In my non-wedding life (which is most of it, thankfully), I'm very involved in policy and government affairs. My degree was in political science and I spent a lot of time studying the roots of violent ethnic conflicts and civil war, with particular emphasis on the way political rhetoric, economic despair, and demagoguery have played integral roles in some of the world's worst human tragedies. With this as my background, I've watched - horrified and seemingly helpless - as our economy and hopes have crumbled and as dangerous political rhetoric has provided false hopes and a twisted focus for legitimate rage. I watched in horror as the media and politicians twisted a community center development at the site of an old Burlington Coat Factory into an outlet for islamaphobic and racist fears, twisting the memory of Ground Zero into xenophbic fever, screaming at innocent black bystanders and stabbing New York cab drivers for being muslim.
Disagreements - even fierce disagreements - should be an aspect of public discourse and political life. But what I've seen in the last few years is worse and uglier. And today, my worst fears have been realized. So please forgive me as this blog veers off from the wedding-and-life-story category today. But I just wanted to take a moment to mourn for the victims' families and make a public plea for a shift in what we as a society have come to accept from our political leaders and media. Feel free to turn away now if politics aren't your thing.
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was shot today. Point-blank, in the head, at an informal meet-her-constituents event at a supermarket. After a gunman walked right up to her and shot, he continued shooting with his semi-automatic rifle. Another six people were killed and eighteen wounded. At the moment, the congresswoman seems to be in stable but critical condition, with the bullet passing through her brain.
This assassination attempt would be bad enough in normal circumstances. (Yes, assassination. That's what we call political murders.) But it turns out that Rep. Giffords was on Sarah Palin's controversial "crosshairs" site http://www.takebackthe20.com on which she placed literal targets on representatives who voted for the healthcare bill. Palin introduced the website on her twitter account by announcing "Don't Retreat - Instead RELOAD." This sort of violent language was taken up in Republican and Tea Party campaigns and discussions across the country, including by Giffords' main opponent, Jesse Kelly, who used similar language. Kelly's campaign held an event called "Get on Target for Victory in November." Description: "Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly."
Both Palin and Kelly have already scrubbed their websites (though google cache lives forever). Palin's website is down and she has issued a statement about her prayers for Giffords. Even if the real-world result of their incitements to violence isn't directly their fault, they both had the guilt/insight to suddenly recognize that such words are in entirely poor taste (to say the least), despite the outpouring on Palin's facebook page from supporters who are upset about fingers getting pointed at an obviously innocent Palin.
Unfortunately, these defensive politicians and their supporters are right. It's not Sarah Palin's crosshair chart's fault that a clearly disturbed person (whose motivations we don't yet know) tried to assassinate a congressperson. We can't point to a single statement about M16s or reloading and say "that's it! that's what set the assassin off!"
But we can point to many Republican's and stridently partisan media's willful use of violent rhetoric to incite political fealty and destroy any semblance of civil society. Their combined, unrelenting, violent, and divisive, rhetoric has taken standard political disagreements into a culture war that they are actively arming. This is the sort of hateful rhetoric that sparked violence in Rwanda. This is the sort of hateful rhetoric that sparked cultural acceptance of Hitler's genocide. There's enough historical precedent to show that violent rhetoric and troubled economies lead directly to real violence. Regardless of the background of this one lone shooter, this shift in public discourse has created some level of public acceptance for rage-filled rallies, disgusting dehumanizing language, and violent incidents.
We can't let politicians and talking heads hide behind the bullshit flimsy excuse that words aren't a real call to violence. Because when speech after speech riles people up with incitements to shoot, kill, and destroy, the sum of these words played a part in this. Their hands are bloody, even if I can't pin it to a single statement and even if murder wasn't your direct intent.
And if the Democratic leadership doesn't finally stand up to denounce this as an assassination and to finally call out mainstream Republicans' language as a disgusting, flimsy cover for hatred, fear and violence, then we're all lost. There was a time when disagreement could be principled. There was a time when we could debate and agree to disagree, even on serious issues and seriously held beliefs. But when we use imagery to instill fear in order to derive fierce political support, we're stirring a dangerous pot that's starting to boil over now.
Fucking politicians. Both the bastards who found this acceptable in the first place and the spineless wimps who allowed it to continue in search of some bipartisan bullshit. We all need to stand up to hateful and violent language, regardless of our political beliefs.
Please excuse my language and the topic today. But murder is too much. I wanted to say something back when the cab driver was stabbed, but I didn't think a wedding blog was the place. Oh well. This is my blog, and I'm done worrying what people will think or whether this fits with the purported topic of this site. Some things are too important.