The Right’s Self-Contradictory Response to Arizona
So much has been said and written about the absurdness of the reaction of the right-wing media to the shootings in Arizona that it’s almost useless to add my voice to the choir. But because this is so important I’d feel remiss if I didn’t just briefly register my own strong agreement.
Whether it’s Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly or anyone else on a long list of right-wing pundits talking about the shooting, they’re all basically making the same two claims which they fail to notice are blatantly inconsistent with one another:
1- We can’t blame those who engage in violent political rhetoric for the shootings because the sole responsibility lies with the shooter and not his potential influences.
2- Anyone who claims that political rhetoric played a part in the shootings is grossly irresponsible because their finger-pointing might lead to violence.
Which is it, Sarah? Do words have consequences or don’t they? Bill—when is political speech just a free exercise of the First Amendment and when is it “flat-out reprehensible”?
Apparently you have zero responsibility when you call someone a “baby killer” dozens of times on national television and someone actually goes out and kills the person, but anyone who calls you out on that is terribly irresponsible because they’re fomenting violence? Apparently when anyone on the right talks about “second amendment remedies”, being “armed and dangerous”, or says that conservatives should, “not retreat, instead reload” those words couldn’t possibly have any real-world consequences, but if anyone suggests that they might, those words could have terrible consequences indeed.
I’m not saying Loughner was actually influenced by the rhetoric alluded to above (the best possible explanation so far is that he took his inspiration from the Sovereign Citizens movement), but to flat-out exclude the mere possibility that he was and immediately pounce on anyone making that suggestion is the epitome of intellectual dishonesty.
Of course these people had a game plan all along. They knew that it was only a matter of time before some right-wing nut actually took all these violent metaphors seriously and started shooting people. They had to think of their response ahead of time.
The proper, human response would be to say, “We don’t believe that our words played a part in this tragedy, but we have to acknowledge the possibility—however small—that they did. It makes us sick to think that our choice of rhetoric was in any way related to this, and while we don’t think it was we recognize that we just can’t be sure. And for that reason, we would like to offer our sincere and profound apologies to the victims and their families. We will do our best to avoid using language that might be misconstrued as a call to violence in the future, and call upon all of our colleagues to do the same.”
Instead, their response is twofold. First, claim complete and total innocence of any responsibility and fiercely express righteous indignation at anyone who suggests otherwise. Second, do everything you can to disavow the shooter and make your audience believe that he was actually a left-wing nut-job (which in this case they’re doing by grasping at whatever straws they can: he smoked pot, he read a book by Marx, etc.) and so if anyone influenced him to commit these violent acts it was radical leftists.
The right-wing media blames the left. The mainstream media blames both sides in a desperate effort to come across as neutral. Cenk Uygur does a great job of laying out the case that both the violent rhetoric and the violence itself comes almost exclusively from the right:
Your conservative, Fox News-watching friends and family members have already been imbued with the idea that political rhetoric is completely harmless unless it comes from the left. It should be incredibly easy to point out the blatant contradiction in this claim. Granted they can usually summon enough powers of cognitive dissonance to prevent your point from registering, but this one might be too obvious even for them. Either political rhetoric has consequences or it doesn’t. You can defend one of those positions, but not both.