12 January 2011

The virtual martyrs of Tucson: More Republican self-pity

Today will be a day of high-profile mourning in Tucson as the President arrives to make a speech, no doubt with thoughts of Bill Clinton in Oklahoma City on his mind. I'd be surprised if he doesn't "politicize" the crimes of last Saturday, even if only to the minimal extent of making himself look more "presidential" by playing the national mourner. Congress wants attention, too; I've been told as I came into the office this morning that the lower house will "debate" a resolution condemning the amoklauf. Despite it all, remembrances of the victims and the actual crime are increasingly drowned out by the howls of Republicans who seem to consider themselves the true victims of a conspiracy between the accused shooter and the "liberal" media. Sarah Palin has unburdened herself of (for her) a long-form video denouncing a "blood libel" perpetrated against Republicans and Tea Partiers by Democrats and their media auxiliaries. Meanwhile, George Will's latest column is rolling off presses across the country. Like Palin, he deplores a general failure to focus on the assassin's personal and exclusive responsibility for his action. Will attributes this failure to an intellectual failure of the "progressive" mindset that amounts to a character flaw.

A characteristic of many contemporary minds is susceptibility to the superstition that all behavior can be traced to some diagnosable frame of mind that is a product of promptings from the social environment. From which flows a political doctrine: Given clever social engineering, society and people can be perfected. This supposedly is the path to progress. It actually is the crux of progressivism. And it is why there is a reflex to blame conservatives first.

Will finds it ironic that past assassins with more explicitly or comprehensibly political motivations that the Tucson suspect were dispatched summarily without efforts to find others guilty by association with them. His irony is somewhat misplaced. It is true, to my knowledge, that no one attempted a purge of the "Stalwart" faction of the Republican party after Charles Guiteau, upon assassinating President Garfield, declared himself a Stalwart. But Will's claim that Leon Czolgosz, the professed anarchist who killed President McKinley, was "executed, not explained," falls short of accuracy. In fact, Czolgosz's identification of himself as an anarchist specifically influenced by the writings of Emma Goldman led to government persecution of Goldman and a kind of "red scare" during which the nation contemplated banning anarchist writings, deporting known anarchists and forbidding immigrants dumb enough to declare "anti-government" sentiments from entering the country. Since this happened under Theodore Roosevelt's watch, and with some support from him, Will might want to blame it on the "progressive" impulse, but his is a broader narrative of the left's persecution of the right, so this particular chapter probably makes a poor fit with his mythos.

A growing irritation with Republican whining shouldn't blind us to the fact that there certainly is an impulse among many self-described liberals and progressives to "blame conservatives first" when something like the Tucson amoklauf takes place. Just as some Republicans defensively assume that the shooter must be some sort of leftist once they're convinced that he isn't a rightist, Democrats and their allies assume that someone who shoots a Democrat must be a rightist and to some degree sympathetic with the Republican agenda. Both sides are guilty of Bipolar thinking, and both sides recognize an equation of conservatism with "hate," the Republicans regarding it as a deliberate libel and the Democrats as a fact. Unfortunately, Republicans are too contemptuous toward their opponents (that contempt is something different from the "hate" Democrats perceive) to make any real effort to refute the libel, while a moralistic streak among liberals and progressives makes the association seem irrefutable. With each side typically content to preach to its own choir, Republicans and Democrats never really seem to try to change each other's minds. Instead, the fact that the old charge has come up again only reinforces Republican assumptions of Democratic wickedness. The voicing of that assumption only reconfirms Democrats' impression that Republicans hate them and may even wish them dead. The Tucson assassin's intervention hasn't really disrupted the vicious loop through which Democratic hysteria hardens Republicans' hearts and vice versa. If so, all of today's pious platitudes and pleas for peace are in vain.

Update: Poor Palin can't seem to catch a break. As I was tempted to predict earlier, her use of the phrase "blood libel" has gotten her in trouble with some Jewish commentators who feel that the term should be used exclusively to refer to the anti-semitic myth about the use of gentile blood in the making of matzoh. They should ease off. Today's climate seems increasingly intolerant of metaphor and allusion the more people assume that some exterior media stimulus must have immediately provoked the Tucson amoklauf. At the same time, I'm intrigued by the frequency with which Republicans have used the controversial term this week. Does it tell us something about their self-image? Do they see themselves as a persecuted minority targeted for extermination by unreasoning haters? Don't many progressives see themselves the same way? Aren't they the ones who see their enemies as "Nazis?" If neither side can see its opponent as anything less than a Nazi, the two parties may be even less capable of compromise than we thought.


Anonymous said...

Well, from a certain perspective, a person might full well blame the right - - - it is their obsession with guns and gun culture that make it so easy for potential amoklaufers to (if I may coin a term) go amoklaufing.

It is a shame that innocents end up dead because of it. For myself - I will shed no tears for those who support gun rights and get shot down.

Anonymous said...

If they are, in fact, being targeted by "haters", they have only themselves to blame for being hated. They brought it on themselves by being so intolerant of those different from themselves. But they have no real cause to complain. At least no one has shot any of them in the face...yet.

Samuel Wilson said...

re: your second comment -- But that's the very point that they dispute. Will's column accused Howard Dean of "McCarthyism" for supposedly insinuating that Tea Parties were racists. Republicans vehemently deny that they are intolerant, and accuse their antagonists of equating all criticism with hate while basically doing the same thing when the left criticizes them. An inability to distinguish even harsh criticism from hatred exists across the board in this country. That may be why we all seem to hate each other.

Anonymous said...

Well, there is what they preach and there is what they practice. When you see a number of pictures of tea bagger conventions or demonstrations where a number of the signs blatanty have the word "nigger" in them, and/or refer in a disparaging way towards those living in poverty and only surviving on government subsidies, you really have to question what they preach.

The fact (to my knowledge) is that no tea party group as of yet as openly denounced racists in their midsts or ostracized them from their group. Neither has the republican party.

What they do attempt - time and time again - is to end government subsidies to the poor, break the power of unions (thereby further weakening the working class) and support wholesale destruction and pollution of the planet and exploitation of whatever resources they can buy, beg, borrow or steal.

Anonymous said...

Once you get to the rabble-level that makes up their majority, and start reading their blogs, their comments on other blogs or news sites, you get a whole different picture - a more accurate picture - of what the tea baggers really stand for.

They are cast from the exact mold of Germans who flocked to join the "brown shirts" and were made proud when little jr. made the Hitler Youth League. They believe and inist that they, and only they, represent the "true American".