An important post this morning by Andrew Sullivan, who yesterday took Howard Kurtz to task for his (and frankly, CNN’s) ridiculous “both sides” free pass to the radical right. In the current post, Sullivan breaks down the substantive differences between Obama derangement and anti-Bush sentiment, and explains how specifically, Sarah Palin and those who follow her style of rhetoric hurt our politics.
Also from Sullivan:
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. Even the reading of the Constitution on the first day of the 112th Congress was conceived as an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.
This relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right. (On the left it appears in anonymous comment threads, not congressional speeches and national T.V. programs.)
And even more important is this:
There are exceptions – congressman Alan Grayson comes instantly to mind; even irony didn’t quite undermine the totality of Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person In The World”; the “Bushitler” stuff was vile, and I said so at the time. But the level of animus toward the new president and anyone supporting him reached preposterous proportions at the beginning of this presidency; the gracelessness from the Congressional leadership on down, from “You lie!” to “death panels” and “palling around with terrorists” … this is a real problem in a country with its fair share of disturbed individuals and much more than its fair share of guns.
The Palin forces, who have fomented this dynamic more viciously and recklessly than any other group, are reacting today with incandescent rage that they could even be mentioned in the same breath as this act of political terrorism. That’s called denial. When you put a politician in literal cross-hairs, when you call her a target, when you celebrate how many targets you have hit, when you go on national television and shoot guns, when you use the language of “lock and load” to describe disagreements over healthcare provision … you are part of the problem.
What we need now is a presidential speech that can affirm the positive aspects of robust debate while drawing a line under the nihilist elements of personal and ideological hatred. But it is clear to me at least that if American politics is to regain its composure, the forces of Palin and what she represents must be defeated. Not appeased or excused for, but defeated in the derelict public square of what’s left of our common discourse.
And the right is broadly rushing to her defense, Sullivan is not the only conservative calling Ms. Palin — who takes pleasure in shooting things on camera, and during the 2008 campaign accused then-candidate Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists” (just last week, she accused the president of being “hell bent on weakening America…) to task.
Cue the other sane conservative in the room, David Frum:
The shooting in Arizona shocked the U.S. into grief – and presented Sarah Palin with an immediate political problem: her now-notorious gunsight map.
Palin scrubbed the map from her Palin PAC website, and then issued the following statement on her Facebook page:
My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today’s tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice.
Then, as Palin came under a barrage of criticism, her supporters stepped forward to offer defenses. The gunsights were not really gunsights. The criticism of Palin was unfair, even “obscene.”
And of course, they had a point. Obviously, Palin never intended to summon people to harm Representative Giffords. There was no evidence that the shooter was a Palin follower, and in short order it became evident that he was actuated by a serious mental illness. Whatever you think about Palin’s “don’t retreat, reload” rhetoric, it could not be blamed for this crime.
So – argument won? No. Argument lost.
Palin failed to appreciate the question being posed to her. That question was not: “Are you culpable for the shooting?” The question was: “Having put this unfortunate image on the record, can you respond to the shooting in a way that demonstrates your larger humanity? And possibly also your potential to serve as leader of the entire nation?”…
Read Frum’s suggestion of what Palin should have said, here.
And a few links from Forbes Magazine:
… should we pretend that the violent rhetoric of Palin and her followers is “just an overheated metaphor,” asks Huffington Post writer Marty Kaplan. How many times have we heard Jon Stewart and others speak out about how the GOP-Tea Party machine, with its angry bombast, pushes people? This “lock-and-load” mentality is today’s U.S. politics–reptilian, raging, uncivil, unyielding and here, possibly murderous.
UPDATE 1/9/2011: Even a senior Republican senator, speaking anonymously to Politico.com “in order to freely discuss the tragedy,” believes the Giffords shooting is a “cautionary tale.” “There is a need for some reflection here – what is too far now?” said the senator talking about inflammatory language and suggestions of violence in politics. “What was too far when Oklahoma City happened is accepted now. There’s been a desensitizing. These town halls and cable TV and talk radio, everybody’s trying to outdo each other.”
It will be interesting to see how President Obama handles this moment. He has a chance to take the lead in a serious national dialogue on diffusing a kind of rhetoric that we haven’t seen since his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, who responded effectively to the Oklahoma City bombing in a similar climate. But Obama, because as Sullivan states, he faces a much darker, more hysterical brand of opposition, and because he is the first black man to sit in the Oval Office, can take this discussion to a deeper level. And he really is the man to do it.