Giffords Shooting

One reason I haven’t written much of anything is that everything I read right now pretty much puts me into a funk; the quality of rhetoric I’m seeing from both sides doesn’t bring me any kind of reassurance that our politics are going to be anything but a brawl – at a time when we’re driving our nation along a mountain road with no guardrail. It’s a bar fight where I just can’t bring myself to choose sides.

The immediate news suggests that the shooter is a garden-variety nutjob – about which more in a moment.

But I’ll bet the toxic politics of the moment help focus the rage of the deranged and disconnected and shake them out of the tracks of their daily lives into a path that’s potentially far more destructive. It’s absurd that either side claims that the other a monopoly on violent rhetoric – it’s just not true. And it’s more absurd to hear militant rhetoric from journalists and writers whose closest brush with violence was a shoving match at the frat house or sorority.

It’s disgusting, and somewhere, somehow, someone needs to shame these assholes into changing their tone. Maybe – just possibly – this tragedy will serve as a bucket of ice dumped in their laps that may, just possibly have an impact.

Everything being brought forward (and let’s admit that we have very little yet) about the shooter makes him out to be deranged. I’ll point something out here that I’ve said before; somewhere someone saw someone with a gun whose behavior should have set off a yellow light. Someone who should have said or done something, because – again based on very preliminary and sketchy stories – I’m hard pressed to imagine that anyone who looked at this guy would have had serious second thoughts about his fitness to own a weapon.

Update – fixed embarrassing typo in post title

94 thoughts on “Giffords Shooting”

  1. Well, the guy was very angry about literacy in AZ District 8.

    Again I point to “The David Wayne Chapman Law”: and the fact that psychopaths generally act from totally irrational motives which cannot be foreseen or prevented. Blaming society for triggering psychopaths is a fool’s game, because a psycho-proof society is a logical impossibility.

    Speaking of which, the sheriff of Pima County is a damn fool. Thank God he’s not in charge of the investigation.

  2. It’s war, AL, get used to it. And no, the blame doesn’t lie equally on both sides, the Left has been consistently more violent in both rhetoric and behavior starting back with the election of Bush. Furthermore, let’s not forget Clinton’s masterful use of the old “the Jews started the Reichstag fire” gambit after the OK City bombing. Ignoring that sort of BS is just asking for persecution.

  3. AL,

    It’s Giffords (with an s).

    And yes, crazy people shouldn’t walk around with guns. But since we have a system that makes it nearly impossible to prevent crazy people walking around with guns, we either have to live with the consequences or consider changing our system. And since to even suggest that we consider changing the system will draw an immediate and very loud outcry, the choice is illusory. We have to learn to live with the consequences.

    I agree that the political rhetoric in the US is an embarrassment. However, I doubt that it had anything to do with this. A lot of rhetoric is moving towards the deranged, not drawing them in. But that such rhetoric is innocent here should certainly not be used as a reason to keep it going.

  4. _the Left has been consistently more violent in both rhetoric and behavior starting back with the election of Bush._

    Does that make the right’s use of violent rhetoric ok? Last I checked “he started it” wasn’t a valid excuse.

    Violent rhetoric needs to end. On the left, on the right. Period. Full stop. No caveats. NO buts. Those people who can’t bring themselves to act like civilized adults shouldn’t be leaders of our political system.

    And yes, that doesn’t make violent rhetoric responsible for violence. But it certainly doesn’t help.

  5. You know when I was young, which is now 60 years ago I was taught that 2 wrongs don’t make a right. for anyone on either side of the political spectrum to claim they have a right do act in an uncivil manner because someone they disagree with has done so in the past, is completely bogus.

    My father took me over his knee a couple of times when I tried to use that as an excuse.

    Anyone that subscribes to that line of reasoning is an idiot and should be ostracized from any conversation, especially one as volatile of those about politics.

    One other thing my old man taught me when I was about 6 or seven. I asked him why they always talked about sports at the barbershop, he said you respected a man’s opinion on politics and religion by not speaking about them, since they were personal. You talked about sports because you could have a good argument without really offending one another.

    It is just politics and it is not the freaking end of the world every time someone has a differing opinion.

    One would hope that everyone might take pause and realize that words and images have power and someone who differs with you politically is not trying to destroy you, your family or your country.

    Not only is it wrong, It is juvenile.

    Assassinations scar us as a people in ways we cannot envision. Scar probably is the wrong word here, since for those that live through them, the wounds never really heal.

  6. I’ll just quote a snip of Penn Jillette from twitter:

    bq. The marketplace of ideas cannot be toned down for the insane.

  7. Wouldn’t it be more helpful though, Phil, if you would do more than just quote a “snip” from a “twitter” from a comedian? I think that one of the reasons political rhetoric has sunk so low and become such an embarrassment is that it’s become such a screaming match that’s not much more than name-calling due to our reduced collective inability to focus on any form of argument that can’t be wrapped into a very short sound-bite. The more hyperbolic, the better. The more thoughtless, the better.

