Friday, January 14, 2011

Turning a Tragedy into a Political Event

Almost as soon as the press reported that a member of the House of Representatives had been killed in Arizona, an unnamed high-level Democrat was quoted as saying it would be good for them if they could pin it on the right-wing. By the time the press clarified that Giffords had been shot but was not dead, the first of these attacks were out. Paul Krugman led the pack speculating that the attack was almost certainly political - self fulfilling prophecy since he turned an attack by an apolitical loner into a political event. He followed up on Monday writing about how the "Republican eliminationists" had created a hostile environment that led to the attack. (I'll come back to the word eliminationists later). Virtually all of the liberal columnists joined in calling for the Republicans in general and the Tea Party to tone down their rhetoric and singling out Sarah Palin's use of the phrase "Don't retreat, reload" and a map showing Democrats she was targeting for defeat.

All of this is very offensive. Nothing has emerged to link the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, with Palin. To the contrary, friends say that he did not pay attention to politics and had a grudge against her going back to 2007. Palin has not used language any more inflamatory than any other politician. Even President Obama has made statements about "if they to the fight we bring a gun" and "punishing your enemies". At the same time, no one prominent has outright urged the assassination of a politician since Craig Kilbourne superimposed the words "Snipers wanted" over a picture of President George W. Bush.

So we have the liberals telling the conservatives to clean up their act while ignoring their own excesses. (That word eliminationist is interesting in this context but more on that later.) The left used a tragedy to re-enforce a message that they have been peddling for two years, that the right is violent and needs to be feared. Michelle Malkin documents how often baseless accusations of right-wing violence have been made over the last two years.

On Wednesday Sarah Palin finally pushed back against the accusations. This became its own political mini-event. She called the accusations a blood libel. She probably picked up the term from a column that Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, wrote for the Wall Street Journal. No one cared when Reynolds used it but soon after Palin used it, some Jews complained that the word exclusively refers to medieval anti-Semitic propaganda (The belief was that the only way to enter heaven is through the blood of Christ. Since Jews cannot take communion, they substituted the bodies of Christians, killing Christian children and grinding them into matzo bread.) If you look up "blood libel" in Wikipedia, the entry deals exclusively with slanders against Jews. If you check the history of the entry you will find that a section was added on modern use of the term for other subjects than Jews. This was quickly deleted giving the impression that Palin was the first to use it this way and made a horrible blunder. If you search around you find that people including Jews have been using the term for other subjects at least since 2007.

Here is a good time to discuss Krugman's use of Eliminationist in context. The term was created around 1997 in reference to Hitler and the Holocaust. Linking this term with the Republicans is Krugman's subtle way of calling them fascists. No one has called him on that.

The original tragedy was used to discredit the right in general and Sarah Palin in specific. Palin's push-back was used to try to discredit her further. That set the stage for the, hopefully, final act - the memorial service.

Usually a memorial service is a dignified affair. Not this one. It turned into the opening act of Obama's 2012 reelection campaign. 30,000 students attended. They cheered the President. They booed the (Republican) governor. 10,000 of them got free T-shirts.

During his speech, Obama announced that Giffords opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting when he visited her, thus making the memorial all about him instead of the dead. (Actually she opened her eye during a visit by three congressmen just before Obama's visit. He only learned about it from her husband but his speech gives the impression that he had witnessed this personally).

The reviews of Obama's speech made it clear that the pundits took it as a campaign speech.

Other silliness has been added to the tragedy. Lawmakers often want to be seen doing something, no matter how useless. Suggestions include outlawing high-capacity magazines (A friend who has used one says that they make reloading much slower and harder. Loughner was stopped while changing clips. The Fort Hood shooter used ten-round clips and fired more shots.), making it illegal to carry a gun within 1,000 feet of a politician (how many suicidal killers are expected to follow this law?) and making it illegal to place a target on a map relating to a politician.

By treating a tragedy as an opportunity, the left has made ant sort of cooperation that much harder.

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