"Only a crazy person would take what we say seriously"

Violent language and violent rhetoric can be a problem, but I do not think it is the main problem afflicting our diseased political discourse.*

The main problem, rather, is disingenuous rhetoric that coolly and calmly demands a violent response from anyone who believes it or takes it seriously. This talk may have nothing to do with guns or crosshairs or "reloading," but it is the logic of life and death. That logic doesn't just raise the possibility that some unhinged person on the fringes might take it wrong. It suggests and requires violent action as an unavoidable moral obligation.

As Conor Friedersdorf put it, "Tone is overemphasized in these conversations about political discourse, while substance is mostly ignored."

In other words, Friedersdorf says, we ought to be less concerned about Sarah Palin's bullet-riddled rhetoric and more concerned with the substance of her lies:

Palin’s remarks about death panels communicated an untruth: the notion that Barack Obama’s health care reform effort sought to empower a panel of bureaucrats who’d sit in judgment about whether an old person’s life would be saved or not. That is the sort of thing we ought to find objectionable, even if the substance is communicated in the most dry language imaginable, because were it true, radicalism would be an appropriate response. “They’re going to start killing old people? We’ve got to stop this!”

Please note that such a response to "death panels" would not be optional. If you really believed that some kind of government Gestapo was being sent to euthanize your elderly neighbors, then opposing these forces would not be a matter of choice. It would be a moral obligation.

If you really believed it.

Sarah Palin, of course, did not really believe this. Nor did the vast majority of her followers. It was a lie, deliberately told — a lie that her fans and followers pretended to believe in a great game of political dishonesty.

That dishonesty is not a matter of dispute. It was proved true by their actions or, rather, by their inaction. These millions of people pretending to believe what they knew to be a lie did not cry out, "We've got to stop this!" They lacked any of the urgency that must accompany genuine belief in such a horrifying thing. They did not possess this urgency and they did not act on this urgency because they did not really believe it.

Friedersdorf considers some other disingenuous lies now in circulation — lies millions of Americans are enthusiastically pretending to believe, belied at every step by their own actions and inactions:

Since Barack Obama took office, prominent voices on the right have called him an ally of Islamist radicals in their Grand Jihad against America, a radical Kenyan anti-colonialist, a man who pals around with terrorists and used a financial crisis to deliberately weaken America, a usurper who was born abroad and isn’t even eligible to be president, a guy who has somehow made it so that it’s okay for black kids to beat up white kids on buses, etc. I haven’t even touched on the conspiracy theories of Glenn Beck. The birthers excepted, the people making these chargers are celebrated by movement conservatives – they’re given book deals, awards, and speaking engagements.

If all of these charges were true, a radicalized citizenry would be an appropriate response. But even the conservatives who defend Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, D’Souza, McCarthy, and so many others don’t behave as if they believe all the nonsense they assert. The strongest case against these people isn’t that their rhetoric inspires political violence. It’s that they frequently utter indefensible nonsense. The problem isn’t their tone. It’s that the substance of what they’re saying is so blinkered that it isn’t even taken seriously by their ideological allies (even if they’re too cowardly, mercenary or team driven to admit as much).

They’re in a tough spot these days partly because it’s impossible for them to mount the defense of their rhetoric that is true: “I am a frivolous person, and I don’t choose my words based on their meaning. Rather, I behave like the worst caricature of a politician. If you think my rhetoric logically implies that people should behave violently, you’re mistaken – neither my audience nor my peers in the conservative movement are engaged in a logical enterprise, and it’s unfair of you to imply that people take what I say so seriously that I can be blamed for a real world event. Don’t you see that this is all a big game? This is how politics works. Stop pretending you’re not in on the joke.”

That's all good and true and undeniable, but let me highlight again this one part:

[They] don’t behave as if they believe all the nonsense they assert. The strongest case against these people isn’t that their rhetoric inspires political violence. It’s that they frequently utter indefensible nonsense.

They do not believe their own nonsense. We know that they do not believe it because they "don't behave" in accordance with what such beliefs would entail — what such beliefs must entail.

This disingenuous nonsense hardly even qualifies as political discourse at all. It's more like some kind of performance art — the theater of dishonesty, the theater of lies.

Such dishonesty has become a central feature of our political discourse. It drives and shapes every election. It is, for millions of Americans, the defining feature of how they vote and who they vote for.