    In fact, we _can_ tone down the marketplace of ideas. As it stands, more and more, we are playing to the insane. Toning things down might exclude the insane. Less emotion (often faked) might be in order.

    A little less sloganeering along the lines of “Obamacare” & “Take back America” might be helpful. Discussion might actually be worthwhile.

  8. alchemist:

    Violent rhetoric needs to end. On the left, on the right. Period. Full stop. No caveats. NO buts.

    So do you have a specific proposal for bringing about this remarkable abolition? While we’re at it, can we also end any or all of this:

    1. Non sequiturs
    2. Hysterical overreactions
    3. Wild exaggerations
    4. Sweeping generalizations drawn from single facts, or more commonly, from no facts at all
    5. Logical fallacies, especially ad hominem and post hoc ergo propter hoc
    6. Guilt by association, especially when the people in question are not even remotely associated
    7. Psychological projection, even the non-violent kind
    8. Intellectual bad faith, dishonesty, and outright fraud
    9. Infant death caused by improper disposal of bath water
    10. Argument by repetition, especially argument by tiresome word-for-word repetition
    11. People who blame everything on “climate”

    And so on and so on.

  9. You’re right, I should instead quote anonymous people in blog comment areas instead of comedians on twitter. I will surely apply that standard of argumentum ad twitterum in future.

    Nah. That’s a great epigram, and you may disagree but I think it’s spot on. You might try to think about it rather than attack it based on nothing more than the source and the medium in which he chose to present it.

    The simple fact is, there’s exactly zero evidence that politics (or external reality of any kind) influenced Loughner, and a great deal of evidence that he shot Giffords for about the same reason Hinckley shot Reagan.

    Sometimes a pipe is just a pipe.

  10. You *do* have to tone down the rhetoric by considering your audience.

    If I’m talking with a good friend over a beer, I can say pretty much whatever I want, because I know he knows what to take seriously and what not. If I’m talking to a large audience, I have to be careful how I state things, to make sure that someone out there is not taking my (perfectly reasonable) words the wrong way.

    If my audience is in the millions, then it is a statistical certainty that hundreds or thousands of them have serious mental problems. If I say something inflammatory, confident that no one with any sense at all would take my words literally, I should know that my audience includes a significant number of people who could well do something dangerous as a result.

    Thinking about the diversity of my audience, and shaping my message accordingly, is part of being a responsible adult and citizen.

    This should be *more* true, not less, for people who command an audience in the millions.

  11. The issue isn’t trying to create a Playskool politics; I think that we’re in one of those political eras where there are genuine fractures between populations. We have a fragile politics – the legitimacy of the government itself is being challenged on all sides.

    That has social consequences as well, and I’m thinking that as society gets somewhat looser, those more loosely connected to it wind up falling off the table.

    So it’s the fraying of the political and social fabric I’m talking about.

    In the last day or so, we’ve seen an amazing amount of stupid discussion about this, culminating in Congressional suggestions that may wind up making criticizing politicians illegal. That’s nowhere near where I am on any of this.


  12. So in the interest of “raising the level of discourse”, and getting rid of stuff like “vitriol” and “filth”, would anyone like to propose some rules that we can even-handedly dish out left and right?

    Or even, like, one single solitary rule?

    I assume this regime would be voluntary, unless we’re planning to trashcan civil liberties and reinstall Puritanism 1.0. I assume that we all also understand that “objectionable” rhetoric is judged to be such by highly relative and arbitrary standards, and that a free society is about accommodating diverse expression, not stamping it out.

    Assuming that some such rule could be arrived at, how exactly does it work to make things better, and how do you know that it works? Keep in mind that some of us do not believe in cosmic karma, telepathy, or harmonic convergence type stuff.

    (What if some unstable person misinterprets our good intentions? Some potentially violent person who is obsessed with mind control, for example? A person who also owns a gun, a talking dog, and a copy of Catcher in the Rye? Just thinking theoretically.)

    Let’s assume that it does work. With our new sanitized and civil discourse, which neutralizes all mental illness, what do we say, exactly?

    After all, some people who were massive jerks and who often expressed themselves in crude, violent, and inappropriate fashion were also people who had truly interesting things to say. Ovid, Sir Isaac Newton, Martin Luther, and Mark Twain spring to mind. You hippies can add Lenny Bruce if you want.

    Whereas people who live in fear of offending people or being politically incorrect generally say nothing, and quickly learn to think nothing.

  13. What I don’t get is the alleged examples of “extremism” in language or presentation clearly are not. For better or worse – and this has always been the case – political competition has always used analogies and metaphors borrowed from war, sports, hunting, etc.

    And it always will, unless we give up messy, competitive politics for the calm of dictatorship.

    Other than miscellaneous gangster movie quotes, Patton quotes, etc, where’s the unusual linguistic extremism?

