Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sarah Palin and the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords

There has been an inevitable backlash against the blame being directed towards Sarah Palin and her ilk over the Giffords shooting. The blogger Cranmer, usually a reasoned and thoughtful writer, has produced one of his worst ever efforts on the subject. So let's be clear - blaming Sarah Palin directly for a murder committed by a clearly deranged assassin, in a country where fruitcakes with guns are hardly an unknown quantity, is clearly ridiculous. What is not ridiculous, what is in fact essential comment, is the association one can make between Palin's notoriously hard-ass rhetoric and campaigning - which includes putting cross-hairs over the target seats of her political enemies (including Giffords) and using gun-toting language to urge opposition - and the impact that has on society as a whole and perhaps some unbalanced individuals in particular.

The Republican right simply cannot get away with absolving themselves from blame on this front. They use, and associate with those who use, such incendiary rhetoric that they have managed to poison the political atmosphere in the US to a considerable degree. The tragic John Rolls, the judge who fell as a result of yesterday's shooting, is a good example of this. When he allowed a civil rights suit pursued by immigrants he was subjected to horrendous abuse from the right and their fellow travellers on the talk radio shows, including explicit calls for his death. A writer on the liberal leaning Daily Kos blog has a point when he observes -

Those whose violent, eliminationist rhetoric has polluted the air waves and other media for the past couple of decades, ramping itself up a little more each year, especially with the arrival of an African American in the White House, are, of course, denying that the shootings of a Congresswoman, a judge, a child and bystanders on a street corner in Arizona have anything to do with their savage words. No surprise. One thing they're good at is refusing to accept any responsibility for the consequences of this murderous talk, whether it's Timothy McVeigh blowing up a federal building or Scott Roeder assassinating a doctor.

Sheriff Dupnik's comments (see here and post below) are amongst the crispest and most sensible. The person to blame for the shooting is the unbalanced young man now in custody. But the atmosphere that may have contributed to it is the responsibility of many, and when you're a leading figure like Sarah Palin, who glories in polarising debate and using absurdly over-the-top language against her opponents, you cannot escape responsibility. It is telling that she took down her 'cross-hairs graphic' soon after the shooting was known - if it was such an innocent thing, why take it down? And a final irony, in the fact that the poisonous atmosphere created by Mrs. Palin is the result of an Arizona senator's choice to put this little known and undistinguished governor of just two years' standing on a national presidential ticket. John McCain never served his country so badly as with that one ill considered decision.

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