The Standard’s editorial today is titled ‘Let the bullets fly’ (the name of a movie) and discusses, of all things, stamp duty on property transactions. Weapons-related imagery and language is common in debate and advertising because it is vivid and effective. I don’t recall much of a trip through New Mexico, Arizona and the delightful Tonopah, Nevada many, many years ago in my youth, but I can still clearly see the latest fashionable adornment for the gun rack in the rear window of everyone’s pickup: posters showing Ayatollah Khomeini in crosshairs. What more succinct way to get the point across about the Iran hostage crisis?
We can assume that the Standard’s wording will not prompt some lone nut whose classmates have long considered creepy to slaughter innocents at a politician’s gathering outside a supermarket in, say, Shatin. It is hard to see a single word or picture doing that to someone short of Manchurian Candidate-style brainwashing. Still, it was inevitable after the shooting of Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson that liberals would point fingers at specific examples of militant conservative rhetoric. And it was of almost karmaic necessity that the darling of the Tea Party Sarah Palin should provide the choicest specimens: the now-infamous crosshairs map, talk of ‘reloading’ and so on. The interesting part was to see what the right’s reaction would be.
Palin chose the day of the funeral of a nine-year-old Tucson victim to rail against critics’ ‘blood libel’ against her. Stupidity comes in various flavours, and Palin’s is so banal as to be almost tragic. Her followers can identify with that; they wouldn’t like her if she were malicious or lacked a sort of humour. The gods are playing a cruel trick on the woman, deluding her into thinking she has the cunning baseness to be a statesman.
A smarter response came from mouth-frothing conservative commentator Glenn Beck, who had the sense to praise President Obama’s speech in Tucson. I used to enjoy watching Beck’s rabid screeching about Obama-the-socialist and other national calamities until it dawned on me that he probably doesn’t really believe it himself: it’s an act, and he’s making millions out of it. His conciliatory stance at this moment suggests that he realizes there is a problem, beyond the bickering about semantics.
Nuts like Jared Lee Loughner do not explode out of a vacuum. A psychotic or schizo confuses internal and external stimuli. The seeds of derangement are sown in their minds earlier on, but what they see and hear in day-to-day real life must play a role in nurturing or at least organizing the voices, the paranoia and whatever the unhinging leads to. Just a few months after the new president’s inauguration in January 2009, Richard Poplawski of Pittsburgh lay in wait and killed three police officers because he feared ‘the coming Obama gun ban’. That was not the act of a rational gun owner fearing greater regulation, but nor was it simply an internal invention of his own craziness. Talk radio and the Internet were buzzing with conspiracy theories about confiscation of firearms and much else.
By ‘much else’ we can include the idea that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing concentration camps throughout the US to lock up citizens when some sort of totalitarian regime takes over. Glen Beck himself has happily promoted the theory (in a plausible-deniability sort of way). He and others stir up economic illiteracy about the gold standard and something more like tribal hatred about death panels, or Obama being a Muslim or a foreigner.
Such ideas are maybe halfway along a spectrum. At the sane end we have criticisms about bailouts or healthcare reform leading to over-mighty government and reduced personal freedom – valid fears voiced for decades over issues like Social Security or deficit spending. At the other extreme, out past Second Amendment remedies, we get to the really wacko end: the New World Order, black helicopters, the second coming of Jesus and militias training for the day the Muslims invade. The conservatives’ star cheerleaders have been blurring the boundaries between analysis and obsession and madness.
Maybe something else would have set Loughner off. But it is easy to see why personalities on the right have lashed out so vehemently against accusations that divisive, scaremongering rhetoric might have played a part in Tucson. The liberal critics, good opportunistic scoundrels, have hit a raw nerve.
It puts things in perspective. Thus draws National Regina Week to a close.