  14. In the last day or so, we’ve seen an amazing amount of stupid discussion about this, culminating in Congressional suggestions that may wind up making criticizing politicians illegal. That’s nowhere near where I am on any of this.

    That’s nowhere near where I am, either, and I am going to get exactly as up in arms about it as I was about the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Which is to say, not at all. If it gets far enough to worry about, which I doubt, then I trust the Supreme Court to do the right thing.

    On the subject of this particular lunatic, the sad fact is that, from reading a sampling of his stuff, he was obviously the kind of guy that something was going to set off sooner or later. There are, I’m sad to say, a small number of people who are just plain Unstable. It could have been “political rhetoric,” which both sides employ whenever they feel like it. It could have been violent video games. It could have been too much Dungeons and Dragons as a kid, turning him into a Satanist. It could have been TV, or movies, or comic books, or cartoons. All of those things, and many more, have been blamed for tragedies like this over the years.

    But because it could have been any of those things, it actually wasn’t any of them. It was a lone wolf lunatic, that caused this tragedy.

    And as much as I’m not a fan of overblown rhetoric in peaceful election campaigns, I’m even less of a fan of political hacks playing grab-ass over a tragedy and blaming each other for it. And this one was so predictable– I’m outraged that it even occurred to me, five minutes after I read the new, that there would be a political blamefest on this one. I’m even more outraged I was right.

  15. Over the course of the day, myself and three co-workers discussed the shooting and the various media types trying to make hay with it.

    The general consensus was that trying to pin a political motive to this shooting was really a farce as how can really tell what the guy was thinking. Thats with one liberal, two republicans, and one independent.

    Frankly I think the American public is alot smarter then the average journalist thinks they are, as most people I have seen see right through this garbage.

  16. The wonderful thing is that political rhetoric had nothing to do with events in Arizona. But we are now sinking into our own version of Loughner’s language madness. It’s contagious I tell you.

  17. Chuck, I agree. The real issue was with the local sheriff, who was well aware of this guy and his mental illness. If there’s a larger issue here, it is bad police-work and the handling of the mentally ill.

    Similes, metaphors, analogies, or the pointer characters used for political maps buried deep in Sarah Palin’s website are not relevant.

  18. Everyone understands that it is wrong to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. This is likely to cause a panic, and could easily result in someone being trampled and killed in the rush. (This was much more common in the early 20th century when there were more theater fires.)

    You would never be able to establish a step-by-step causal chain between the perpetrator (the yeller) and the victim (the tramplee). Nonetheless, the yeller is culpable. And people who did that sort of thing for amusement, even if without casualties most of the time, were rightly reviled and prosecuted.

    How is language like “reload!”, or campaign events in shooting galleries with pictures of opponents on the target, any different? Isn’t it arguably worse?

  19. Beard –

    If I say something inflammatory, confident that no one with any sense at all would take my words literally, I should know that my audience includes a significant number of people who could well do something dangerous as a result.

    I don’t know what sort of audiences you address or on what subjects, but if you’re worried about inflaming people then be sure also that you don’t say anything they might find to be pleasant or likable, because the murderous obsession of the psychotic is equally likely to begin with someone they admire.

  20. Glen says, “*equally* likely” (emphasis added).

    Do you seriously believe that? I seriously doubt it. That is, not only do I doubt that it is true, but I doubt that you believe it. I expect that you are stating that rhetorically, not as an empirical claim. (And, if it turns out to be an empirical claim, I’m confident that it is false.)

  21. Beard, you may be right, but the Giffords shooting has little to do with such things. The only reason we’re even talking about “extremist rhetoric” on this thread is because the punditocracy on two continents (if you think Krugman was fevered in his daily rant, have a look at The Guardian today) has decided that there is some sort of chain of causality between a disturbed individual killing a bunch of people in Arizona and a map on Sarah Palin’s website.

    There ain’t.

    And I certainly don’t trust the motives of pundits who argue that (1) extremist rhetoric is bad and (2) it is only done by The Other Side.

  22. Beard –

    No, I’m not making an empirical claim – though as a start towards an empirical claim I would note that four US presidents have been assassinated, and two of the four were killed by former admirers.

    Examples of persons who develop romantic obsessions that end in murder are numerous. Perhaps examples of people who murder because Rush Limbaugh told them to are even more numerous, but I’ll leave that tabulation to you. So far, I think the Beatles are way ahead of Rush Limbaugh on that score.

  23. bq. Everyone understands that it is wrong to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater…. How is language like “reload!”, or campaign events in shooting galleries with pictures of opponents on the target, any different? Isn’t it arguably worse?

    One may immediately lead to provable harm to one or more persons in immediate proximity in time and space. The other has no provable or even plausible tie to events and people distant in time and space, where other causative factors are clearly present.

    Obviously they are the same, or maybe the latter is worse.


  24. Tim Oren [#34] raises the interesting discussion point that causality within seconds or minutes is relevant, but that within weeks or months is not.

