Sunday, January 9, 2011

What Mattered This Week

This is a weekly feature, but I couldn't bring myself to put it up yesterday, after the horrible event in Tucson.  On that, I'll refer everyone to two posts worth reading: James Fallows on "political" shootings, and Rebecca Traister on the promise of Gabrielle Giffords' career.   I'll have more to say a bit later, but for now, in this context, I'll just say that there are a lot of ways in which I hope this shooting will turn out not to matter much.  American democracy has thousands and thousands of politicians, all of whom, collectively, are overvillified and undercelebrated.  Alas, that's unlikely to change.  What we can hope also won't change, however, is the very ordinariness of our politicians outside of the presidency, the way they can go about their lives as ordinary citizens, meeting with their fellow citizens and neighbors not just in great democratic events like the one interrupted in Tuscon, but in casual encounters, too. 

Feel free to use comments for anything about Gabrielle Giffords, the shooting, or for that matter what else happened this week -- but please, keep the rhetoric tame.  Thank you in advance.


  1. When I heard of people carrying guns outside Obama rallies I thought they were stupid and did not consider the potential disaster they were risking. Now all the wild rhetoric will be thrown back at conservatives who only thought of appealing to the hard core right.

    I think the biggest event of the week was the return of Sadr to Iraq. This shows the failure of the neocon vision of a secular country that would be a close ally of the US and serve as a base for US troops in the region.

  2. There's been a bloggy discussion of late, namely: whose rhetoric is more inflammatory, the left or the right? Such comparisons are ultimately subjective, but its telling to consider SarahPAC's Congressional gunsite graphic in light of this "leftwing" v. "rightwing" rhetoric discussion.

    For example, any hope Kerry had of repeating as nominee ended when he made that inopportune "stuck in Iraq" comment. His statement wasn't exactly wrong, necessarily, but it certainly was offensive, and that was the end of him on the national stage. Palin's graphic featured 20 candidates in the crosshairs; 18 retired or were defeated in November, and the other day one of the remaining two was shot in the head. Palin has not retracted the sentiment in that graphic, much less call off the dogs lest something awful happens to the last guy standing (WV's Rahall). AFAIK, she nevertheless remains a viable candidate for the Republic nomination, and thus, under the right circumstances, the Presidency.

    The situations aren't perfectly comparable, since Kerry's snafu arguably smeared the troops, which is a special kind of PR disaster. Still, while the comparison isn't perfect, the comparison seems close enough to conclude that there is a massive difference between what the respective parties tolerate, which difference in toleration surely results in different levels of extremist rhetoric between the parties.

  3. CSH:

    Kerry's snafu arguably smeared the troops . . .

    I disagree. The 'botched joke' was clearly aimed at Bush. Those who claim otherwise are apparently willing to look stupid for the sake of scoring a political point.

    The same goes for those who claim that Palin's 'cross-hairs' map incites violence.

  4. Kerry's "botched joke" was spoken once, criticized, and received a very prompt apology and explanation from Kerry.

    Palin's imagery, while not deliberately inciting violence, arguably had the capacity to do so. It should be considered in the context of the wider messaging that was being directed at the Tea Party e.g. Michelle Bachmann in 2009 on cap-and-trade: "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us 'having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,' and we the people are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States," or Sharron Angle, "I'm hoping that we're not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems." as well as the widely reported spike in threatening phone calls, emails and vandalism directed at elected officials concurrent with the escalation in rhetoric. Palin could very well have responded like Kerry with a clarification and attempt to correct course.

  5. Kerry's joke was botched, and rather lame to begin with.

    There's nothing wrong with Palin's map.

  6. David Tomlin -

    First of all, thanks for engaging my comment. A few thoughts:

    The 'botched joke' was clearly aimed at Bush.

    Exactly. But that proves my point, doesn't it? The Kerry machine had a legitimate explanation in the misinterpreted/poorly struck 'stuck in Iraq' comment, but they didn't fill the noiseosphere with excuses. Big partisan difference there.

    There's nothing wrong with Palin's map.

    I've been frustrated with politicians from time to time, but I can honestly claim that I never once considered visiting harm on any of them. As such, I really can't judge what would incite someone inclined to harm a politician.

    The best I can do is categorize things, crudely, and say of one category "this looks like the kind of thing that would incite crazies" and of the other "this looks like reasonable disagreement on important issues".

    Putting your political enemies in a gunsite seems like the former to me. But I could be wrong, of course, as I can't well relate....

  7. There's nothing wrong with Palin's map.

    With all due respect, David, that's simply your opinion. You don't see anything wrong with it, and you're perfectly entitled to your stance.

    That said, I happen to think that gun-sight imagery is utterly inappropriate in the context of our shared political discourse. One of the beauties of our country's democracy is the non-violent transfer of power. A gun has no non-violent use, and no matter how much the Palin camp insults America's collective intelligence by pretending otherwise, those were gun sights. I happen to think there's something very wrong about that.

    Is Palin to blame for the psychotic behavior of a twisted mind? No. But something can still be wrong, even if it's not responsible for violent behavior.

  8. Taking this away from Giffords, because I just need a break...

    Two threads of House Leadership rhetoric in the last week seem important to me. First, Boehner and Ryan's insistance that the Debt Ceiling "must" be raised. It seems to me that the debt ceiling vote really is the Republicans' best chance to roll back a lot of the Obama agenda (at least under the radar stuff, like funding legislative agencies). But an acknowledgement that it must be done isn't the best way to go about it. It gives Obama a lot of room to manuever ("we all agree that we have to raise the ceiling, so let's do that, then argue over the rest later"), and puts the onus of action on House Leadership themselves. They seem to be backing into a corner all on their own.

    Second, walking back the claim to "cut $100 billion dollars", coupled with Gates' announcement of defense cuts. The budget is probably they're second best way to attack Obama's accomplishments (and not a bad way at all), but if they're already, all on their own, making their cuts even more paltry, and the Executive Branch is outmanuevering them on specifics, it's harder to see where substantive change comes from.

    Bottom line, it seems like Boehner, Cantor, et al aren't yet willing to govern like the nihilists some of us feared they'd be. This is undoubtedly good for the country, but it gives Obama a much stronger hand than we probably predicted.

  9. Dan:

    With all due respect, David, that's simply your opinion.

    Palin is being singled out. Violent metaphors are used all the time in politics. As one blogger has pointed out, the word 'campaign' was borrowed from military usage. At Daily Kos a 'bulls eye' was declared on the same candidate, among others.


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