I refer here not to the birthers, baggers, Beck-ers and Birchers who have dominated headlines for the past two years. I mean the anti-abortion voters. The central organizing principle for these voters and the politicians who cater to them is a towering dishonesty, a lie told to others and to themselves.

That this lie is a lie has been proven, time and again. "They don't behave as if they believe" any of what they are saying. Therefore we must conclude, they do not believe what they are saying.

It's a pretense, a game — a dishonest game played by people who have chosen to embrace this dishonesty and to make it their essential defining characteristic. They don't behave as if they believe what they say. They don't believe what they say. This is as apparent in the pseudo-intellectual pomposity of the anti-abortion play-actors at First Things as it is in the pseudo-spiritual pose of earnestness by the anti-abortion play-actors at Christianity Today.

They don't behave as if they believe what they say.

They do not believe what they say.

No one else ought to believe what they say either.

But every few years, tragically, someone does. Every few years some disturbed or unhinged individual fails to appreciate that these anti-abortion pretenders are merely "frivolous persons who don't choose their words based on their meaning" but, rather, "behave like the worst caricature of a politician."

Every few years, tragically, some poor confused bastard fails to realize that it's all a big game, a pretense, a lie. He takes them seriously and he takes their words seriously and he behaves as someone who believes what they say. So Paul Hill murders a doctor in Florida. Eric Rudolph bombs the Atlanta Olympics. Scott Roeder guns down a doctor in church.

And each time this happens all of the people who have, for years, been suggesting that such violent resistance is obligatory recoil in horror at the sight of someone treating their words as anything other than the disingenuous lies they were always meant to be.

Threat I've written about this before (see "Killing in the name of"), so allow me to quote from that earlier post:

Paul Hill argued that abortion was the moral equivalent of the Nazi Holocaust — just like the National Right to Life Committee, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and dozens of other evangelical groups said it was. If that's true, Hill said, then he wasn't merely justified, but obligated to take up arms against abortionists. If you're confronted with an evil equal in magnitude to that of Adolf Hitler — as all these groups insisted was the case — then surely one is obliged to do more than vote Republican every four years in the hopes of one day appointing enough judges to change the law of the land. Confronted with what all of these groups assured him was the Holocaust, he decided to become Claus von Stauffenberg.

Yet when Hill repeated their own argument and their own rhetoric back to them, these groups all recoiled. They all claimed to share Hill's premise, but not to share his conclusion. That won't work. Hill's violent conclusion arose logically from that shared premise. If he was a madman to be condemned — as all those groups suddenly insisted he was — it was because of the madness of that premise. So how was it possible they could repudiate him without also repudiating that rhetoric that compelled him to act?

What I realized then, in 1994, as I watched these groups line up to condemn violence against "mass-murderers" and to renounce armed opposition to "the Holocaust," was that these folks didn't really mean any of it. They were horrified by the spectacle of someone taking their own rhetoric and arguments seriously. "We don't really mean anything we say," these groups rushed to announce. "We don't really believe any of that."

The problem for all of these groups — the National Right to Life Committee, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and the rest — is, as Friedersdorf says, not a matter of tone, but of substance.

The substance of what they say demands "a radicalized citizenry." If we are in the midst of a "Holocaust," then we are obliged to respond more vigorously than simply waiting four years for the next opportunity to cast a vote for a candidate who tells us he sympathizes with our opposition to this "Holocaust." If they really believed any of the nonsense they spout about "Holocausts" and "baby-killers" then what are we to make of their behavior, their lack of urgency, their satisfaction with moral-condescension and the occasional vote or rare protest march as somehow an adequate response to the massive horror and injustice they pretend to believe is occurring?

They do not behave as if they believe what they say. We are thus forced to choose between believing their words or believing their actions. We cannot believe that both are true. We cannot believe that both are honest. If their actions, their very lives, are sincere, then their words are dishonest. If their words are sincere, then their lives are monstrous.

Neither alternative is pleasant, but these are the only options allowed to us.

For my part, like Friedersdorf, I believe that it is their words that are insincere. I believe these are frivolous people who don't choose their words based on their meaning. I believe these are simply dishonest people who enjoy the warm feelings of smug superiority their pretense allows them to pretend to feel despite their knowing that none of what they are saying is defensible or true.

