Sunday, January 9, 2011

Violent Language in Politics

I am increasingly of the mind that the most serious problem we face in America right now is in the vitriolic rhetoric of politics.  I feel compelled to write on this subject by the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona.  At the time of this writing she is in stable condition, but sadly several others were shot alongside her and some of them have died. 

Before continuing I want to state something very clearly.  I do not think that any politician is directly responsible for those terrible events today.  The young man who fired those shots was apparently emotionally unstable and may have suffered from severe mental illness.  Unless it can be shown that someone deliberately encouraged Jared Lee Loughner to commit murder, he acted alone out of the twisted motivations of his unhealthy mind.

That said, the way in which the political Right has used incendiary language and threatening imagery has shifted the nature of acceptable political norms in America towards violence.  They do not do this in order to incite violence.  I understand that and am not accusing them of that.  They are speaking to their base of political supporters in ways intended to evoke passions and enthusiasm.  But the language they use is redefining what constitutes their core supporters and is pandering to unreasonable political extremists.

It is not a wise approach in beneficial political discourse to carelessly use incendiary language or the imagery of violence in the ways that leaders on the far Right have been indulging in.  Sarah Palin's reloading language, her target crosshairs, etc.  Sharron Angle's Second Amendment remedies.  Michelle Bachmann's breaking the arms of Blue Dog Democrats.  Beck, Limbaugh, Representative Steve King of Iowa -- they all use vitriolic language, painting those who disagree with them as being unAmerican subhumans. 

This must end.  Conservative, Libertarian, Liberal -- our elected officials ought to be people who talk to one another, who hammer out compromises built upon the best ideas from many points of view.  They shouldn't be using the language of exclusion and hatred against one another to score points with their base.  Instead they ought to be moderating influences on their parties.  They should recognize that the other political factions have value by serving to represent their fellow citizens of this large, diverse country.  Demonizing one another is counter productive to good governance and incites the extremists.  I would expect our political leaders to possess the maturity to know that.

Our political system is far from perfect but among its faults I would not list a dearth of violent rhetoric

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