The discussion of the Tucson shooting has turned into a debate between the left and the right over whose political rhetoric is more harmful. As my latest column for The Week points out, there are important lessons for both sides in this discussion.
“Promote violence? Us? What about you?”
The political conversation since the Tucson massacre has been dominated by a ferocious attack and counter-attack, as right and left deploy competing narratives of victimhood. Sarah Palin’s gun-sights map is matched by the Democratic Senatorial Committee’s 2004 bullseye map. Did a Tea Partier step on a protester’s head at a Rand Paul rally? What about the Tea Partier who was allegedly knocked over by union guys at a town hall in St. Louis?
You may find this competition for supreme victimhood annoying and ultimately useless. Yet there are some vital truths embedded in the conversation.
Truth 1: It’s important to be clear about what the problem is. The problem is not military metaphors. It’s not Glenn Beck joking about poisoning Nancy Pelosi’s wine or Paul Krugman hanging Joe Lieberman in effigy at a party.
The problem, rather, is the construction of paranoid narratives that might justify violence to a violent-minded person. When scruffy protesters drew swastikas on photographs of President George W. Bush, that was obnoxious. It was not likely to incite anyone. But when eminent persons argued on the public airwaves that the United States had been lied into a frustrating war in Iraq by a cabal of Jewish conspirators? That’s a very different matter.
Likewise, it’s grossly ill mannered for a member of the House to shout “You lie!” at a president during a State of the Union address. Yet the republic staggered on somehow regardless. What does do damage to the fabric of democracy is the charge made by prominent conservative broadcasters that the president is deliberately wrecking the U.S. economy to advance his scheme to overthrow the constitution and transform the nation into a Marxist or Leninist or even Maoist tyranny. …