U.S. political rhetoric has often pushed bad taste, not insurrection

Unhappily displaying an inclination to not let any tragedy pass without attaching a political agenda, some people on the left have lunged at the Tucson shooting at startling speed, with little information and less concern for the facts.

Even before the identity of the maniac involved was determined, the number of the wounded or the identity of those tragically killed was known, left-wing operatives sprang toward their cameras and keyboards. Their efforts proved to be too political, too soon and wrong.

Passionate in their zeal, many in the media and their followers breathlessly reported that this was probably the act of a member of the loosely configured tea party organization. When that assertion was almost immediately dispelled, others fantastically claimed this probably was motivated by attempts to repeal the president’s health care debacle.

Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey even called the Imus radio show to venture the opinion that, “Tomorrow they were going to vote to repeal this health care bill — and it’s not going to go anywhere in the Senate — it’s one of the reasons that this guy was angry.” Actual information to support this assertion by the senator? None.

As the man responsible was rapidly revealed to be more unhinged by the hour, the left’s fast-break of political disinformation was stymied and, like a struggling forward on the basketball court, they pivoted to an even more unsound position — that passionate oratory from the right was responsible for whipping the maniac into a frenzy, all with absolutely no information that this perpetrator had ever seen, heard or been influenced by any conservative. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews entertained his audience by interviewing multiple pious, left-wing operatives and officials on the dangers of airing conservative viewpoints.

This point is both factually and historically incorrect. Politics in the United States has always been a bare-knuckle affair, with even President John Adams’ supporters toasting the proposition that Adams should smite his enemies with the “Jawbone of a Jefferson.” For those not familiar with Bible stories, it is a reference to Samson defeating his enemies with the jawbone of an ass.

President Andrew Jackson, he of the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners, famously remarked that his regrets included the fact “that I did not shoot John C. Calhoun and hang Henry Clay.” Clay was a senator and former secretary of state, while Calhoun had the misfortune to be Jackson’s vice president. Both opposed many of Jackson’s policies.

Jumping ahead a bit to June 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama commented on opponents that, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we’ll bring a gun.” Surprisingly, those comments were rarely mentioned during the discussion on hyperbolic rhetoric.

Proposals by Democrats to limit symbolic speech have also been suggested, with the word “target” becoming the left’s new version of an obscenity, which may come as surprise to a certain department store.

Curiously, none of this sort of rhetoric seemed very important when directed at President George W. Bush. With a quick search, I discovered numerous photographs of signs suggesting mayhem toward the president. One particularly ornate guillotine, labeled as a “Bush Whacker,” was on display at what the caption for the photograph identifies as an October 2008 Obama campaign rally in Denver. The display also shows the president’s head in a basket.

Americans, however, know the difference between political rhetoric and inciting a riot, and they know the vast majority of questionable political speech and symbolism is a matter of bad taste, not insurrection.

The root of this grandstanding seems unhappily clear. The left, having been in control of the government for the last two years, is rapidly losing the political argument and has seemingly seized on this dreadful event as an opportunity to distract and silence public repudiation of its policies.

Conservatives are then left with little recourse but to respond, further and reluctantly injecting politics into a non-political incident.

To be fair, conscientious liberals have resisted this effort and we should commend them for their insight in recognizing that conservatives and liberals are competitors, not enemies, and must share a common humanity.

I regret I am compelled to discuss issues such as these at such a painful time. Our attention should be on the victims and their families, to aid them and not ourselves.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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