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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Sarah Palin's political rhetoric « Previous | |Next »
January 10, 2011

American history is littered with examples of people pulling out a gun in politics. It appears normal. The baseline level of gun murder is high in the US. Arizona’s gun laws stand out as among the most permissive in the country.

Jared Loughner's shooting of Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, along with 17 others including U.S. District Court Judge John Roll and a 9-year-old child in Tucson Arizona, is just the latest.

Arizona has one of the most active Tea Party movements of any state in the US and it has become a haven for the radical right. When President Obama took office Arizona's anti-immigrant right fused with extreme elements of the religious right under the Tea Party banner. In Tea party in the Sonora: For the future of G.O.P. governance, look to Arizona in Harpers Ken Silverstein says:

there is, in fact, one place where the results of Tea Party governance has already been tested: Arizona, where the Tea Party is arguably the ruling party. Less driven by issues of national security, on the one hand, or moral values on the other, Arizonan conservatives are largely obsessed with taxes and immigration—also the twin fixations of Tea Partiers, who, like Arizonans, are disproportionately white and older.

No government is their political philosophy and the solution to an economic crisis is to cut taxes and public services including mental health ones. Republicans control f both the Legislature and the governor’s office and the state government faces bankruptcy.

The Arizona shooting raises the issues of fiery political rhetoric and political violence. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement's rhetoric is filled with battle imagery. It is constantly about attack, conflict, combat, "enemy territory", "Big Guns", battle----"Don't retreat, reload" says Palin.

The language of war ---armed revolution ---has become an integral part of the language of politics on the American Right. The paranoid and conspiratorial style of politics is much more mainstream, especially with Beck and Fox News, than it is on the left.

There is an undercurrent of virulence and anger and violence in American politics. As George Packer in The New Yorker observes:

for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn't a big-government liberal—he's a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He's also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor.

The relentlessly hostile rhetoric structured around anger, hatred, and division is the new normal. An example of violent political discourse through the use of overblown imagery and over-heated rhetoric.

Paul Krugman makes an interesting point:

You know that Republicans will yell about the evils of partisanship whenever anyone tries to make a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc. and the violence I fear we’re going to see in the months and years ahead. But violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate. And it’s long past time for the GOP’s leaders to take a stand against the hate-mongers.

There is an enormous tide of frustration is fueling American politics coupled to the emergence of a political culture — on blogs and Twitter and cable television — that so loudly and readily reinforces the dark visions of political extremists, often for profit or political gain.

If politics is warfare, then people will die. Jared Lee Loughner’s killing spree has rekindled a long-running debate about political discourse in the United States. The American Right does have a rhetoric problem. During the last election their rhetoric was that they were "patriots" who where "resisting" "tyranny" in the spirit of past American freedom fighters.Their consistent narrative was of the potential necessity of violent revolution against a government that was not merely going the wrong direction, but actively trying to forcibly oppress them.

Do they believe their own violent war rhetoric, or do they think that politics is just a game and what they say is nonsense?

Update
After nearly a week of silence and waves of bad press about her violent rhetoric Sarah Palin responds to the critics of her political rhetoric -- and it's a defiant response:

The text is here, and is the core paragraph is:

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.

The critics of her political rhetoric --ie., media and pundits-- "manufacture a blood libel". That reaches back to the Nazis or the Christian medieval anti-Semites. It is a false accusation based on fear and ignorance that Jews murder children to use their blood in religious rituals. Gabrielle Gifford is Arizona's first Jewish congresswoman.

That inflammatory phrase---meaning 'I'm a victim of a blood libel'--- speaks to the Republican base and is designed to further increase the polarization in a divided nation. The interpretation by the base is that Palin is falsely accused. Palin---the self-described "pit bull in lipstick"--- has put her own sense of victimhood front and center. She is a victim of hate not the speaker of hate, and she is "reloading " on her enemies for the criticism of her political rhetoric.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:30 AM | | Comments (25)
Comments

Comments

I'm surprised that no-one around the blogs has yet, to my knowledge, drawn a comparison to the same overblown and aggressive rhetoric that the right uses here in Australia.
The most significant, in terms of political impact, being that of Tony Abbott who constantly uses aggressive language as a matter of norm.
'War', 'battle', 'challenge', 'bring it on','fight', and similar macho and misogynist language and imagery.
And, of course, we have the shock jocks and blokes like Bolt with his 'blood on her hands' comments [plural] re the PM and the disgraceful cartoon by Bill Leak posted here some time ago.