    But then he starts calling names. Rhetorically, this amounts to saying, “I really, really disagree with you! And people who agree with me will also disagree with you!” Hardly carries the debate forward, does it?

    OK. “Here’s a list”: of events that many of us consider relevant.

    Surely you have a list of events on the other side. Let’s see it, and let’s try to discuss their joint significance, preferably without name-calling.

  25. I had to catch a clip of Katie Couric’s morning news to see if the kids had school, and I couldn’t believe the onslaught of innuendos being aimed at the right. I’m pretty hard to surprise, and yet I really couldn’t believe how downright vile and crude it was.

    And while I think it ought to be a free country for people to engage in vile and crude activity, I do see an empirical fact that the sort of folks who get their news from Katie Couric every morning are a different sort of folk from those who go out and look things up on their own.

  26. Tim,

    Don’t you think you are confusing metaphorical references to fighting with actual ones? The handful of comments in your “list” from one person (Obama) were all common-place metaphors along the lines of “I’m going to Washington and _fight_ for my constituents;” or “I am _well-armed_ for the debate with facts.”

    It’s quite different when elected officials — or would-be elected officials – speak about going to the “bullet box” when the ballot box fails; or to speak about “second amendment remedies.” Those are actual calls to constituents to arm themselves for potential actual fights. I also think that all this talk about health insurance reform being “tyranny” when coupled with calls for carrying guns in order to fight against “tyranny,” whether purposefully or not, blur a line between acceptability and the pale. These are subtle encouragements to believe that attacking those who support insurance reform are justifiable. It approaches incitement. I don’t believe it crosses the line, legally. But is close enough for responsible people to know better. And it should be okay for other people to call them on it and ask them to tone it down.

  27. To be clear, I don’t mean to imply that there should be explicit “rules of rhetoric”. but there should be an understanding that we are civilized adults in a society. You have freedom of speech, but to be respected you must act like an adult. If you can’t handle that, you don’t earn my respect (or vote, or my viewership).

    But if you’re going to use:

    “I know whose ass to kick…”

    As an example of violent rhetoric, I think you’re setting the bar way lower than I intend to.

  28. Left and right, we’re still shocked by the Arizona shootings. That’s a good sign.

    Some soul searching about violent political metaphors, like Palin’s cross-hairs on Giffords’s District, is important whether or not Loughner may have been influenced by it. It’s important because no society is immune from a possible descent into chaos, and I think it’s clear that political speech infused with violent metaphors, and political speech that tends to legitimize violence, a la Melosevic, a la Nazi Germany 1930-38, a la Ben Sadr ca. ’03-’05, plays a role in any descent into chaos.

    We are not heading into chaos, but the moment we cease to be shocked by an event like the Arizona shootings, or troubled by political speech surrounding it that might head us in that direction, I’ll begin to worry.

  29. …speak about going to the “bullet box” when the ballot box fails…

    Frederick Douglass was a well known rabble rouser. Republican, too…

  30. _The only semantics I’m getting out of this are: “Shut up”. No._

    You seem to think you hear “shut up” alot. I would never tell anyone to shut up. It is your right to say whatever you want. And the public has the right to hold you in high esteem, or low esteem, based on your words.

    I’m just asking us to hold our leaders to a higher standard, to choose our words a little more carefully. This is not some gestapo regime thing, it’s just practical etiquette.

  31. Tim one last note:

    The democratic statements you posted some I agree are out of line, others I think are so common place that it’s not going to change much. Either way, if someone were to inflict grievous harm on the ‘target’ of their statements, I would hope that the individuals would apologize and clearly make a new statement clarifying the record.

    Look, stupid statements happen. Campaign trails get heated, I understand that. But we can all do our bit to remind them to take it down a notch.

  32. Tim, if you hear a request to tone things down as an imperative to shut up, then it seems rather futile to continue talking because apparently words have different meanings to each of us. Going forward, I’ll do the shutting up. Cheers.

  33. I sense a classic case of, “Let’s all behave better! You first.”

    It’s also a classic case of Prisoner’s Dilemma. We might all be better off if everyone controlled their inflammatory discourse better, but the defector wins the next election. Or so the political consultants believe, and tell their clients. And it kind of looks like they’re right.

    In other words, we’ve got us a rhetoric arms race. Over time, each side reaches for the bigger guns, because the other side’s armed-up too. And it’s a shooting war, not a cold one, so technology develops rapidly, and with scant regard to collateral damage, because last year’s weapons will lose the war this year.

    (Uh oh. Did I just use a “war analogy”? Ah… my bad. I guess. I should have considered that some crazy out there might read my words and decide to blow someone away because I said “war” and “weapon,” and I sort of implied some violent thing. You know what? Eff that. Pardon my language.)

    This is going to continue to escalate until a few election cycles in a row show that on balance, inflammatory rhetoric is not only not helpful, but actively harmful to the electoral prospects of those who use it. The best chance for that at present, is general exhaustion by the electorate verging on general disgust with the whole thing. It’ll take quite a while.

