2011-09-08

Heated Rhetoric

After the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in January, President Obama encouraged everyone to be nice.
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
This came on the heels of many lectures about the consequences of actions such as the use of crosshairs to identify districts targeted by the Tea Party for the elections. This use of crosshairs and statements made by the Palin campaign - as well as the general tone and rhetoric of the Tea party - were, if not directly, implied as the motivating cause of the violence against Ms. Giffords.

A lot of hand wringing occurred because of the potential for violence that might take place as a result of the rhetoric on the right. We were told that it was time to finally engage in a long overdue conversation about the violent rhetoric and imagery polluting national political discourse. Even Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik weighed in with some heated rhetoric about the heated rhetoric. There was a lot of rhetoric back then.
I'd just like to say that when you look at unbalanced people, how they are - how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths, about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.
Time asked, "Is Violent Rhetoric Behind the Attack on Giffords?"

The Salt Lake Tribune condemned "violent rhetoric that crosses all lines of decency and adds nothing to political debates," and that "The words and deeds of Sarah Palin... are examples of this trend."

Joe Scarborough commented that
Just because the dots between violent rhetoric and violent actions don't connect in this case doesn't mean you can afford to ignore the possibility -- or, as many fear, the inevitability -- that someone else will soon draw the line between them." "Despite what we eventually learned about the shooter in Tucson, should the right have really been so shocked that many feared a political connection between the heated rhetoric of 2010 and the shooting of Giffords?
Rachael Maddow took Scarborough's query to the next level with her twist on the "Have you stopped beating your wife?" line of reasoning:
As several commenters have noted, there's no indication that the alleged shooter was politically motivated. Even if the perpetrator turns out to have been seriously involved in political causes, which again there's no evidence of, his actions will likely remain senseless. What we can say is that today's shooting, whatever its motivation, comes after an election season that was marked by the language of violence...
One expects Maddow to ask her readers to "disregard the statement" after ringing the bell with the statement above. But statements such as this were commonplace across the media landscape at the time.

Only a small child would equate crosshairs on a district map signifying political battlegrounds as a mandate to commit violence against the current office holder. Apparently metaphors are beyond the pale if they include any references to battles, fighting or contentiousness and politics should never escalate further than a pillow fight.

Well, maybe not so fast with that pillow talk. Jimmy Hoffa fomented the "army" of "working people" who "like a good fight" who are "ready to march" because they "got a war" with the Tea Party and that there will "only be one winner" because "we're gonna win that war." And to the cheering approval of the crowd, with his fist raised, he said "And, let's take these son of a bitches out..."

video

SIDEBAR: Why are union members the only people deserving of the moniker "working people"? Do non-union people work? Is everybody else lazily sitting at home on their hands?

Hoffa made these introductory remarks prior to President Obama's Labor Day address. And the response?

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz couldn't find it in herself to condemn the toxic language.

Press Secretary Jay Carney said "Can we move on?"

CNN's John King couldn't seem to squeeze a question about the heated rhetoric into his six minute interview with Hoffa.

Apparently Rep. Andre Carson and Hoffa are of like mind on matters of civility. And is this the civility we are to embrace?

Or is it as Krauthammer said, "Civil discourse is a one-way street if you’re a Democrat."





Jay Carney also noted:
I understand that there is a ritual in Washington that, you know, somebody says something, and you link the associations, and then everybody who has an association with him or her has to avow or disavow. The President wasn’t there, he wasn’t on the stage, he didn’t speak for another twenty minutes, he didn’t hear it. I really don’t have any comment beyond that.
There is a striking similarity here to the William Ayers distance policy. One of the responses given to distance candidate Obama from his recent associations with Ayers was:
Senator Obama strongly condemns the violent actions of the Weathermen group, as he does all acts of violence. But he was an eight-year-old child when Ayers and the Weathermen were active, and any attempt to connect Obama with events of almost forty years ago is ridiculous.
It may be true that Senator Obama condemns violence and the acts of Bill Ayers. But why argue that because something occurred 40 years ago that it is irrelevant or that therefore no connection is possible? The Holocaust happened some 50+ years ago, but there are still those - even some who may have only been eight years old at the time - who feel it was appropriate to gas Jews. Distance isn't the issue. Condemnation and separation from those who performed and condone the acts is.

In Obama's defense, one cannot be held accountable for the actions of every acquaintance one has. And an idea is not responsible for the people who believe in it. So to make Obama responsible for the foibles of every fellow sojourner on the left is a bit silly. But terrorism and Hoffa's behavior at a presidential speaking engagement - although widely separated by degree - rise above a mere foible.

But it is the time element used to dismiss any association that is disturbing. And the recent kerfuffle over Hoffa's statements re-exposed this oddity. Carney offered the argument that the President wasn't there and that Hoffa's comments occurred twenty minutes prior to his arrival as though it somehow relieves the President of his moral obligation to chastise Hoffa for the offensive comments.

The comments occurred. The President spoke from the stage where the comments were made. However tenuous, that puts him at the scene of the crime. Whether they occurred twenty minutes - or forty years - prior, once he is aware that they were made, should he not forcefully condemn them? Why not simply state
Although I am a supporter of unions, Mr. Hoffa's comments were vulgar and inappropriate. I hope that he will temper his remarks in the future and use language that elevates, rather than debases, even when he has strong disagreements with those on the other side of the aisle. His language, in that setting, not only denigrates those he disagrees with, it sullies and disgraces the gathering, the participants, his office, his movement and the office of the Presidency. We should seek to elevate the participants and the discourse in political debate. Attacking the dignity of those we disagree with is not up to the standard of character that we should all strive for. We should do better than personal attacks. Mr. Hoffa should have done better. And I am confident that in the future he will.
Something similar could have been said regarding the boorish behavior of many during the Wisconsin budget battle. (Examples here, here, and here.)

Or is this a case of pas d'ennemis à gauche?

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