Such has become a commonplace and we are not far from being in the same boat as extremist USA.
Nor is it coincidental.

Many people writing and commenting online in the USA seem incapable of doing so without descending to stunning depths of vicious denigration of their 'enemy'. Any semblance of rational discourse goes out the window in favour of a torrent of furious abuse. This relentless vilification of the other side must make it increasingly difficult to achieve any sensible reforms at all.

I guess this is what happens in any organisation during its period of decline and disintegration. No doubt it was the same in the UK after the First World War brought home to the Brits that their empire had gone forever. The difference is that the internet allows us to see the slow-motion collapse in all its gruesome human detail.

A bunch of misinformed, violent, poorly educated, frightened, spoiled brats.

Constantly "educated" by the marketing scum, as to what their latest horrid "problems" are and what quick, convenient and inexpensive solution they can pick up at the local Mall.

Told for too long that they're "number one" and it's "our way or the highway" and "America love it or leave it. Resorting to force as quickly as possible... thus blissfully bypassing any thoughtful consideration of any (real or imagined) problem.

But now they're shit-scared. They are beginning to suspect that they're not as wonderful as they were... and much of the planet does not exactly adore them.

And they've been told... for decades now... that an EXISTENTIAL THREAT lurks in every shadow.

Look at what's utterly embedded i their culture... the old western movie. Good guys and bad guys. White hat vs black hat. One dimensional baddies.... utterly evil. An easy to understand world, with simple, quick solutions. And, of course, the good guy is the one with the fastest gun.

Their lazy, sleazy pollies must love it! Just play to the lowest common denominator. Stir the Fear!

And we're getting to be exactly the same. Thankfully, without the firepower.

There is some shallow thinking by Daniel Flitton, the diplomatic editor of The Age, in his Palin did not pull the trigger

equally pathetic was the shallow thinking on display when the instant pundits took to forums on the internet with dirty smears that linked the weekend shooting with Palin and the American right. More disturbing was how quickly this debate came to dominate the mainstream media.

Its a straw dog argument. The material or commentary I read did not claim that Palin pulled the trigger. The point of criticism was Palin's political language of war, guns and violence.
Flitton adds:
... military analogies are common in the political vernacular - the ''front-line'' campaigners who knock on doors, for example, or regular declarations of a ''war on'' drugs or street crime, whatever the issue may be. Palin has amplified this martial message to reach her base, but she has not incited assassinations. Loughner's actions are his own.

No one is claiming that she incited assassinations. The war language in politics that is premised on anger, hatred and bigotry, has consequences.

Gerard Henderson uses the attempted killing of United States Democrat congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford by Jared Lee Loughner to bash the ABC for playing the blame game:

On ABC News Breakfast yesterday the co-presenters Mary Gearin and Waleed Aly made it clear early in the program that they saw the hostility to Barack Obama's program - as exemplified in the Tea Party and Palin - as providing a spark which could ignite a murderous rage against the likes of Giffords.

That is running the line advanced by sections of the American left and abuse posing as analysis! according to Henderson.

There is no connection between the political climate of hate (fostered by the Tea Party and Fox News) and political violence for Henderson.

Flitton cannot see anything wrong with Palin's warlike political rhetoric:

first and foremost, Palin is a politician - and a very clever one at that. She has successfully exploited a segment of US society that does indeed feel the government in Washington is out of step with the nation's values.She has energised people who hunt, carry guns and drive big cars by telling them she speaks their language and understands their problems. She insists she is one of them - just another ''hockey mom'', as she famously put it.

She has used gun-sight to illustrate a map of districts she wanted targeted in last November's congressional elections. She has also said stupid things about treating WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange like a terrorist --but, hey that is normal. The problem is the ready availability of guns in the US.