    Meanwhile, accusing inflammatory rhetoric of causing actual violence is, ipso facto, inflammatory rhetoric. Whether you believe the accusations or not – making such a link in public is escalating the war of words. If you want detente, you can start by not making such public links, whether you believe they are real or not.

    — perry

  34. Beard,

    Very sorry, but I’m not going to accept the conclusions of any organization calling themselves “Coalition to Stop Gun Violence”.

    Maybe it’s different for you, but for myself I’m not against gun violence, I’m against violence violence. Similarly to the way that American airport security wrongly focuses on objects rather than people, so do such groups. Either they’re misinformed (due to some kind of hoplophobia or overly-materialistic worldview or something) or else trying to disguise their true long term goals (e.g. as Brady certainly does.)

  35. Perry:

    Meanwhile, accusing inflammatory rhetoric of causing actual violence is, ipso facto, inflammatory rhetoric. Whether you believe the accusations or not – making such a link in public is escalating the war of words.

    Exactly. The public is being asked to believe that we live in a hate-filled country, where the hate is gushing 24 hours a day. This claim is almost always made as a blanket generalization, citing no examples but planting broad hints about “anti-government” hatemongers. The very model of a smear campaign.

    This is entirely false, and we don’t have to go back to 19th century American political rhetoric to prove it. A review of the Eisenhower era, which someone cited as a model of civility, would demolish the notion that our era is uniquely hateful.

    What is different about our era is that the old information monopolies are being smashed, and more people than ever before have access to the public forum. And this is what some people are really scared of.

    The old establishment media has taken three massive blows in this generation: from talk radio, cable news, and the internet. So who gets blamed for people like Jared Loughner? Talk radio, cable news, and the internet, of course.

  36. Since Glen didn’t call for a halt to suspect historical analogies, I’ll make one to the attempted assassination of Andrew Jackson in 1835. That was during the Riot Years, when political violence was common.

    Jackson couldn’t conceive that such an attempt could not be a political plot, but the shooter not only blamed Jackson for the poor economy, but also the death of his father and impeding him from becoming King of England. He was declared insane, but the Democratic Papers latched onto an unattributed doctor’s assertion that the tone of rhetoric could awaken the violent beast within. And the shooter had been at a fiery Calhoun anti-administration speech a few days before. Pretty soon Democratic apparatchiks had procured statements from witnesses who saw the shooter with another Jackson opponent.

    Jackson’s political opponents for their part denounced the unjust accusations, pointed out the administration’s own irresponsible rhetoric, decried the despotism and anti-Constitutionalism of his administration and eventually latched onto the theory that Jackson had conspired his own assassination attempt to further his self-aggrandizement.

    The tone of rhetoric did not improve.

  37. Whoa, longest thread here in a while.

    I stand by the epigram I quoted. We cannot try to manage our speech to avoid upsetting the irrational, since we never know what’s going to set them off. They’re called “irrational” for a reason.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t other good reasons to be polite, but it’s a fool’s errand to restrict our behavior in any way if the goal is preventing the next Loughner. That boy was going to snap regardless.

  38. Beard, I agree w/ much of what you say, but in terms of this shooting it seems that there is good evidence that the shooter is psychotic, and at least some evidence furnished by the Southern Poverty Law Center that the shooter appears to be influenced by some obscure “truther.”:

    At some point, and I mean no disrespect, it seems an act of hubris to think the shooter is occupying the same polity as anybody here. But that appears to be the underlying assumption of the naval gazing.

  39. Way back in [#35], I provided a list of the kind of actions and rhetoric that I believe are legitimately getting people concerned, and I asked Tim Oren to produce a comparable list of inflammatory rhetoric from the left. He obliged in [#37] with a list of quotes from Barack Obama.

    Although I would consider the second Obama quote to be going too far, this is a pretty weak comparison with the murders, attempted murders, and explicit calls to violence in the list I provided. Does anyone have anything more compelling from the left?

    I’m not calling for some kind of namby-pamby “political correctness”. I’m saying that if a public figure, used to public speaking, uses a turn of phrase that sounds to ordinary people like it implies a call to use physical violence against specific individuals, or a specific group of political opponents, then they almost certainly meant to say exactly what they did, and they should be called on it, both by their political opponents, but more importantly by their political allies.

    It’s a metaphor to say, “We have to fight harder than ever before.” It’s not a metaphor to say, “We have to use the bullet box rather than the ballot box”, or “We need to apply second amendment remedies.” What do you think “second amendment remedies” might refer to, if not the use of guns? If that’s a metaphor, what’s it a metaphor for?

    The First Amendment protects your free speech, even if you are a Nazi. But it doesn’t protect you from the revulsion and condemnation of your fellow citizens. People may have the _legal_ right to say these things, but we as a society should be in a position to apply the kind of social pressure that will shut them up, or at least marginalize them.

    And since Tim is feeling sensitive about the phrase “Shut up” [#42-45], let me clarify that, while I disagree with plenty of what he says, I haven’t seen anything he has written here that crosses that line. We have just been having the kind of vigorous and perfect reasonable political discussion that makes this country great.

  40. Beard:

    People may have the legal right to say these things, but we as a society should be in a position to apply the kind of social pressure that will shut them up, or at least marginalize them.

    So the potential psychotic will henceforth ignore these people, because they have been somehow designated as marginal? Therefore, his violent impulses will not be triggered, or will be significantly less likely to be triggered?

    I’m sure you agree that this makes no sense. Jared Loughner was not deterred by official disapproval of marijuana – or murder, for that matter. His list of favorite books indicates that the margins is exactly where he went for inspiration. If anything, the surest way to bring someone or something to the attention of a Jared Loughner is to socially ostracize them.

    I don’t wish to impugn your motives, Beard, but there is no way that your line of reasoning leads anywhere except to the suppression of free speech. Not to protect us from people like Loughner, but to silence political speech by associating it with the likes of Loughner. It makes no difference that there is no connection between Loughner and the people that will be silenced, or even if their views or totally divergent. Guilt is assumed and automatic.

    I have no problem with a call for public civility, if accusing people of inciting murder – with no evidence, or even in the face of contrary evidence – is civility. But this beast will not be satisfied with that. They want the Fairness Doctrine, fascist European-style speech codes, and the extension of the federal tentacles into the media and the internet. And anyone utters an objection is guilty of fomenting anti-government violence.

  41. Addendum, from the NYT’s “Sunday sermon”:

    Now, having seen first hand the horror of political violence [sic!], Arizona should lead the nation in quieting the voices of intolerance, demanding an end to the temptations of bloodshed, and imposing sensible controls on its instruments.

    Quiet, you voices of intolerance. Shhhh …

  42. By your line of reasoning, Glen, we should not have any safety regulations on oil companies drilling in the Gulf (or anywhere else, for that matter) because no regulation can eliminate all possibility of an oil spill. We shouldn’t criticize BP for having a dramatically worse safety record than Shell or Texaco or the other drilling companies, because, after all, no regulation can protect us absolutely. And, once you start down this safety regulation path, them durn lib’rals will make it impossible to burn even the tiniest drop of precious fossil hydrocarbons, and we’ll fall into the Dark Ages.

    That sure sounds like your argument [#54].

    On to a different issue that you and others have raised.

    There are unreachable psychotics. It’s not impossible that some of them may be able to function well enough in society to purchase guns and ammunition (at least in Arizona), and to post messages on the Internet. Whether Loughner is or was that unreachable is too early to tell. The fact that he posted a message asking his friends not to be mad at him suggests to me that he was not that unreachable.

    There’s a lot of talk in places like this about personal responsibility. If Loughner is as sick a puppy as you suggest, totally out of touch with reality through any conceivable message, as random as a rainstorm, then he is a poster child for an insanity defense. Personally, based on the incomplete evidence available now, and recognizing that I don’t know enough to judge, I would be inclined to consider him sane and responsible for his actions.

    Recognize that you can’t have it both ways. If you want to argue that he is so sick he’s impervious to any social pressures, then he gets an insanity defense. (And we hope no one ever declares him “cured”.) But if he’s responsible for his criminal acts, then he is capable of responding to social influences, and we blame him for responding the wrong way. In that case, it is reasonable for us to ask what those influences might have been. (Rushing to judgment is as wrong here as anywhere else, of course.)

  43. Beard:

    By your line of reasoning, Glen, we should not have any safety regulations on oil companies drilling in the Gulf (or anywhere else, for that matter) because no regulation can eliminate all possibility of an oil spill.

    That’s not even close to my line of reasoning, but I see we have moved from moral persuasion to legal coercion, and it seemed like a pretty short trip.

    There’s no doubt that safety regulations reduce accidents. But there is no proof that any particular social convention prevents murder, in spite of the fact that it has been a universally proscribed act since the beginning of human history.

    Are you saying that if we eliminate some public expression – by whatever means, legal or otherwise – that we will eliminate some proportional amount of violence, and this will be well worth it?

    Is it supposed to be obvious which ideas and opinions are dangerous? I read Catcher in the Rye and I missed the part where it said “Kill John Lennon”. It seems very obvious to Sheriff Dupnik, so I guess I’m not as canny as he is.

    BTW, does it make you uncomfortable to talk about banning books? Lots of liberals are cool with having the FCC shut down talk radio, but when it comes to purging books, their tribal gods rumble.

    But if you fear “inflammatory” expression, then logically you must fear the BOOK above all. It contains the fullest and most elaborate expression of every deadly idea that the mind of man is capable of. The video game, the R-rated movie, the rap record, and the cable news program are mere squeaks in comparison.

  44. Beard, #53

    The plural of anecdote is not data. So you and Tim trading anecdotes isn’t particularly useful. You both, obviously, have an incentive to downplay the rhetoric of “your side,” and play the rhetoric of “the other side,” but since it’s all anecdotes anyway, it doesn’t really matter.

    Hell, I can pull out anecdotes going all the way back to the Jefferson-Adams election. I can pull out anecdotes of congressmen beating the shit out of each other in Congress. I can pull out anecdotes of major political figures shooting each other in duels of honor!

    Doesn’t prove anything.

    If you really want to make a serious analysis of something like this, you don’t whip out the lists of anecdotes, shouting, “Six inches!” “No, seven!” “No, eight inches! Mine list is eight inches!” You go to serious, and seasoned, political scientists and ask them if there is a measurable trend in rhetoric, and/or a measurable trend in political victims of violence.

    I reserve the right to regard with scorn anyone pushing any other approach.

  45. Please refresh my memory, was the the above your stance vis-a-is the construction of the mosque …

    Well, let me try. I certainly know that my stance was not prohibition of mosques. My main point in that thread was that the mosque was a mosque, and not a “community center” or other such confabulation, as some individual kept insisting.

    There followed an interesting discussion of the Muslim caliphate in Spain, much of which went into my files, in case I have to hunt some of you people down as collaborators some day.

    Let me know if I can refresh your memory about anything else. I regret that I am too young to remember the Eisenhower era, but I saw the movie Porky’s, if that helps.

    Seriously, though, I do not want to talk about the mosque, or anything other than the current issue. And in this lame assault on free speech, let me tell you it raises my morale to know that you are on the other side. If you had led the Mexican army at the Alamo, Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie would have lived long enough to vote for Eisenhower. You could discredit the First Law of Thermodynamics by coming to its defense.

    Our freedoms will endure, and be enjoyed by future generations, thanks in part to you.

  46. First, a public service announcement.

    Everyone should remember that sarcasm and irony, while fun to write, come across extremely poorly in text. Please reserve them for verbal discussions where tone of voice provides useful information to help us figure out whether you actually mean some foolish thing you just wrote, or you are sarcastically saying it to attribute the foolishness to the person you are addressing.

    In other words, just say what you mean, simply and clearly.

    Thanks from all of us on the Internet.

  47. First, a public service announcement.

    Everyone should remember that sarcasm and irony, while fun to write, come across extremely poorly in text. Please reserve them for verbal discussions where tone of voice provides useful information to help us figure out whether you actually mean some foolish thing you just wrote, or you are sarcastically saying it to attribute the foolishness to the person you are addressing.

    In other words, just say what you mean, simply and clearly.

    Thanks from all of us on the Internet.

  48. Glen [#59]: The point of my argument in [#56] was your use of the slippery slope, not to advocate legal coercion. I’m strongly on the moral persuasion side, as I’ve said repeatedly.

    Marcus [#60]: This is a blog. It’s an entertaining opportunity for interesting and occasionally productive discussions. If you want to limit discussion to carefully constructed essays with proper methodology and citations, that’s a huge amount of work, and deserves to be published in a refereed journal. Go for it.

    Furthermore, anecdotes can be very useful to get a qualitative understanding of a phenomenon before doing more extensive (and expensive) quantitative studies. Nobody is advocating comparing anecdotes by the length of the list. You compare qualitative data by looking at the content of the stories. If one list of events consists of murders, attempted murders, and explicit advocating of murders, while the other list consists of harsh words, there is a qualitative difference.

    Given a dramatic qualitative difference, one must suspect that one list or the other was cherry-picked for the argument. That’s why I explicitly asked Tim (or you or anyone else) to provide a comparable list of terrible acts by Democrats for comparison. This is the best I’ve received. If you have something better to offer, go ahead.

  49. Beard:

    That’s why I explicitly asked Tim (or you or anyone else) to provide a comparable list of terrible acts by Democrats for comparison.

    Some of the items on your were terrible acts. Most of them were absurdities and non-events. The very first item on the list was a Supreme Court decision that many of us agree with, however terrible gun control advocates think it is.

    By selecting these items and arranging them into a “timeline”, the author asks us to believe that these events are all related to one another, and represent some sort of chain of causation. This little trick is as cheap as it is false; conspiracy theories are loaded with this junk. It’s possible to create an infinite number of such lists which suggest an infinite number of things, including the wildest claims of astrology.

    At the bottom of the list is Jared Loughner, of course. His connection to all of the above? He said “read the constitution”, which apparently only a crazed right-winger would say.

    I’ll spare you the sarcasm. This is just disgusting.

  50. Well, Glen, it seems to me that identifying events that have actually happened, arranging them in a list, and using that as the basis for an argument that something particular is going on is a pretty traditional kind of argument, on both sides of the political aisle and in ordinary everyday discourse.

    You may disagree with the author’s conclusion, as evidently you do, but why this should be “disgusting” to an adult reader is beyond me.