And when, as has happened before and will happen again, some poor soul is foolish enough to believe the substance of what they say and goes out and picks up a gun or a bomb and goes on a deadly rampage I do believe it is just and necessary to hold these pretenders responsible — not for the tone of their rhetoric, but for the substance of their lies.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* Here's a rundown of some of the more helpful things I've read on this question of violent rhetoric and gun-talk.

George Packer has a good discussion of the false equivalence falsely asserted by those seeking to absolve themselves of any blame for the incendiary climate of our current diseased discourse. And James Fallows has some wise words on the usually "Cloudy Logic of 'Political' Shootings," amplified and clarified with historical context from the past and from recent years.

And this Tumblr post from Sady Doyle offers an important clarification about the sort of people likely to be swayed by what Fallows calls "the political tone of an era."

Doyle notes that it's not just "crazy" people who may "be vulnerable enough to your message to take you at your word and shoot someone," it may also be people who are unhinged for other reasons, such as they "just got fired and are full of rage that needs somewhere to go," or — and this seems relevant in the Tucson case — they are "poisoned by a toxic variety of masculinity that equates manhood with power and power with violence."

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy_whose ‘to read’ list keeps getting longer

    I am not sure that “they don’t believe what they believe.” I suspect that they can hold two mutual exclusive things at the same time. An enormously useful skill in radical politics.

  • Spearmint

    Quite a lot of people sat on their hands when confronted with the actual Nazis. So I’m not sure we should conclude that a genuine and sincerely-held belief that your country is engaged in a systematic campaign of mass-murder is enough to make you a violent revolutionary. A lot of people are just lazy.

  • http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2007/01/19/gonzales Dick Laurent

    Ted Rall’s take on this.
    Open Question to Slacktivites: When is violence to further political ends justified? When is it not?

  • http://vicwelle.wordpress.com victoria

    I’d also recommend reading Davey D’s
    post commenting on the double standard of the “it’s just words” camp who in the past were quick to accuse rap and hip-hop artists of inciting violence.
    (full address if my link doesn’t work:)
    https://hiphopandpolitics.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/if-rappers-can-take-heat-for-inflammatory-words-why-cant-sarah-palin/

  • Spearmint

    When is violence to further political ends justified? When is it not?
    When you believe the policy of your government is killing innocent people.
    So that would be… right now, actually. Our health care system kills people. Our foreign policy kills people. These aren’t debatable matters of opinion about the “people”ness of other women’s blastocysts, these are objectively measurable statements about reality.
    Mysteriously I am still sitting on my duff typing on a laptop, instead of taking up a rifle. Or a machine gun. Either of which I could probably acquire in about five minutes, God bless the U.S.A. And unless Fred is moonlighting as an assassin, so is he.
    This is why I think our esteemed host vastly overestimates the strength of moral imperatives to motivate the average human. A person can sincerely believe their government is party to enormous evil and not be inspired to an armed defense of their dying neighbors. Even a nominally good person like Fred or me.

  • hapax

    We Christians don’t have to take up arms to prove the sincerity of our beliefs.

    When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

    (Looks around at truckloads of hapax-stuff)
    I dunno. Does this mean that I “don’t behave as if I believe all the nonsense I assert?” Arguably. Does it therefore mean that I do not actually believe it? Or that “the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do“?

  • http://detroitmechworks.blip.tv detroitmechworks

    Ya know… Here’s my thought on this.
    If they NEVER thought that anybody would ever take them seriously, we can take them at their word.
    It just proves that they’re fucking idiots who can’t think ahead. Thus, we should never listen to them again.
    Solves the problem rather neatly.

  • Spearmint

    We Christians don’t have to take up arms to prove the sincerity of our beliefs.
    Fair point, but that should apply equally well to the pro-life lobby, no? If (generic) you are really serious about non-violence, then sincerely believing your government is enabling a widespread campaign of baby-murder shouldn’t make any difference.