There is no connection between the American Rights' rhetoric of politics as war and the use of guns to settle political scores.

fred,

many of the distortions of fact and conspiracy theories that were once the preserve of the far Right are now peddled in mainstream forums by the likes of shock-jock Rush Limbaugh and Fox News host Glenn Beck.

What is missing in the Australia is the hate talk from Murdoch's Fox News --spewing from the mouth of Hannity, O'Riley and Beck. Their political language is one of targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping,and killing their opponents because they are traitors who hate America.

Beck's viewers are treated to nightly scaremongering warning them that the federal government plans to build internment camps and that the Constitution is in peril. Beck has been telling viewers to invest in gold to prepare for the "end of days".

The role that Fox News and its stable of "personalities" plays in American politics is being discussed openly, the Tea Party is having to defend itself, and American politicians are doing the bipartisan solidarity thing. These are all good things to come from this. All we need now is for the Republicans to realise that Sarah Palin and the Tea Party are liabilities.

One lives in hope.

"You stoke the hatreds, you get the violence."--Bob Carr. That connection is what the Fox blowhards are denying.

In Australia the Murdoch press sets the agenda, the rest (including the ABC), follow it. But The Australian, for all its misinformation and deceptions and bias, is not the delusional rantings of the media personalities at Fox News .

"You stoke the hatreds, you get the violence." That connection is what the Fox blowhards are denying.

So is The Australian in Blaming political debate dishonours the dead:

this attack was the work of an individual, not the result of a sick society...Republican Sarah Palin did not advance her image as a serious political leader by producing a map with the seats of Democrats marked with crosshairs and a message urging her allies to "reload" and fight on last year, but her rhetorical intent was clear -- no sane person could assume she was urging assassinations rather than campaigning. The only individual responsible for these deaths is the shooter.

No one is saying that Palin urged her followers to assassinate Democrats who voted in favour of Obama's health care bill. Nor are they saying that it is the result of a sick society. They are pointing to the war rhetoric of Palin and the Tea Party Movement. In what way was Palin's rhetorical intent clear?

Though there is no direct line from Palin to the suspect shooter, Palin is being damaged by the repeated television showings of her having targeted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords using a crosshairs image on her website.

The Tea Party has another issue to feel outraged about--the liberals making Sarah Palin's a villain in the carnage in Tucson, Arizona.

In their political universe they are the ones in danger from jackbooted progressive communazis. The Left (Barak Obama) is attempting to destroy the nation and replace it with something evil (socalism/communism).

If they have any doubts about this view of American politics, then Glenn Beck and the blowhard crew at Fox News will reassure them that this is the Truth.

Fox News is about creating and strengthening a climate of fear and justifying the erosion of freedom in the name of fighting the terrorists that includes the enemy within.

Sue is correct; there is nothing that the Teabaggers cannot transform into a liberal threat to real America. In short order the Arizona shooter has become a leftie lunatic and Sarah Palin the real victim.

On the bigger issue, the complaint is not only that conservatives in the USA use war and revolution as metaphors; some of them call for their use literally. From their comfortable offices and right-wing welfare jobs they pedal this nonsense that they are the spiritual descendants of the founding fathers who preached that Real Americans must always be ready to take up arms against tyranny.

'The Australian' might pontificate about what 'sane' people would and wouldn't do but that misses the point. People who appear in the mass media, whether as politicians or pundits, have an obligation to understand the nature of their audience, and clearly it includes numerous people who are not sane. The wide-eyed innocent line that "Oh well of course that's not what I meant and no sane person would have taken it that way" is too disingenuous for words. If one's words are likely to have the effect of inciting harm to others then one's intention is irrelevant.

Conservatives have however had years of practice in avoiding responsibility for the catastrophic deaths and immiseration they have caused in the Middle East and SW Asia. Shifting blame for a few deaths in Arizona is no trouble at all.

BTW the endless stream of shrill postings on conservative sites proclaiming innocence of any guilt for the shootings speaks for itself. Nobody with a clear conscience would feel compelled to engage in such strident self-defence.

