I should have written a post about this earlier because I really don’t like the meme “politicizing a tragedy” and you won’t hear me using it. The reason you won’t hear me using it is because words like “politicizing” are cooked up by operatives at the speed of light and are used to short circuit the thought process. They provide a sort of cheap grace as a substitute for thinking the problem out. Same for words like corporatist and triangulate. But that subject deserves it’s own post and is not the subject of this one
I’m going to try to summarize some of the thoughts I had in myiq’s thread from yesterday. My wifi connection in this hotel isn’t the best, I’m typing on an ipad in a WordPress app and I’ve already lost one post on the subject.
There seem to be tow major camps regarding this tragedy: Sarah Palin is a monster and the Tea Partiers must be blamed. Or, Sarah Palin is the scapegoat and her picture had nothing to do with this tragic incident.
I prefer the third way. In this respect, I must dissent from myiq. On this site, we allow dissent and that is significant because dissent is something that neither party holds as a cherished right.
In the past 18 years, starting with the advent of Rush Limbaugh, we saw a ratcheting up of right wing extremism. Notably in Rush’s case, he started to push the envelope as to what was considered socially acceptable norms of behavior. By this, I don’t mean to say that he shouldn’t have the right to believe what he believes or proclaim any dumb ass right wing policy he wants. That’s his choice. And if he wants to throw in a few expletive deleteds for emphasis, go for it. I do the same all the time. No, what I’m referring to is the subtle and not so subtle breakdown of the barriers we out up between our darkest inner thoughts and our tongues. Take for instance the word “feminazi” for example. There are other examples, some of which are documented in Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot written by none other than my personal favorite, Al Franken.
We put up barriers to these inner thoughts in the 60s and 70s because society thought it was wrong to treat African Americans unfairly and it was wrong to treat women like second class citizens and it was wrong to deprive hippies of the right to grow up to be liberals if that’s what they wanted. The right called it political correctness and while it’s true that some people take the concept too far, it is NOT true that these new societal norms were unnecessary. Seriously, does anyone want to go back to the days of segregation or sexual harassment or, more relevantly now, the days of laissez faire capitalism where the average American was vulnerable to the dips and swings of the market without any stability or insurance against risk? No. Most people don’t.
But there are some segments of society that do want to go back or don’t see what the big deal is if they step on some heads to get to the top. The right wing tapped into that sentiment. They did it by breaking down the barriers and by making it acceptable to unleash that hatred of groups we had decided to protect and assist so they could fully participate in the American dream. They did it by making Rush popular, by buying up radio stations and by giving him a pass when he said indiscreet, intemperate and socially unacceptable things. It became ok to hate these groups again.
I wouldn’t say that violates any constitutional amendments. It just violates our sense of who we are as a nation and it undermines the cohesiveness that so many civil rights activists and union workers fought for over many decades. What distresses me most is that so many people, including some people in my own family, bought into it. It distresses me because we weren’t raised that way.
So, Rush may not have been the first but he was certainly the most effective at spreading the right wing vitriol. By the way, vitriol is an anachronistic word for a certain form of sulfuric acid that is particularly corrosive and dangerous. So, yeah, vitriol is an appropriate word. Vitriol corrodes. It’s not the same thing as violating civility, although it is connected. Incivility is necessary at times to express dissent. Vitriol corrodes the barriers we set up between expressing our darkest thoughts and acting on those thoughts. For example, if you were brought up to hate homosexuals, well, I feel sorry for you but I’m not going to tell you to stop believing it. What I will tell you to do is behave in a manner of good citizenship and do no violate the mental or physical integrity of a gay person and to respect the laws we set up that guarantee everyone’s civil rights. Keep your hatred to yourself.
Rush did away with all that. Now, suddenly, those throwbacks to a different era had a group to belong to. Those angry white men who failed to evolve were able to form a cohesive unit to turn back all the wrongs they think were done to them when they were forced to share the pie that they once had all to themselves. You can almost hear the far right wing Republicans cackling with joy, “Exxxxcellent!”
And so it went. The 90s were a nightmare as the right wingers continued to solidify their hold on the media, permeating virtually every media outlet and the virtual world itself. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that we saw the liberals, late to the party, take to the internet and try to push back. Some of them, particularly in 2008, attempted to use Limbaugh-esque tactics to suppress their own base. That’s because they discovered that ditching your principles to energize your base works and drives up ad revenue. It also leads to electing the least prepared and least liberal president the country has ever known during a period of time when preparation and liberal economic policies were desperately needed. But I digress.
So, the right wing has been perfecting their method for nearly two decades. What used to be outrageous and offensive, is now merely background noise. Women are uppity, they don’t spend enough time with their kids, they want abortions so they can go to the prom. Gays are recruiting young boys and they threaten the institution of marriage and if they allow gay marriage, married men will abandon their wives to dress in drag and march with their boyfriend(s) in gay pride parades. Muslims are evil. Christians, but only fundamentalist Christians, are good. Liberals want to steal your money. They will make out country vulnerable to attack. Health care reform is socialized medicine.
Finally, we have come to this point in time where if you are a liberal, you’re barely fit to live. You’re not really human. You’re no better than a parasite, a cockroach, a backstabber. Most liberals can’t even refer to themselves as liberals.
And it is into this environment that Sarah Palin steps as the champion of a new set of people. A group that even the right wing Republicans are afraid of. They resemble the John Burch Society and the old style, inside the beltway, refined Republicans don’t really approve. Funny, when Palin ran for VP in 2008, she gave little indication that she would take so well to the Glenn Beck style right wingery. I was surprised and dismayed, but the money must be good and why shouldn’t a conservative feminist cash in as well as the boys?
She got a little enthusiastic. She joined in with gusto. She turned her love of firearms and hunting into an asset. She put up a very thoughtless picture that, IMHO, demonstrated a cavalier and careless disregard for the personal safety of those people who she happened to disagree with politically and some of those people had liberal tendencies. Her audience doesn’t think it’s such a big deal. Heck, they HATE liberals with a white hot passion.
But what has happened to Gabrielle Giffords, while probably having nothing to do with Palin’s picture and more likely caused by the actions of a psychotic individual, was preceeded by death threats, vandalism and on more than one occasion people showing up to her rallies with guns and shouting in red faced fury into her face.
Did Sarah cause all the vitriol? No, she is just the last in a long line of opportunists. She shouldn’t bear the whole blame for what has happened in our country where it has become dangerous to openly confess to being a liberal.
But if she ever wants my respect, she will express genuine humility and contrition for helping to spread the vitriol. And that goes for Beck and Rush and Fox and all of their retainers. If Palin aspires to public office, where she represents and vows to protect and serve all Americans, she must set a higher standard for herself. She must adopt a set of principles of A good public servant, one who never elevates one set of citizens above others. She must continually strive to accentuate the positive and never stoop to cheap opportunism and easy politics of our baser instincts. She must become more like Hillary Clinton.
So, when it comes to Sarah and Beck and in the future Pawlenty or Mitt or Huckabee, or even Obama and his golden horde of asshole bloggers, we have to guard ourselves from being swayed by the crowd and ask, what would Hillary do?