Monday, January 10, 2011

Political violence and Fox News

Judging by what little I've read about the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, one question being asked seems to be whether the shooter was politically motivated (Giffords is a Democrat) or crazy. It's as if "right-wing crazy" weren't even a category of human being. Odd.

There are always going to be sane people who want to commit violence and insane people who can be manipulated to do all kinds of things. Some suicide bombers are suicidal anyway, for instance, and might well not mind taking some others with them when they go. Any honest, thoughtful (does 'thoughtful' already imply 'honest'?), mature person knows this. Which is one good reason for avoiding violent or just extreme rhetoric in politics. Unless you actually want your opponents to be killed by some nut or thug.

So what are we to make of the kind of rhetoric used on Fox News as reported here, and Sarah Palin's "target list"? I don't see how we can avoid thinking that this kind of thing is thoughtless, immature, malicious, or some combination of the three. The figureheads of this tendency come across as crazy, not very intelligent, or both, but behind them are some extremely intelligent and presumably sane people, such as the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch. These people are often described as libertarians, but libertarians are starry-eyed idealists, smitten by the wonder of liberty. (Or so I try to think of them.) No idealist decided (or approved the decision) to use "Fair and Balanced" as the slogan for an organization with a clear conservative bias. This is cynicism reveling in itself.

So I don't think we can expect this shooting to lead to any lasting changes in the rhetorical strategy of the right-wing. It is part of their ideology that only the person who pulls the trigger is responsible. Meanwhile their strategy will continue to be to do all they can to create an atmosphere in which people will want to shoot at their opponents. So far as this is cynical and malicious, rather than just stupid, the shooting will be taken to show that their rhetorical strategy is working. Let's hope none of it is deliberate.

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