Libertarian Crybabies and Other Social Pathologies

Among the dumber reactions to the Saturday massacre in Tuscon is the outrage that anyone dare suggest that people tone down their rhetoric!. For example, see libertarian Jack Shafer’s childish temper tantrum at Slate.

Some background — you might have heard that Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik spoke out against inflammatory political rhetoric after the shooting —

“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government,” said Dupnik at a press conference Saturday. “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

A little more background: Sheriff Dupnik is a 50-year veteran of law enforcement. After Arizona passed laws giving police broad powers to detain anyone who looks Latino suspected of being an illegal immigrant, Sheriff Dupnik actually spoke out and called the law a “national embarassment.” Sheriff Dupnik also wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the law is “unnecessary … a travesty, and most significantly … unconstitutional.”

Of course, we have now entered into the age of Tea Party Originalism, in which the Constitution means whatever some right-wing crackpot says it means. And those liberty-loving teabaggers prefer tough guys like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who uses the Bill of Rights as toilet paper. Because, you know, that’s what the Founders intended.

So libertarian Shafer says,

Embedded in Sheriff Dupnik’s ad hoc wisdom were several assumptions. First, that strident, anti-government political views can be easily categorized as vitriolic, bigoted, and prejudicial. Second, that those voicing strident political views are guilty of issuing Manchurian Candidate-style instructions to commit murder and mayhem to the “unbalanced.” Third, that the Tucson shooter was inspired to kill by political debate or by Sarah Palin’s “target” map or other inflammatory outbursts. Fourth, that we should calibrate our political speech in such a manner that we do not awaken the Manchurian candidates among us.

And, fifth, that it’s a cop’s role to set the proper dimensions of our political debate. Hey, Dupnik, if you’ve got spare time on your hands, go write somebody a ticket.

Sheriff Dupnik’s political sermon came before any conclusive or even circumstantial proof had been offered that the shooter had been incited by anything except the gas music from Jupiter playing inside his head.

One suspects that Sheriff Dupnik has seen overheated rhetoric turn into violence way too many times in his 50-year career in law enforcement. Whether Shafer has ever seen anything other than the inside of his own ass is a point to be debated.

See, Jack, there are ways to insult people without threatening to kill them.

Meanwhile, one of our other perpetual pubescents, Michelle Malkin, is screaming that “Tucson massacre ghouls” are trying to “criminalize conservatism.” Her hand has been forced, she says, to crank out every example she could find of threatening and violent speech coming from progressives against conservatives, but her examples are (a) lame and (b) mostly are coming from unidentifiable people in crowds or entertainment celebrities, not the top leaders of a national political party.

See, Michelle, if some immature, unknown college student holds up a crude drawing of George Bush’s decapitated head at a protest, that is using very bad judgment, yes. If I had been the boy’s mother, I would have taken his sign away and grounded him. But it is not equivalent to nationally known political figures like US Rep. Michele Bachmann telling her constituents “”I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax, because we need to fight back.”

And Madonna’s threat to kick Sarah Palin’s ass is not equivalent to, say, Erick Erickson’s rant on CNN

At what point do the people tell the politicians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot?

Erickson had become unhinged over some new state environmental regulations on dishwashing detergent. Of course, I admit that Erickson is no more a serious political analyst than is Madonna, or Jack Shafer’s ass, for that matter.

Reasonable people, of course, do not listen to Erickson and decide to go beat their state legislator to a bloody pulp. Unfortunately, the world is full of unreasonable people with bad impulse control.

Alex Pareene nails it when he writes,

It’s not strictly that language tinged with violent imagery is dangerous, or that heated denunciations of the motivations of your political opponents are out of line, or even that America’s pervasive gun fetishization is to blame (though our gun culture is insane and bizarre to every single other developed nation in the world) for violent crimes. But when elites don’t just condone but participate in the combination of that violent imagery with the idea that the government represents an existential threat — that representatives of the government are domestic enemies, that your liberty and even your physical safety are in danger — the idea of political violence is normalized. Terrorizing Congress members at town halls and “we surround you” and head-stomping and death threats and all the other bad craziness just becomes “the way we do politics in America.”

The implicit message of much of the rhetoric of the Right is that eliminating the opposition by any means necessary is the morally right thing to do, because those people are a real threat to you and America. Now, one can find some pretty hateful speech coming from the left, too, but you have to go back to the Vietnam era to find any lefties making a moral argument for violence. And even then, the ones making these arguments were not members of Congress, running for national office, or pretending to be political analysts on CNN. They were fringe outsiders.

Today’, you’ve got a huge subculture of mostly white, mostly middle-aged, and mostly reasonably affluent people who are channeling their frustrations into a mass fantasy of being daring, noble revolutionaries. It may be that most teabaggers are about as dangerous as drier lint. But in any large group of people there will be a few who are unhinged enough to take the fantasy into real-world action.

Because the world is full of people who are barely hanging on to reality with their fingernails, and who also own guns, it is irresponsible for people in media or in politics to even suggest that violence against the opposition or government in general is somehow permissible, even noble. As long as there are elections, it is not.

However, the Republican party is largely infested by radicals who do not respect the outcome of elections that go against them. Their position since Bill Clinton was elected in 1993, in fact, is that “liberal” participation in government is itself illegitimate, and if Democrats get elected it’s only because of voter fraud.

And, as Alex Pareene writes,

As the Republican Party has become more homogeneous, more regional, and more reactionary, they have tended to make up for their growing demographic shortcomings by making sure their supporters are more motivated and energized — and the most effective way to energize them has been to make sure they’re constantly enraged.

Some can argue that the Tuscon shootings were not caused by our political climate, since the accused shooter obviously is psychologically disturbed. But I agree with Michael Tomasky

Of course he’s a nut. By definition, anyone who shoots innocent people like that has a screw loose. But nuts come in many varieties. There are some who think Dick Cheney planned 9/11, others who believe the CIA has installed eavesdropping devices in their fillings, and still others who insist they’re the reincarnation of Mary Queen of Scots. So what particular type of nut is Loughner? We don’t have a full picture yet. But we have enough of one. His coherent ravings included the conviction that the constitution assured him that “you don’t have to accept the federalist laws”. He called a female classmate who had an abortion a “terrorist”.

In sum, he had political ideas, which not everyone does. Many of them (not all, but most) were right wing. He went to considerable expense and trouble to shoot a high-profile Democrat, at point-blank range right through the brain. What else does one need to know? For anyone to attempt to insist that the violent rhetoric so regularly heard in this country had no likely effect on this young man is to enshroud oneself in dishonesty and denial.

However, I doubt very much that the shootings will change anything. Those most at fault deny their responsibility. When it’s suggested that some people ought to use better judgment in their speech, perhaps do some self-editing, they react (like Malkin and Shafer) like spoiled children told to stop torturing the puppy and go to bed. (Waaaaaaaa!)

More Stuff to Read:

Paul Krugman, “Climate of Hate”

Laura Miller, “The real message of Loughner’s book list”

Noam Schreiber, “How the Giffords Tragedy Made Me Anti-Anti-Anti Political Hate Speech”