  • Lunch Meat

    This is why I think our esteemed host vastly overestimates the strength of moral imperatives to motivate the average human. A person can sincerely believe their government is party to enormous evil and not be inspired to an armed defense of their dying neighbors. Even a nominally good person like Fred or me.
    Well, for me at least, it’s hard to imagine of any way in which an armed defense would accomplish something, or accomplish enough for it to be worth it. I don’t think this is because I’m lazy, just really freaking hopeless. One person mounting an armed defense can’t change legislative policy. I mean, I could go hold a congressperson hostage and threaten to shoot them in the knee unless they vote for what I want, but after I let them go, they’ll have me arrested and then vote for something else. And that’s just one congressperson. I couldn’t kill anyone, even if I were the type of person who could kill someone. It wouldn’t accomplish anything unless the person who replaced them was definitely sympathetic to my needs.
    Of course, one person can inspire others and be seen as a martyr. But considering who controls the media nowadays, the predominant response would be “OMG look the left is just as violent and mentally unbalanced as the right! See we’re persecuted!” So I can’t see anyway I, on my own, could accomplish something to violence.
    Now, we could start a revolution. That’s within the realm of possibility. But we’d have to be organized, and that wouldn’t be easy at all. And there’s a possibility that said revolution would kill more people than current USian policies are killing.
    So IMO, even if we absolutely believe that the government is evil, doesn’t mean that we automatically take up arms against it, or else we’re lying. When I was old enough to understand how laws and religion worked but was still against abortion, I didn’t think that it should be outlawed again; I thought it would be more productive to change people’s minds one at a time through relationships. I still think that, about the things that I still think are wrong. Legislating morality doesn’t do anything but make me feel a) comfortable that everyone’s doing what I’m doing and b) proud that I’m good enough I don’t need a law to do the right thing.
    Then again, I never equated abortion to the holocaust, nor was I certain that fetuses were human. So maybe if generic-you is certain of both those things, then my one-at-a-time strategy is morally wrong. I don’t know.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird, who doesn’t like revolutions very much

    When I was old enough to understand how laws and religion worked but was still against abortion, I didn’t think that it should be outlawed again; I thought it would be more productive to change people’s minds one at a time through relationships.
    That’s pretty much where I’m at now…

  • Viliphied

    @Spearmint
    But WHO is killing these innocent people? The health care system? OK, how would you even lead an armed insurrection against the health care system?
    When the Holocaust was happening, the Nazi government wasn’t just supporting policies that made life harder for Jews, they were actively ordering their enslavement and execution. I would say that is the line. When the government is actively rounding up and murdering innocent civilians. Alternatively, when the governments policies actively bring harm to innocents, and there is no hope of changing those policies without violent insurrection.

  • http://www.sexandmoney.org/blog Jenk

    Lunch Meat, you’re using logic again. Are you sure that’s a good idea?
    *hides under the table and giggles*

  • Spitfire

    The question about whether violent rhetoric leads to violence was settled back in July 2008 anyway, when that guy shot up the Unitarian church because he wanted to kill as many liberals as he could. He was a fan of O’Reilly, Savage, and Hannity, and he acted on what they told him. Case closed.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/fearlessson FearlessSon

    The really depressing part to me is that nothing that can be done will actually change the mind of anyone who chooses to indulge in that kind of culture of transparent lies. Even when something horrible like this shooting happens, that will not change their minds either. Do they see the pretences they hold as being distructive? No, they just add another pretense to it. I think that a lot of them, while saying “Oh, how horrible,” are actually thinking “Ha! Serves those liberal pansies right!” Their token attempts at sympathy are just another lie they tell themselves, then go right on indulging in the lies that brought them to this to begin with.

  • Spearmint

    So IMO, even if we absolutely believe that the government is evil, doesn’t mean that we automatically take up arms against it, or else we’re lying.
    Exactly. It’s a cost-benefit analysis. And terrorism isn’t a particularly effective strategy even if you don’t care about collateral damage.

  • aunursa

    According to a CBS poll, 57% of Americans reject the Left’s despicable attempts to blame political rhetoric for the shooting in Tucson. And that’s not all Republicans: 56% of independents and 49% of Democrats see no connection between political rhetoric and the shooting.
    Here is an exhaustive reminder of violent rhetoric by the left — including numerous written and visual calls for the death of Palin, Dubya, and others — that were never condemned by the same liberals who now loudly denounce and blame right wing rhetoric — despite the fact that the Tucson shooter was obsessed with Rep. Giffords at least one year before Sarah Palin was known nationwide.
    The progressive climate of hate: An illustrated primer 2000-2010
    Daily Kos disappears his post targeting Giffords
    Hypocrisy meter: Left wing tweeters wish for Sarah Palin’s death because of her violent rhetoric

  • http://extremelyevilmusic.blogspot.com/ Murfyn

    And what of non-violent action? I claim to believe that marijuana should be legalized, yet I don’t smoke it, grow it, or distribute it. I believe that it would be a better world if babies were held more, and put in playpens and cribs and swings never, but it has been years since I have held a baby. The list goes on . . . and yet, I don’t believe that I am arguing in bad faith.

