Saturday, January 8, 2011

Measured Accountability

James Fallows on violent political rhetoric as it relates to the attempted assassination of Rep. Giffords:
1) anything that can be called an "assassination" is inherently political;
2) very often the "politics" are obscure, personal, or reflecting mental disorders rather than "normal" political disagreements. But now a further step,
3) the political tone of an era can have some bearing on violent events. The Jonestown/Ryan and Fromme/Ford shootings had no detectable source in deeper political disagreements of that era. But the anti-JFK hate-rhetoric in Dallas before his visit was so intense that for decades some people debated whether the city was somehow "responsible" for the killing. (Even given that Oswald was an outlier in all ways.)

That's the further political ramification here. We don't know why the killer did what he did. If he is like Sirhan, we'll never "understand." But we know that it has been a time of extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery, including SarahPac's famous bulls-eye map of 20 Congressional targets to be removed -- including Rep. Giffords. It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be. At a minimum, it will be harder to anyone to talk -- on rallies, on cable TV, in ads -- about "eliminating" opponents, or to bring rifles to political meetings, or to say "don't retreat, reload."

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