Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You all can go screw yourselves.

Roughly a year ago, Glenn Beck complained about what he considered to be profligate spending of tax dollars by politicians, and he asked, "When do we ever run those who are bankrupting our country and literally stealing our children's future out of town? Grab a torch."

In March of 2009, Erick Erickson discussed a ban in Washington state on a certain kind of dishwasher detergent in a post entitled, "At What Point Do People Revolt?" Erickson wrote,
At what point do the people tell the politicians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot? . . . Were I in Washington State, I’d be cleaning my gun right about now waiting to protect my property from the coming riots or the government apparatchiks coming to enforce nonsensical legislation.
We don't know why Jared Loughner killed six people and injured 13 others in Tuscon last Saturday. But isn't it at least possible that the aforementioned kind of rhetoric could have incited his shooting spree?

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the answer is yes:
Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, who’s honed being provocative – even outrageous at times – to a fine and lucrative art, is the focus of criticism for inciting violence.

Specifically, his dozens of comments attacking the Tides Foundation are being linked to the attempt by a heavily-armed man to assassinate employees at the San Francisco-based foundation, which funds environmental, human rights, and other progressive projects. The attack in July was thwarted in a shoot-out with police in which two officers were wounded.

Since then, alleged attacker Byron Williams has said in jailhouse interviews that he wanted to “start a revolution.” He says Beck was not the direct cause of his turning violent. But he does say: “I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn't for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind.”

At various times, Beck has referred to Tides as “bullies” and “thugs” whose mission is to “warp your children's brains and make sure they know how evil capitalism is.” More recently, Beck (who describes himself as a “progressive hunter”) has warned the foundation “I’m coming for you.” 
Surprisingly, one politician who appears to agree that speech can incite violence is Sarah Palin.

Palin released a video statement today denying that she or any of her conservative brethren are responsible for inciting any acts of violence. Curiously, however, she suggested that those who commit the "blood libel" of claiming that she's responsible are themselves somehow responsible for inciting acts of violence.

Palin's goal in releasing the statement appears to have been to strike back at those who have taken issue with her "crosshairs" map above. Palin says:
Like many, I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance. After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event.

President Reagan said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election (emphasis mine).
Palin appears to be saying that the responsibility for a criminal act rests on the person who commits it and no one else, not even those who create "maps of swing districts." She is denying that she is responsible in any way for any act of violence. A mere two paragraphs later, however, Palin says,
Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions. And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible. (emphasis mine).
Palin appears to be saying that journalists and pundits (on the left) are potentially responsible for acts of violence that they may incite through their speech. Sharon Angle was even more blunt:
Expanding the context of the attack to blame and to infringe upon the people's Constitutional liberties is both dangerous and ignorant. The irresponsible assignment of blame to me, Sarah Palin or the Tea Party movement by commentators and elected officials puts all who gather to redress grievances in danger.
Therefore, according to Palin,
  • Those on the right could not be responsible for acts of violence incited by their own words, but 
  • Those on the left are potentially responsible for acts of violence incited by their own words.
And this moron wants to be president? Did she even notice this apparent inconsistency, or did she notice and simply not care? Or is her statement simply the pure partisan stratagem I take it to be?

Notice that Palin wants to reframe this debate as a First Amendment issue. According to Palin,
No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.
Current calls by those on the left to take it down a notch and tone down the incendiary rhetoric are serious threats to our First Amendment freedom of speech, according to Palin. Is she serious? Think about it. Can't Erick Erickson voice his opposition to Washington's ban on certain dishwashing detergents without suggesting that beating a legislator to a bloody pulp is appropriate? If calling a Supreme Court justice a "goat-fucking child molester" is discouraged, have we really lost any important political speech?

I don't think we should be banning speech (though we should keep in mind that not all speech is Constitutionally protected and it never has been). Erickson should remain free to say all kinds of things; he and others are being asked to take it down a notch. Many of us hope that they will be decent enough to accede to the request. And by the way: if this request is a threat to our First Amendment freedoms, then isn't the demand from the right that the request not be made also a threat to our First Amendment freedoms?

Again: we don't know why Loughner went on his shooting spree. But it seems appropriate that we reflect on our political discourse in the wake of it. The response from some responsibility-free talkers on the right appears to be to deny even the possibility that their rhetoric may play a role in inciting violence. "You all can go screw yourselves; we're going to say whatever the fuck we please," seems to sum up their sentiments nicely.

And I haven't even pointed out that Palin plagiarized James Madison in her statement until now. Jesus.

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson