Is there any rhetoric more hateful than blaming your political opponents for murder? I’m going to go with a big fat no on that one. Yet, since the Arizona shootings, we have still been treated to a nonstop parade of political dolts claiming the high ground of discourse while blaming those on the right for literal slaughter, without any evidence whatsoever.
This ludicrous argument that agitators on the right or the left could in any way have culpability for the actions of one crazy person is seemingly so absurd, yet strangely so widespread amongst commentators. Thus Palin and Beck are entirely justified to defend themselves from anyone’s, yes I’ll use the word, libelous implication that they somehow are responsible for a violent act perpetrated by an unhinged “fan.” Beck has thus far laughed off such accusations, while Palin passionately declared them “reprehensible.” Yet no matter their reaction, the fact remains that such false accusations of blame are themselves dangerous forms of rhetoric, and if we’re playing the “words can incite violence” game, then they were likely the cause of yesterday’s death threat made to a Tea Party leader.
Is this the new civility? Blaming the right for murder? Its as much “new tone” as Little Fockers was a new premise. Yet, the idiotic words of the media, even when they include literal accusations of murder that bump up against the libelous, still can’t be blamed for violence. They are words. They are unnecessary. But those words are protected speech.
The way to defeat them is to tell the truth. More speech is always the answer to idiotic speech. The truth is, the argument of the right was incontrovertibly correct in the post Arizona debate, and because of that, we won. People just don’t buy the idea that the right’s “rhetoric” was responsible for these shootings, because it simply wasn’t. The case was clear, and despite nonstop media coverage telling them the opposite, most of America chose correctly.
Our society, based on a concept that essentially bars almost any restriction on speech, has been remarkably free of this sort of violence. As Gabrielle Giffords recovers, we can thank God for miracles. And, we can also remember, how rare assassinations are in our history.
Assassinations are remarkably rare in America. The last sitting member of Congress to have been assassinated was Representative Leo J. Ryan of California, who was murdered by members of the People’s Temple when he was visiting Guyana in 1978. The last one to be assassinated on American soil was Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York in 1968.
The last mayor of a large city to be assassinated was George Moscone of San Francisco, who was killed along with a city supervisor, Harvey Milk, in 1978. The last American president to be assassinated was John F. Kennedy in 1963, although there have been attempts or very serious threats against several others since, most notably Ronald Reagan, who was shot but not killed by John Hinckley, Jr., in 1981. Gov. George Wallace of Alabama was shot and left partly paralyzed by a would-be assassin while running for president in 1972.
Since a follower of a communist in Guyana killed Leo Ryan before he poisoned his followers with Kool Aid in 1978 (and since the end of the fairness doctrine and the rise of talk radio) there have been no successful assassination attempts of a sitting congressperson. None.
One could certainly make the argument that it is safer to be a congressman than it has been to be the average citizen in America. How’s that for civility?
Be sure to read Glenn’s take on whether we’re a civil society in Time magazine. He cites you as evidence that we are.
Last August, in Washington DC, I hosted hundreds of thousands of people that many in the media tell us are the most dangerous in our society. Transportation was overwhelmed, lines were long, temperatures were hot, space was crowded, and I was long winded. Throughout, a far smaller amount of protesters circled the crowd with signs accusing the audience of the most horrific insults imaginable. Yet, there was no documented violence, no documented arrests, and almost no documented trash left on the ground afterwards.