world that he lives in," Osler said.

    "Loughner's favorites included little-known conspiracy theory documentaries such as "Zeitgeist" and "Loose Change"…"

    ABC News

    Peter Joseph is an American film director, musician and activist, most notable for his involvement in setting up 'The Zeitgeist Movement' (ZM), shortly after releasing his two groundbreaking Zeitgeist films (The Movie & Addendum).

    Those films, and the accompanying movement, represent some of the most effective activism globally, and the ideas which form the foundation for everything Zeitgeist, are equally noble – simply to change over our civilisation from a monetary-based economy, to a resource-driven one. ZM describes itself as the communication and activist arm of Jacques Fresco's 'The Venus Project'."

    http://www.blatantworld.com/documentaries/peter_joseph_films.html

    Yeah, mothra, I'm sure Pete stroked a big check to the Tea Party movement last year, Es Verdad, No?

    //bb

  71. Tosh Says:

    Crazy… Crazy for feeling sooooo blue….

    ITS WILLIE NELSON"S FAULT
    (conspiracy theory to follow)

  72. bb in GA Says:

    I bet WN has cashed a lot of royalty checks on that one.

    I have no idea what motivated Mr. Loughner. He appears from his own writings that I have read on You Tube to be mentally cooked. But let's deal in probability.

    Is it more likely he was influenced by people he likely did NOT watch, read after, or listen to — or, people that he did?

    All the bashing and speculation from the Left on people y'all don't like or respect occurred w/ no substantive information. Hell, we still don't have enough to say for sure, and we (the public) may never get a definitive answer because of the legal process.

    Again, Shirley Sherrod redux…

    No quarter asked, none given.

    //bb

  73. Aslan Maskhadov Says:

    I hate to ruin your day BB, but Loose Change and Zeitgeist were produced by populists, who tend to tack to the right regardless of their position on social issues or utopian plans. Hell, Christian fundamentalists have their own utopian ideas about how America should be.

    Plenty of hardcore right-wingers, usually paleo-conservatives, white nationalists, or libertarians, believe the 9-11 conspiracy. Believing in the conspiracy is more important to these people than any coherent ideology.

  74. bb in GA Says:

    Aslan:

    I thought you weren't talking to me anymore…

    My day is unruint :-)

    The premise of the Lefty smoke jumpers was there is/was a hardwired connection between bullets in heads and Sarah Palin's retarded behavior.

    Second paragraph of my 4:11

    "I have no idea what motivated.."

    I am not blaming Pete and the gang. I am just "refudiating" what your side did.

    BTW – (Recognizing that the appeal to authority is the weakest of logical arguments)

    Guess who agrees w/ me? Why my new best friend – Pres BHO

    //bb

  75. Todd Says:

    Heres one:

    I go to a 9-12er tax protest rally to deliver a clients tax return with my kid.

    As I am trying to give my client his return, I get asked several questions about the tax law.

    He didn't seem to want to believe my answers, so eventually I had to leave him with a simple "well, people don't pay me to put them in tax prison."

    His reply "fucking nazi"

    So, my kid is shocked because someone out of the blue just called her dad a nazi, and I have to explain to her that to some people believe nazis were bad because they invaded other countries, murdered people because of thier religion, and tortured and killed tens of millions of people and some people believe Nazis were evil because they collected taxes.

  76. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    I'm starting to change my opinion of Loughner as mentally ill, as it doesn't seem like anyone has reported his disorder thus far. I'm starting to believe he is just a colossal dumbass, always seeking attention via shock value. Perhaps in addition to being asked "WTF is wrong with you?" as this article suggests, someone should have kicked his ass a few times. Then he might have had to ask himself the question: "Why do people kick my ass every time I open my mouth?"

    A guy like that may have enjoyed people getting angry at him, but nobody likes being stuffed into a trashcan on campus.

    In other words, based on my observations of the people who make comments on Youtube(who can't all be mentally ill), it's possible that he was just a moron.

  77. Kaleberg Says:

    What comes to mind: "Will no one rid me of this turbulent* priest?" That was Henry II referring to the soon to be late Thomas Becket. (The assassination of Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi in 1932 was also similarly managed and ended the civilian government in Japan before WWII.)

    The closest thing you find on the left are the PETA people and various environmental extremists. The latter tend to attack property and the former researchers and their test animals; they rarely do well after "liberation". I'm not exactly sure the PETA people really are left wing, but they are more left wing than right wing, and quite nutty.

    * It might have been troublesome, not turbulent. Everyone who might know is dead, and there are no extant recordings. Henry II wasn't Richard Nixon, you know.

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