  • kaemmerite

    aunursa, I like how you mentioned that the right-wing isn’t like those violent evil leftists who are trying to turn the Giffords tragedy into political rhetoric. That’s not hypocritical at all!

  • Wednesday

    I’m reminded of the West Wing episode when an Icelandic ambassador who never shows up onscreen is named something like ‘Gudrun Atladottir’, but also referred to with male pronouns, because apparently no one on the set or writing staff picked up on the naming conventions.
    Now I feel like reading about the awesome adventures of a trans Icelandic ambassador in the USA.

  • Wednesday

    Oh, dear, wrong thread, sorry!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/shiftercat ShifterCat

    Granted, there is an alternative to conservatives’ lack of belief in their own rhetoric:
    They do want violence, but don’t want to get their own hands dirty.

  • Flying Squid with Goggles

    I may not be reading this clearly, but it sounds like Murfyn, aunursa, Lunch Meat, and Spearmint believe that right-wing pundits *honestly believe* that the health care bill end-of-life counseling provision is a mandate for government bureaucrats to pull the plug on elderly citizens.
    If so, since they are the ones most active in spreading this belief, why do they believe it? (and if not, please clarify, ’cause I’m obviously not understanding what you’re trying to say)
    I can think of a few possibilities:
    *They really believe Democrats/Obama are Evil with a capital ‘E’
    *They haven’t read it, but find it convenient to believe fictions and pass them on
    *Belief for them is a matter of assertion, so saying it makes it so. Repeating it makes it more so. For them belief is a matter of assertion. ;o)
    *Someone without wide press exposure is feeding them these beliefs and they trust that someone.
    I don’t find any of the four more plausible than lying, but maybe there’s something I’ve overlooked – please help me figure it out if so.

  • http://faithmanages.blogspot.com/ tls

    @Spearmint: I get your point(s), but… if people genuinely believe abortions are evil enough to invoke the Holocaust, shouldn’t at least some people visibly be doing something other than using a highly-charged word like Holocaust? Seems like I should see more of these people with a passel of adopted and/or foster kids, or I should see them promote birth control and sane sex ed (on the grounds it’s the lesser evil, if nothing else), or they should be calling for welfare for pregnant women and/or doing fundraising for charities to help women who get pregnant carry to term with a support network. I mean, at least some people fled the Nazi regime or helped hide and/or smuggle Jews out of the country.
    Which is why I think Fred has a point, here.
    @Murfyn: “I think pot should be legalized” and “I think that abortions are like the Holocaust and people who perpetrate them are murderers” are very different statements. I think they should legalize pot, too, because I think it’s a waste of time and money to keep it illegal, but the appropriate reaction to that is to vote accordingly, because it’s not like I think it remaining illegal is going to lead to, say, people’s deaths on a large scale.

  • Xavier

    a radical Kenyan anti-colonialist

    Wait, anti-colonialism is radical now? Supporting colonialism is a moderate position?

    This is why I think our esteemed host vastly overestimates the strength of moral imperatives to motivate the average human. A person can sincerely believe their government is party to enormous evil and not be inspired to an armed defense of their dying neighbors. Even a nominally good person like Fred or me.

    THIS.

    I would say that is the line. When the government is actively rounding up and murdering innocent civilians.

    Guantanamo. Drone strikes.
    Hope your insurrection turns out well!

  • http://loosviews.livejournal.com BringTheNoise

    @aunursa: Is there supposed to something offensive in that post from Daily Kos? Because I can’t see ANYTHING. Taking down one innocuous post and replacing it with another is not something I have a particular problem with.
    As for Malkin – as has been said so many times before, NO ON IS DENYING THERE IS VIOLENT RHETORIC ON THE LEFT, JUST THAT IT IS NOT MAINSTREAMED IN THE SAME WAY IT IS ON THE RIGHT. Democratic Underground != Fox News. Sandra Berhard != Sarah Palin. False equivalency – it only makes you look stupid.

