Wednesday, January 12, 2011

OK... one more

The other day a friend of mine posted a quote from Penn Jillette on his Facebook wall - "F%*K Civility. The marketplace of ideas cannot be toned down for the insane."

I think it is an important statement and bears some scrutiny. First off, I don't think the discussions around recent political rhetoric are really about civility. Any single statement or image might be innocuous enough and reasonably interpreted as a metaphor... Palin's crosshairs may not be very different than the Democratic map with targets on it. Martial language is often used in political battles. You might even pass on "Don't retreat, reload" and argue that it is clearly metaphoric. Other statements are less easy to dismiss. Angle's "2nd amendment solutions" seems a pretty unambiguous statement that the use of guns at times of political disagreement is not only allowed but even encouraged. Joyce Kaufman's "if ballots don't work, bullets will" is even less ambiguous. Add those who continue to call the Obama administration illegitimate... When you place all of these kinds of statements together, it is very difficult to understand them as anything other than incitement to violence. If the Obama administration is illegitimate, then the ballots did not work so it is time for bullets. We have seen FBI and Secret Service reports that since the '08 election death threats against politicians, especially the president, have sky-rocketed. I do not believe this is a coincidence. So, I don't think it is about civility at all... let the pols and the talk show folk call somebody an idiot, make fun of them, disagree vehemently, whatever... they don't need to be civil, but calling for violence is something else altogether.

Now back to Jillette's comment because I think it is an important one for a variety of reasons. First off, it seems to acknowledge that the language did, does, or at least can incite people, albeit crazy ones, to violence. And then it argues that regardless of that, we must not allow political discourse to be defined by the crazies. I think he is correct on both counts. Here's the problem. We have people engaged in the discussion who are clueless. Many on the right just don't seem to get it. I have seen multiple arguments that calling for 2nd amendment solutions or proposing that bullets are the proper solution when the ballot box doesn't go your way are in any way related to violence. Having important discussions implies responsibility. Those who engage in public discourse have to weigh their words and understand what the possible results might be.

Again, the teaching from my CPE days is important... Chaplain Cholke never said "don't preach," he said, "be careful what you preach because someone may believe you." Those words ring true for political leaders as well... be careful what you say, someone will believe you and possibly will act upon those words.


Michael Mahoney said...

If anyone thinks Sharron Angle was seriously talking about marching up Capitol Hill with guns to shoot Congress, then the left really doesn't get it.

The spirit of the second amendment (and Jefferson's remark) is that Americans, as individuals, have a right and an obligation to stand up to tyranny. And there is not really a better word for a government that so clearly goes against the will of the governed as the last Congress did.

Jefferson also said " But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.. He said that in a little document called the Declaration of Independence.

I for one, am glad that America took what steps it could to "throw off" the old government in the last election. I can only hope the President has learned something from it.

roy said...


do I think Angle was seriously advocating walking up Capital Hill and shooting members of congress? No... but that is precisely what she said and it would not be unreasonable to expect that somebody took it literally, especially when mixed in with the constellation of comments made by Bachman, Palin, Kaufman, plus the radio talk show folk. Seriously, what else is a 2nd amendment solution except armed revolt? Add in Kaufman's bullets quote and Bachman's armed and dangerous and to expect that nobody takes it seriously is just plain stupid.

I'm not displeased that the last government was "thrown off" either and I don't disagree that they seriously went against the will of the governed... but I think we would interpret the meaning of what happened and what exactly was the will of the governed very differently. And to call any US government "tyranny" or "despotism" strikes me as hyperbole at the least. Think about what true tyranny looks like.

I heard a retired Republican lawmaker comment that the right wing thinks 2008 was an aberration and the left thinks 2010 was an aberration... it remains to be seen who is correct, if either.

Michael Mahoney said...

I mean tyranny in the most basic meaning: an unrestrained or arbitrary exercise of power. By definition, anyone who rules in such a government is a despot, and exactly who Jefferson was talking about. A government need not be abusive to be tyrannical.

What Angle (and some of the others mentioned) said was plain stupid. But, as you pointed out, martial rhetoric is part of the political landscape, and has been since the beginning. America was a nation founded in blood - the blood of patriots and tyrants, as the saying goes. Perhaps it's not ideal, but I can't think of anywhere I'd rather call home.

roy said...

Michael, I can't think of anyplace else I'd rather call home either... but that does not mean that improvements are warranted and that part of my call is to work bring them about.

As to the blood part, one of the reasons that I am glad to be here is precisely because we can disagree and transfer power without violence - a rare thing in the world. It seems to me that the recent rhetoric from the right wing, more and more stands against that tradition. That frightens me.

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