"An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." - Arthur Miller

Monday, January 10, 2011

Supermarket Shooting Tragedy

Saturday six people were and 14 people injured in a shooting spree when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Arizona where U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was holding a public event. Those killed included Federal Judge John Roll and 9 year old Christina Green who was born on September 11, 2001. Rep. Giffords is currently in critical condition after surgery from a bullet that did hit her in the head. Loughner was araigned on two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder with a preliminary hearing for January 24th.

The question now has once again become "Why?" or more specifically who was at fault. It probably isn't a question that can be definitively answered. Based on people that knew Loughner ("friends" seems to be too strong a word), the 22 year old seems to be unstable and not terribly bright. As his five YouTube videos demonstrate, he began at some point to believe in various conspiracy theories involving the US currency (aka return to gold standard), mind control, overreach of government and other beliefs that fall right into the far right wheel house that current Conservative favorites like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Sharron Angle advocate.

However, you have to wonder just how much influence the current right wing extremism may have had on just an unstable mind. When you are told day after day that liberals are purposely trying to destroy America, take away your freedom, and everything you hold dear, it isn't a reach to think an unstable mind might decide that the only proper action is to destroy those that are seemingly trying to destroy him and his fellow Americans. Examples of this include the daily dose of conspiracy of Glenn Beck be it from his radio show, books or TV program were he twists every little thing into some grand plan to conquer America, like the liberals of America wake up each morning and go "what evil acts can I do today?".

Sarah Palin repurposed a tweet of hers into a call of action, complete with sun site graphic (removed from Sarah's website after the shooting), for the recent elections by saying "don't retreat, instead RELOAD!” The use of hunting and weapon phrasing is so common among conservatives that it reached a new extreme with Sharron Angle's "second amendment remedies" being a possible solution if Conservatives didn't get their way in the recent elections.

People, especially the press, will claim the violent vitriol is common on both sides. That lazy false equivalency is simply not true. There is no counterpart to Beck, Palin, Angle, or even Limbaugh, Hannity or John Boehner on the left. If you look at the last two years, the biggest complaint (outside general polices like universal healthcare) about Democrats and liberals is the unwillingness to show backbone as they frequently caved to Republican demands. The liberals fall all over themselves to prove bipartisan ship while conservatives hold the hard line of "my way or the highway." The simple fact is the Democratic Party and its supporters just do not have the volume of "popular" extreme viewpoints that Republicans do. Nor do they engage in rhetoric on such a frequent basis that is not only often demonstrably false but often uses terms that call or hint at violence.

Fox News may pretend this most recent act of violence was an "isolated incident" but the reality is tragically the opposite. Just in the last two years alone there have been a now total of 19 cases of these "isolated incidents". In almost all the cases the person was equally unstable and often agitated at things like liberals trying to destroy America, take away their guns, unfair taxes, thinking a new civil war is needed, and other ideas that can commonly be found among the supporters of the Republican and Tea Parties. Good luck trying to find even a few examples from liberal side of the political spectrum that engage in that behavior even if went back to the Bush years. To put it simply, there is a reason that pretty much every militia you have heard of often is considered to be on the far right of the political spectrum.

The closest you might be able to get in the media or among the politics is Keith Olbermann and at most he is a counter to O'Reilly. Even then that is a false equivalence as he aired a Special Comment on Saturday by apologizing for his using of violent rhetoric, promising to avoid it in future programs. There isn't a snowball's chance in hell of anyone on the right doing anything similar. If Fox News on Monday was any indication, they are in full ducking any responsibility mode, laying blame anywhere they can but themselves.

The simple reality is the GOP has a single agenda - make the rich richer. To fulfill that agenda, they need the money and votes of those that are not in that rich group. To get that support you can't exactly go around and honestly state your real agenda, so instead you turn to the try and true tactic of fear. Fear of "them", fear of those that don't think like you whether that fear are based on religion, race, or political beliefs. The problem is when your entire sales pitch are the constant drumbeat of fear, there will be unintended consequences such as this most recent tragedy.

So what should the solution be to prevent this from reoccurring? I don't know. I know the bad ideas when hear them such as legislation to made it a federal crime to threaten a member of Congress (consider a simple disagreement is often seen a threat, abuse would be easy). I am sure future plans will include yet more attempts at greater security, often at the expense of freedom by allowing more insight into our internet usage, emails and other things we do daily that really isn't anyone's business.

Ultimately I don't think there is a solution as it is really next to impossible to counter crazy. It would be lovely if the political discourse was simply the honest truth and nothing but the truth. It would be great if we could accept political beliefs as something other than a personal attack but rather just a simple disagreement on perspective. It would be nice if we simply stopped being told to be afraid all the time, that everything is "us" vs. "them". Hope spring eternal that maybe, just maybe, a tragedy like what occurred on Saturday moves the needle a little bit away from the political rhetoric based on fear.

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