  • http://www.timecube.com Consumer Unit 5012

    Thanks, Anursa, we really needed a good display of Republican Denial Behavior.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p013487299913970c Geds

    BringTheNoise: NO ON IS DENYING THERE IS VIOLENT RHETORIC ON THE LEFT, JUST THAT IT IS NOT MAINSTREAMED IN THE SAME WAY IT IS ON THE RIGHT. Democratic Underground != Fox News. Sandra Berhard != Sarah Palin. False equivalency – it only makes you look stupid.
    This. Completely and totally this.
    The people on the Right trotting out violent rhetoric are their loudest and most powerful people. Their last Vice Presidential candidate did it. The current Speaker of the House did it. Limbaugh, Beck, et al do it.
    Pretending that a random website or a random commenter on a website is the same as the Speaker of the US House of Representatives is bullshit, plain and simple.
    And, really, don’t get me started on the false equivalence between the treatment of Bush and the treatment of Obama. I’m not at all a fan of the way we’ve Godwined the world, but Bush got that treatment because he kept making moves to actually reduce our freedoms. Obama gets called Hitler right after getting called a Communist and just before he gets called the Antichrist. And this is all as part of the, “He’s going to take our guns while killing grandma!” bull. At least the Left managed to be consistent with their messaging and it was merely overblown hyperbole as opposed to being, you know, flat wrong and completely divorced from reality.
    Oh, and internet polls to prove a point? Really?

  • Lunch Meat

    @Flying Squid,
    I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my post I was responding only to the idea that believing the government is doing something extremely harmful necessitates taking up arms against it, else one does not actually believe the government is doing something extremely harmful.
    if people genuinely believe abortions are evil enough to invoke the Holocaust, shouldn’t at least some people visibly be doing something other than using a highly-charged word like Holocaust? Seems like I should see more of these people with a passel of adopted and/or foster kids, or I should see them promote birth control and sane sex ed (on the grounds it’s the lesser evil, if nothing else), or they should be calling for welfare for pregnant women and/or doing fundraising for charities to help women who get pregnant carry to term with a support network.
    Many, many Christians are doing that.* They just don’t brag about it, or loudly insist that others do it. And the reason they aren’t loudly insisting that others do it is because they get little media exposure–so they encourage others, but quietly. What you’re saying sounds to me a little like “Because I don’t see it and haven’t actively looked for it, it doesn’t exist.” It may not be visible in the national media, but it’s definitely visible to people in individual cities and communities. I’ve criticized my private middle school before, but the principal adopted five special needs children (not all at once; it was two and then, several years later, another three). One of my friends had two younger siblings who started out as foster babies that needed a lot of medical care. As for birth control, nearly all the Christians in my social circle strongly encourage its use. Again, they don’t always do it publicly, but on getting married I definitely heard the pro-birth control message a lot.
    *By “that”, I mean I see a lot of Christians with adopted/foster kids; several promoting birth control; few promoting sex ed; and many, many serving families and parents through charity or welfare.

  • Brandi

    aunursa, I like how you mentioned that the right-wing isn’t like those violent evil leftists who are trying to turn the Giffords tragedy into political rhetoric
    No, some of them just turn it into fund-raising letters.

  • Launcifer

    Obama gets called Hitler right after getting called a Communist and just before he gets called the Antichrist. And this is all as part of the, “He’s going to take our guns while killing grandma!” bull. At least the Left managed to be consistent with their messaging and it was merely overblown hyperbole as opposed to being, you know, flat wrong and completely divorced from reality.

    To be fair, there’s a certain consistency to it. The people using such terminology consistently use it in such a manner that rather suggests they don’t actually know what those funky words actually mean. Then again, I am starting to seriously question whether certain words mean something completely different in America, or if the misuse is actually creating a different definition, almost by brute force. I can’t, for example, seriously imagine that anyone could know what the term “socialism” actually means and throw it at a Democrat without being disingenous, but maybe that’s just me being from the wrong side of the Puddle on this one.

  • ohiolibrarian

    @Lunch Meat: And they are being quiet about it because … they don’t get media coverage? Does that even make sense?

