If You Can’t Play Nicely With Your Toys…

We finally have our Kennedy Moment in the current political climate.

Saturday, January 8th, 2011, is likely to go down as exactly that in the “Where were you when?” canon.  On that day, Jared Lee Loughner, age 22, went on a shooting rampage at a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, Arizona, killing six people and wounding eighteen others before bystanders tackled him.  (There may be a second man involved, police are searching for him.)

The rhetoric is already ramping up on both sides over this.  Loughner is a young man with, apparently, a history of mental difficulties.  What is interesting in all this is the suggestion that Sarah Palin is partly responsible.  Note:


Sarah has made a great deal out of her  image as a gun-toting Alaskan Libertarianesque “True Amuricin” and she liberally deploys the iconography of Second Amendment fanatics in her publicity.  She knows her fan base, she’s playing directly to their self-image as Minutemen-type independents who are ready to pick up arms at the drop of a metaphor and defend…


Here’s where it starts to get questionable.  Just what is it this kind of rhetoric is supposed to be in support of?  It’s a non-nuclear form of MAD, the suggestion that if people get angry enough they will “take back their government” by armed insurrection.  It’s the stuff of B movies and drunken arguments on the Fourth of July.  Just words, mostly.  Until someone decides it’s time to act.

I have no doubt Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, Arthur Bremer, and  Leon Czolgosz were deeply troubled individuals, mentally unstable.  I would not be surprised if John Wilkes Booth was the same, although he did work in concert with a number of conspirators.  But there are degrees of “troubled” and it’s always difficult to predict what anyone will do under the right pressure.

The fact is, we are in a period of the most extreme political ferment we have been in since the Sixties.  We’ve had people march on Washington, we have had well-aired and popularized conspiracy theories treated in certain media as fact, we have a cadre of the worst sort of pundits nationally extolling their audiences to extreme positions on—


Health care.

By early acounts, Mr. Loughner was upset over Representative Giffords’ support of health care reform.  Upset enough to consider gunning her down.  Upset enough to read Palin’s “metaphors” of “targeting” Democrats as a call to action.  About Health Care Reform.

Yes, I know, it isn’t really about health care so much as it is about the role of government in something that has been the bailiwick of private industry for a long, long time.  It’s about the idea that the government will somehow keep people from getting health care (all the while overlooking that many people are now barred from affordable health care by the very industry funding the jeremiads against the so-called government “take over”).  It’s about the idea of increasing taxes, about “giving” something to people who don’t earn it, about changing our system to a socialist system, about—

All of which is legitimate matter for serious national debate.  But this is not a revolution.  This is a change of policy and votes were cast.  (I find it ironic that all indicators leading up to the final version of what is now derisively labeled “Obamacare” suggested that the majority of Americans not only supported an overhaul but would have approved the one thing the health care industry fought tooth and nail to prevent, namely Single Payer, and now, from the sound of the AM stations and the Limbaugh Brigade you would think no one had supported anything of the sort except a few “liberal” Democrats in Congress.  We are allowing ourselves to come under siege over what is, by any metric of popular will, a non-issue.  What?  The fact that Republicans swept a Democratic majority out of the House in 2010?  Two things to remember—that was over the economy, namely unemployment, and that majority won with roughly 23% of the eligible vote.  In other words, they didn’t win so much as Democrats stayed home from the polls and lost.)

Multiple ironies—Gifford is a gun rights advocate.  She is a self-styled Blue Dog Democrat, a moderate to conservative politician.  She beat a Tea Party challenge—barely—because she is more or less mainstream in Arizona.  This was not an enemy in anything but party affiliation.

More ironies—Judge John Roll was killed in the shooting.  He was chief justice of the U.S. District Court in Arizona.  He was a Bush (senior) appointee and by all lights a conservative.

This is not now a liberal-conservative matter.  Sarah Palin and the Tea Party crowd are not conservatives.  George Will is a conservative.  These people are not conservatives.  They are reactionaries who have decided to use the conservative base as their vehicle to ride rough-shod over American sentiments.  All they understand is “taxes are bad” and “anything that limits my right to make millions is wrong.”  Or some combination of the two.

The philosopher Hegel characterized certain people as “clever” rather than intelligent.  He noted that there are those who exhibit the symptoms of intelligence, but in fact it is not true intelligence but a kind of animal cleverness masking as intelligence.  Shallow people who speak well and can manipulate people and systems, but who seem to, upon examination, have no real understanding of cause and consequence beyond getting for themselves what they want.  You might say amoral, but I think that misses the point.  They do what they do in order to obtain for themselves and nothing else matters.  Sociopaths fit this description.  They fail ultimately because they really don’t give a damn about the consequences of their actions—and part of their cleverness is a facility at spinning what they do to free themselves of any responsibility.  The current crop of big-mouthed right-wing ideologues fall into this handily.  They seem not to understand—or possible care—that when you flash a red cape in front of an angry bull, something is going to break.  If the bull is standing in a china shop at the time…

We are perilously close to becoming a closed society.  We already do not listen to each other if we have differing opinions.  We are becoming so entrenched in our own viewpoints, with the help of a magnificently balkanized media, that we cannot see where we are tripping over general principles in our groping after being right.  Growing up, I remember an admonition from my parents that would seem apt in this instance:  If you can’t play well with your toys, you don’t deserve them.

I have personally found the rhetoric of the right wing disturbing and sometimes reprehensible since the Eighties.  Exemplified by Rush Limbaugh, they have developed a canon of malign vitriol aimed at anything that strikes them as left or liberal or, more recently, in the least conciliatory to differing viewpoints.  They have staked their claim and made it clear they will be intolerant of any kind of bipartisanship.  The fact that the Republican Party has aligned itself with these people is a tragedy, because it has become a tar baby they are becoming increasingly bound to.  But it is not Congresses responsibility to counter them.  This is not a question of what our elected officials will do to tone down the venom, but what we will do.

My advice?   Stop listening to these assholes.

I can’t put it more civilly than that.  The Rush Limbaughs, Glenn Becks, Sea Hannitys, and Bill O’Reillys of our media landscape do not have our best interests at heart.  They are demogogues.  Insofar as there is any kind of media conspiracy, it is for one purpose only, to increase ratings and therefore marketshare, and this kind of petty, sub-intellectual reductio ad absurdum  does that very well.  Get people pissed off and they develop a taste for it.  They are no different in this regard than the Jerry Springers and all their feuding, pathetic, fame-for-fifteen-minutes-at-any-cost “guests” and as a source of information and erudition in support of a democracy they are worse than useless.  Stop feeding the animals.  Tune them out.

I know this advice will not matter to those—like Mr. Loughner—who are addicted to the apocalyptic visions generated by that kind of rhetoric.  It’s not information to them, it’s the drug for their particular monkey.  But for the rest of us?  We can do better.

Final irony for this post.  Christina Taylor Greene, the nine-year-old who was killed?  She was born on 9/11.

Congratulations, Sarah.  You have us devouring our own.