I wonder what would happen is a Muslim community leader had produced a pamphlet similar to Palin's. Maybe something "targeting" racist media commentators. I have to assume the Muslim bloke would be in a lonely, cold cell by now.

Oh... and I am sooo tired of the pathetic "liberal" softco&ks in the US who call on "all parties" to ease up on the wild rhetoric. These tossers shit me to tears. Their "false equivalence" dribble does NOTHING to defuse the situation. It just promotes the myth that the feeble American left is somehow as destructive a force as the well-financed, loopy right. bah!

One USA right-wing "religious" blog even responded to this tragedy with the title: The Murderous Impulses of the Left.

On Fox News, Glenn Beck speaks daily as if on an underground resistance network, urging his audience to rise up against the wicked dictatorship that has somehow usurped power.

Last year, Giffords' Republican opponent held an event encouraging voters to join him and "shoot a fully automatic M16" to "help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office".

This is not it is not generalised rhetoric. It is directed at specific, named individuals: that Republican candidate urged voters to shoot an automatic weapon to get rid of Giffords.

The gun lobby is calling for more guns. If only people nearby in Tucson on Saturday had had weapons then the death toll would have been less. It is their standard response to every mass shooting in the US.

The Tuscon Tea Party is claiming they are the real victims The killings are evolving into a conspiracy to destroy his organisation and silence criticism of the government.

Oh yes indeed... the Tuscon Tea Party... just like FAR TOO MANY Americans feels that THEY are the victims of injustice. They are the ones being harassed... they are the innocent underdog.

How odd... that the perpetual victim somehow seems to do most of the damage!

mars08,
The Republicans have responded to the Tuscon Arizona killings by alleging the politicization of a random act of violence by a lunatic, and have sought to place themselves in the ranks of victims of the event.

Their talk about Second Amendment remedies refers to a heavily armed citizenry that can take matters into its own hands if the government goes too far. Obama, it seems, has gone too far for them and Fox News.

Yeah... it appears that the whole cause/effect thing is put to one side when things get too sticky.

I've been following the discussion on one particular American blog, and some of the comments would be hilarious... if lives weren't at stake.

The absolute corker argument goes something like this... Somewhere online Jared mentions that he has read Mein Kampf. That's like the Nazi bible, right? And we know the Nazis were National Socialists. Of course "Socialists" are lefties.... therefore Jared is a leftie assassin.

Really dunno if I should laugh or cry.

In democratic theory as citizens are the democratic foundation of the state, they ought to be able to take up arms against the state when they feel the violence monopoly enjoyed by the state is no longer valid because it is oppressive. The 2nd amendment in its current reading grants that power to citizens.

The Obama government however is far from oppressive; if tea party members want their type of government they have the right to vote that into office. They don't have a right under the second Amendment to seek a nondemocratic overthrow of a system the majority agrees with.

That would be a coup, and only after that coup citizens would have every right the 2nd amendment grants them.

"Blood libel" is not wrongfully assigning guilt to an individual for murder. It is assigning guilt collectively to an entire group of people and then using it to justify violence against them.

mars08
re your comment: "it appears that the whole cause/effect thing is put to one side when things get too sticky."

Palin's video response to criticism of her gun-related rhetoric ("Reload!") attaches herself as a victim of Democratic hate to those who suffered centuries of antisemitic persecution that culminated in the Holocaust. Huh? I cannot see the connection myself.

It's inflammatory rhetoric. The criticism of her crass political style has no equivalence or connection to the pogroms and expulsions perpetrated against the Jewish people.

I guess what is trying to say is that the American liberals who went after her for her "target map" of candidates including Gabrielle Giffords, were inciting violence.The violent left is at it again.

This is a political figure who called Obama's health care reforms establish "death panels" of government bureaucrats who would judge whether specific individuals are "worthy of health care." (Grandma has gotta go). And she compares her critics to violent and genocidal anti-Semites.

Palin has decided that as part of her political persona, she is going to use extreme, aggressive, in your face, and threatening language and imagery to dehumanize and marginalize her opponents.

And posing with high-powered guns.