  • Xavier

    No, some of them just turn it into fund-raising letters.

    Seriously? This is just…I have no words.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    This disingenuous nonsense hardly even qualifies as political discourse at all. It’s more like some kind of performance art — the theater of dishonesty, the theater of lies.

    I would go further and describe it as an elaborate exercise in dog-whistling. While I agree with Fred that these are “dishonest people who enjoy the warm feelings of smug superiority,” I see this working on a group level as well as an on individual level. I’ve theorized that most of the “Obama is a Muslim” crowd doesn’t believe that literally. It may be not just a euphemism for his ethnicity, but also a coded acknowledgement of solidarity among the people who resent him. Similarly, for the religious-right groups that Fred named, “abortion” may function the same way, as a shorthand for the old patriarchal models for family and society.

  • Mary Kaye

    There *are* people who are anti-abortion and express it with actions I do not find wicked. My mother refused an abortion even though her life was clearly in danger–luckily her medical condition did not kill her, but it was a near thing. She also made it clear, when I thought I might be pregnant, that she would do anything within her power to make it possible for me to keep the baby.
    There are people who sacrifice their retirement to raise their grandchildren. There are people who adopt special-needs kids. There are people who run genuine pregnancy-counseling centers, who run food banks, who do social work with struggling parents.
    The problem with the violent extremists is not their view on unborn children, it’s their acceptance of violence. It’s more work to adopt a child than to gun down a doctor, but that’s the work that’s actually going to improve the world.
    I disagreed with my mother’s views, but I honored them. She did not commit or advocate violence. She firmly believed abortion was wrong and she lived that belief. Her existence does nothing to justify the violent, but neither should it be ignored or pretended away. There are moral people on both sides of this debate.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/osborneink1 OsborneInk

    All you need to know is that the right is fighting a “culture war.” The language has taken a militant turn over the last three decades: religious conservative activists have been talking like that since at least the ERA battle. But as the right has grown more desperate in the last decade, it has engaged in more and worse forms of rhetoric — eliminationism, imprecatory prayer, borderline hate speech. The last cycle has amped it all up to unprecedented new levels; Clinton dealt with Radio Rwanda, too, but Obama also has FOX and Glenn Beck.

  • Lunch Meat

    And they are being quiet about it because … they don’t get media coverage? Does that even make sense?
    I’m saying they are quiet because it’s difficult to be loud without media coverage. Many Christians are speaking out boldly, taking a nontraditional stance on a number of issues, and they get book deals or coverage here and there, but they don’t have the resources to have a mainstream media network like Fox cover their work and ideas.
    For instance, the book Blue Like Jazz* by Donald Miller presents nontraditional, nonconservative ideas about poverty and sexual ethics. It’s widely read among Christians, but also widely distrusted. It is being made into a movie, but it hit a lot of obstacles because no one wanted to produce it, because although it’s a Christian movie, it wouldn’t reach the same audience that most Christian movies reach out to.
    I think it’s hard for Christians who do Christian (Jesus-y) things to get media coverage because although the media tends to be conservative, 1) people doing good things isn’t that exciting and 2) the religious conservative right isn’t necessarily actually interested in promoting Jesus-y things.
    *which I highly, highly recommend to anyone who is in the least curious about Christianity, but feels alienated by traditional viewpoints or by the way Christianity is often presented.

  • Murgatroyd

    And most people I know believe in global warming, yet none have turned vegan, sold their car or live in a tent embassy outside their local coal-fired power plant.
    Some of that is laziness, some is cultural inertia, and some is the belief that individual actions are futile.

  • kaemmerite

    Brandi why did you have to show me that? I was having such a good day too.
    I wonder why when they try to show how the shooter was REALLY a super liberal and that the liberals are so violent and hate this country and they’re trying to save it because they love it so much, that isn’t using a tragedy for rhetoric. But when we say “You know, Sarah Palin who is a high profile figure shouldn’t be using a map with crosshairs” it’s suddenly “WHY WOULD YOU TURN THIS INTO A POLITICAL THING ALL YOU LEFTISTS ARE THE SAME.”
    Because as I said before. That’s totally not hypocritical. :l

