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Monday, January 10, 2011 

Action and reaction.

The attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords is, despite everything, a sign of the increasing disconnect between politicians and the commentariat, or whatever other name you want to give the paid blowhards along with grunting morons like myself. As others have already pointed out, while as a whole Giffords' fellow legislators and those looking to become elected representatives have condemned the attack and made no comment on the actual circumstances, from almost as soon as the news came through that a Democratic congresswoman had been shot some on the left were desperately hoping the person responsible to either be someone directly associated with the Tea Party movement or at least influenced by the rhetoric that has underpinned the populist right-wing opposition to President Obama.

As reprehensible as that seems, it's symptomatic of the way political debate within America has developed in recent years, just as much as it is of the violence that simmers barely beneath the surface of American society. The language and themes used, not just by the usual suspects of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, but by the actual politicians in the shape of Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle, the defeated Tea Party candidate who chillingly made reference to "second amendment remedies" should Congress continue the way it was going has gotten so out of all proportion it's impossible to condemn those who hoped their worst fears had been fulfilled. Giffords herself could not have said it better when she commented on the now infamous "crosshairs" map issued by Palin which literally targeted her: "They've got to realise there are consequences to that action". For all those on the right that are now crying foul over the left commencing an almost inevitable blame game, they seem all but unwilling to accept there are those out there that are prepared to make use of those "second amendment remedies" as a direct result of the hatred and rage they've had a significant hand in whipping up.

Jared Loughner in actual fact seems to be closer in political thinking, coherent or otherwise, to the likes of Timothy McVeigh than the small-government positioning of the Tea Party movement, although all such surmising is based on the small number of videos he posted on YouTube, along with a few threads on the abovetopsecret.com forums, mainly dealing with conspiracy theories or close to impenetrable musings on currency. The Southern Poverty Law Center suggests that his unusual use of grammar and sentence structure could be linked to David Wynn Miller, an extreme right-winger with original views on how the government controls people through the use of language; it strikes me more that it may well be a symptom of a mental disorder, or an example of autistic-type behaviour than anything more sinister. How much bearing ideology, if any, had on his actions we may well never know properly, yet something undoubtedly prompted him to plan the assassination of Giffords specifically, whether it was a failure to reply to his ideas or his lack of satisfaction at an original meeting with her. Alternatively, as a friend suggests, he may well have just been out to cause utter chaos, and saw the perfect opportunity in murdering a member of Congress and the other people with her.

For if it hadn't been for Gifford and the apparent chance presence of Judge John Roll, it seems doubtful that a similar massacre would have made much waves internationally. The sad fact is that such mass killings in America have become wearingly familiar; it takes a large number of casualties, or for a school to be the target as it so often has in the past for it to get attention elsewhere. Those of us who live in countries where gun ownership is rare and highly controlled can't really even begin to understand the politics of the issue in the States, and how the connection between the murder rate, number of such mass shooting incidents and the easy availability of deadly weapons hasn't resulted in some sort of radical change, regardless of the second amendment. Indeed, the increasingly proposed solution is to routinely arm more rather than fewer people, supposedly to stop such spree killers in their tracks. Nothing more epitomises the suicidal tendencies of American culture than the putting of the right to bear arms above the right to live in something approaching safety, and the only thing we can do is watch from a distance as the apparently inevitable happens on an increasingly regular basis.

The other thing we can state with certainty is that this is only a lull in the use of violent, even murderous political language. The left now has its attack dogs just as the right does: the likes of Keith Olbermann can at times be just as incendiary as their counterparts, although he promised at the weekend to tone down his own rhetoric at the same time as he demanded the likes of Palin and others to repudiate (or refudiate, in Palin's parlance) their past comments, something probably to be forgotten as soon as Giffords begins to make a slow recovery.

Hillary Clinton once described the efforts to impeach her husband as a vast right-wing conspiracy. As overblown as characterising it in such terms was, if anything Barack Obama has faced an even more virulent opposition, disconnected and disparate as it is. Regardless of who Obama eventually faces in his re-election battle, it would be foolish to believe there won't be a re-emergence of the same blood-curdling denunciations of the past three years come next year. The real question is just what could tone down the visceral loathing the broad left and right increasingly have for each other, and the answer to that is even more inscrutable than ever.

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Great, thoughtful and accurate piece.

You make reference to the violence that "barely simmers below the surface". I disagree -- the violence now simmers just ABOVE the surface. You cannot surf the political web-sites without being aware of the vast quantities of hatred, both in the comments and articles themselves.

From a distance, the whole of (political) America seems to be boiling without cease. Calls for secession, calls for oponents (such as Assange) to be "hunted down" or even assassinated.

I believe you are probably right that Loughner is merely disturbed, rather than acting from political ideology. Nevertheless he is a symptom of the processes going on in the States.

I have this thought, though: that the left *should* hammer Palin and Beck for this, and *should* ascribe causal responsibility to them (even if it's not, at root, likely to be maintainable in intellectual sincerity) because THEY SURE AS HELL WOULD DO IT TO THE LEFT, if things were the other way around.

Perhaps strategy and political war should trump honesty and accurate causal analysis?

Well, that's the thing: we're all looking at this from the happy position of not having to deal with such hyperbolic, under the belt or even on occasion scary rhetoric, as we saw when the Sun got tore into for complaining about Gordon Brown's handwriting in the condolence letter he wrote. The closest we come is probably the more wild imaginings of our own libertarian bloggers, and that for most part is laughable or even genuinely amusing rather than worrying. As a result we probably think replying in kind is wrong and only perpetuates the problem.

That's exactly why even though I think we shouldn't sink to that level, I can't condemn those who have pointed the finger or want to pin it on Becks and Palins: they're the ones who quite literally may find themselves in the firing line, and if they want to make political capital out of this, if it has some sort of effect, even if it's only short-term, some good will come out of it.

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