FREE SPEECH ZONE | The perversion of a tragedy


So much has already been written, vetted, and discussed about the Giffords tragedy, that there would appear to be little else to add. But there is one thing that can use some clarity. That is the perverse and transparent attempt on the part of conservatives to somehow blame liberals and the Democrats for the events that happened in Tucson.  They have done this before, but this time they could not and should not be allowed to get away with such a bizarre conclusion.

The day after the shooting, Rush Limbaugh stated that the Democrats were using the event “to further their agenda”.  John Kyl, Arizona Senator, blasted Pima County Sheriff Dupnik for “inappropriate comments” even though they were relevant to the situation (Dupnik is a Democrat). And most blatant of all was conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg who synthesized the conservative strategy with a column in the LA Times headed The exploitive rhetoric of tragedy.

In his January 11 LA Times op-ed, Jonah Goldberg attempts to somehow charge that “Proud liberals are fueling mass panic over our ‘political discourse'”.  Not only is Goldberg wrong about this charge – he is also infuriating, insulting, and far off the mark. Indeed, like most conservatives he is playing the simple game that “a good defense is a strong offense”.  Offensive indeed, Mr. Goldberg.

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There is no evidence that liberals are attempting to “exploit” this tragedy. Do they want the American public to revisit the rhetoric our country? Yes. Do they want us to re-evaluate our gun laws? Yes. Do they want certain language dialed back in our political discourse? Yes again. But to call that “exploitive” is disingenuous at least, and dishonest at best.

Conservatives, in an attempt to deflect what this is really about are attempting to frame it simply as the act of a deranged person – often with analogies to Columbine. But it is much more than that based strictly on the facts. It is a political assassination, pure and simple!  Such an act can be both the work of a deranged mind and a political agenda. So it was with the shooting of Gabriella Giffords. Goldberg points out that Loughner had “fixated on Giffords since 2007” – and so he did. But the point here is he did not act on his fixation till now. Now … when the political climate had greatly changed. When Tea Party aficionados went screaming, some with guns, at Town Hall meetings with Congresspersons. When Joe Wilson yelled to President Obama “You lie!” on the floor of the House. When the “birthers” still claim our president was illegitimately elected. When even the most responsible Republicans have been intimidated from tamping down the rhetoric.

No liberals I know of have exploited this act, or even called for a closing down of free speech. In fact, political discourse in our country has always been vigorous. My favorite story here is when one of Lincoln’s opponents called him “a two faced liar”. Lincoln’s response was: “If I were two faced, do you think I would be wearing this one?” No, it is less our elected that have fueled this increase in heated rhetoric than two other groups.

 The first are those politically involved but non-elected persons – like Sarah Palin – who are not overtly running for office, and thus have little to lose by going over the top in their pronouncements. It has been noted that Palin has taken the crosshairs chart off her Facebook page. To that we should ask why?  Because she knows it was transmitting exactly what conservatives are trying to deny.  In fact, Gifffords herself stated: “there are consequences to these things”. And so there are, despite conservative denials.

The second group are those outrageously vitriolic radio talk show hosts who have no compunction against making the most obscene and violent statements day after day. Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Savage, et al spew forth the most outrageous lies, unfounded charges, claims and misstatements day after day until many of their false comments are actually believed. This is a major component in the incendiary rhetoric we hear today. Bill Press, in his book Toxic Talk describes this in detail, but one fact stands out. Over 90% of the radio talk show hosts today are conservatives, and to gain prominence, going over the top is a technique used by many.  Goldberg absurdly uses the example of Loughner reading Mein Kampf or The Communist Manifesto”.  Nice try – but did Loughner listen to Limbaugh, Beck, Savage, Palin, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and on and on the list goes? That is the more relevant question.

The technique Goldberg is using is not new. It has happened after virtually every assassination of opponents of the right – most recently after Dr. George Tiller was killed and the right deflected criticism by somehow blaming liberals. This time, Goldberg, Kyl  Limbaugh and other conservatives, should not be allowed to inaccurately manufacture the liberal/Democratic position, because it is patently false.  In fact, regarding “exploitation”, within the past few days, the Tea Party Express sent out this letter to members:

“We have nothing to do with this awful, tragic event in Arizona. Our prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords and the victims and families of this massacre,” the Tea Party letter continued. “We ask you to please stand with the Tea Party Express and show your support for our efforts” with a contribution.”

What responsible liberals want from this is very simple. Dial back hot talk that inflames our political process; and revisit our gun laws to see if we can both protect the Second Amendment and the safety of our citizens. No one has suggested muzzling free speech, nor has there been any evidence of liberals creating “mass panic” over our political discourse as some conservatives have contended. It is a perverse and transparent political strategy; and in that, they are just plain wrong…and must be called on it!