  • eyelessgame

    A challenge I made to a conservative friend today.
    Someone shot a political opponent. That is what the second amendment is there for, right? Protect against tyranny. Tyranny is a political process – “the tree of liberty must be watered” and all that. We have guns so that if a citizen believes the government is acting in a tyrannical way, the citizen has a recourse. Well, this citizen believed the government was acting in a tyrannical way, and he availed himself of his Second Amendment right to oppose tyranny.
    Why aren’t you celebrating?
    Just because you disagree with someone is no reason to delegitimize their Bill Of Rights-protected expression of political discontent.
    If you believe that the Second Amendment is there to protect our freedoms, then if an individual believes an elected official is threatening his freedoms – and there’s no question this individual felt this way – then it is an exercise not only of his Second Amendment right but his duty as a citizen to shoot the offending official.
    If, that is, this is really what the Second Amendment is there for. That’s what the rhetoric of conservative politicians has been – that it is the exercise of the Second Amendment that prevents tyranny.
    So he exercised the Second Amendment, as is his Constitutional right.
    Why are you defensive? Why aren’t you celebrating?
    I mean, assuming the politicians aren’t lying when they say that’s what the Second Amendment is for.

  • Dick Laurent

    I’ve been thinking about it. I think there are everyday people on the right who sincerely believe that legal abortion is mass murder but know they’re powerless to stop it, so they don’t rise up in armed rebellion, just like many folks on the left are powerless to stop the US’s mass-murdering war machine, and so they don’t rise up. When you’re powerless, it feels really good to hear someone with power to say things you believe. Antistatist as I am, I admit that I enjoy Hugo Chavez’s tirades against the U.S. because he articulates some of my beliefs forcefully, without apology, and with some style.
    I think that amidst this pool of powerless people, there are some individuals who are more selfless than the rest of us—for reasons of insanity, idealism, stupidity or some mixture the three—and they take action even if it means risking their freedom or their lives. Some are stick to nonviolent civil disobedience, others prefer monkey-wrenching and others
    become terrorists, shoot industrialists or kill presidents,

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p013487299913970c Geds

    Really, Dick Laurent? You’re going with Alexander Berkman or Leon Czolgosz as an example of “selflessness” and political action?
    I’m not terribly well versed in Berkman and what he did or why he did it, but I know that Czolgosz killed William McKinley to make a statement about anarchy because someone else had killed King Umberto I of Italy in the name of anarchy. I can imagine no bigger waste of time or life than that. It’s not just because I see anarchy as a fundamentally stupid endeavor, either. If you’re going to pick someone who killed a head of state to make a point for the powerless, pick Gavrilo Princip, who shot Archduke Francis Ferdinand in the name of Bosnian independence.
    Sorry, you may well be an anarchist, but anarchy is far worse for a larger number of people than all but the most vile government. Trying to get rid of government just because, y’know, government is bad because, y’know, I say so is not something to be applauded. We may argue the merits and problems of various forms of governments. We may raise objections to specific policies in specific governments. But to say that the best form of government is no government at all is to call for a world where no one is free and no one has protection from anyone else. So I can not and will not praise someone who takes violent action in the name of such a world.

  • Spearmint

    I may not be reading this clearly, but it sounds like Murfyn, aunursa, Lunch Meat, and Spearmint believe that right-wing pundits *honestly believe* that the health care bill end-of-life counseling provision is a mandate for government bureaucrats to pull the plug on elderly citizens.
    I can’t speak for their others, but I certainly don’t believe that. Some of their fuckwitted followers probably honestly believe in death panels, because a whole bunch of their fuckwitted followers honestly believe that Obama is a) a Kenyan Muslim and/or b) the Antichrist. There is no view so dumb that someone doesn’t have it. But does Palin herself believe that? Almost certainly not.
    My only point was that genuine belief that your government is doing something wrong- and we’re talking serious, I-sweep-human-ashes-off-my-windowsills-every-morning levels of certainty and concern- is not sufficient to turn most people into Fanya Kaplan.
    f people genuinely believe abortions are evil enough to invoke the Holocaust, shouldn’t at least some people visibly be doing something other than using a highly-charged word like Holocaust?
    Well, they vote against their own economic interests every election. That’s more than Americans did about the actual Holocaust, qua Holocaust.*
    * We did fight WW II, but not with any particular ambitions of saving Jews (or any of the other targeted groups).


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