    If you have a problem with the author’s conclusion or the evidence he provides, then argue against them. I am an open-minded guy (in spite of the fact that you and I disagree about many things) and I am open to reasoned, fact-based arguments. You got facts on your side? Lay ’em on the table.

    But you’re disgusted? Just excuse yourself and throw up in the bathroom. Brush your teeth and come back when you’re ready to talk.

  51. Beard, #65:

    You’ll forgive me if I raise a skeptical eyebrow at your denial, here. You called for a list of anecdata from Tim, found it wanting, and declared game over.

    If that’s not– to be blunt, as you requested– having a size war over the quality and quantity of anecdotes, I don’t know what is.

    Everyone engaged in the process looks silly.

  52. Having gotten the above bit of snark off my chest, let me address that Supreme Court decision that you and others approve of.

    For reference, here’s the Second Amendment:

    bq. _A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed._

    Although (as you expect) I disagree with the Court’s decision in the Heller case, in my opinion the real outrage is that the Court seems to endorse the keeping of arms for the purpose of allowing armed resistance against the government. I don’t see how the text of the Second Amendment supports that interpretation. (I notice that the majority Justices appealed to all sorts of other writings to justify ignoring what seems to be the plain meaning of the text.)

    By courtesy, I will assume that anyone reading this website would be thoroughly responsible about when they would decide that the government had descended into tyranny sufficient to justify armed insurrection. And that they would be clearly focused on where that effort should go.

    But out of 300+ million citizens, it seems pretty plausible that some of them will make bad decisions on both counts. For example, concluding that legislation on health insurance policy represents tyranny, and/or deciding to take out the local postman or traffic cop or congresswoman as their contribution to overthrowing the government.

    The list I provided demonstrates that, in fact, more than a few people actually did or tried to do horrible things, possibly encouraged in their delusions by this philosophy. (If you disagree, argue, don’t vomit.)

    I can live with the Supreme Court saying that people in DC have the right to keep guns in their houses, though I would consider that something the local government should be allowed to regulate based on local circumstances. Having the Court go on to establish a Constitutional right of the people to maintain the resources for armed insurrection seems profoundly unwise.

  53. Reading the parsing of words, metaphors and the like, to find a consensus in what is suitable and what is not, is part and parcel of the problem we will be embracing should political correctness trump the 1st Amendment, so that new regulations rule the words we say following the AZ tragedy.

    I can’t believe there are some people twisting in the wind about passionate rhetoric being offensive, causing mentally ill people to get bad ideas in their head. For me it is no more the words causing the untoward actions than the guns shooting the bullets killing people. People kill people, period, through the land mines of their own distorted thoughts.

    Loughner was apolitical, didn’t watch TV, and didn’t listen to political talk radio. So, people, he wasn’t a part of the back and forth between the right and left. He is a mentally ill young man who should have been diagnosed years ago. Sheriff Dupnik ran across this guy before the shootings even occurred. Perhaps, instead of blaming everyone under the sun for the rampage that took place, he would do well to look into the mirror and wonder why he didn’t sense something askew and be more proactive with Loughner’s parents or the mental health community at large.

    In retrospect, it might be easy to slop blame onto other people, institutions, or certain arenas of political debate. But, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the fact that mental illness can be innocuous until someone goes off the rails and commits a violent act.

    An even bigger sorrow, than the loss of life in AZ, would be a knee-jerk legislative remedy put into practice, post haste. Having verbal dissent become a subjective tool of either the left or right would indeed be the greatest misfortune of all — not having the right to speak out, coarsely or eloquently, what you believe is right or not right about our government.

  54. Beard –

    You don’t get it. A list of unconnected events is not evidence. To assume a connection between them, and to invite others to share your assumption, is not an argument – much less a “fact-based” argument. What does Jared Loughner have to do with ANY of the preceding items on the list?

    As for the conclusion that you want me to confront, what is it exactly?

    The following timeline catalogues incidents of insurrectionist violence [sic](or the promotion of such violence) that have occurred since that [Heller] decision was issued …

    Is that it? What does that mean?

    Finally, you said that you’re on the side of moral persuasion, not legal coercion. So I guess you’re not on the side of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, because they’re all about enacting laws, and mustering propaganda in support of their political agenda. They are nothing to do with calls for civility.

    So why don’t you leave them out of it, and state what your conclusions and prescriptions are.

  55. Jan (and others),

    I don’t think anyone is arguing for new laws to restrain speech, however awful.

    You have the First Amendment right to talk of “the bullet box instead of the ballot box”. However, I have the First Amendment right to express my condemnation and revulsion for that kind of language, and to try to rally other right-thinking people to encourage you to speak in a more civil way.

    I have no problem with passionate rhetoric, even passionate rhetoric I disagree with. What I have a problem with is passionate rhetoric that advocates violence against other people.

  56. Marcus [#71] says about my post [#65]:

    bq. _You called for a list of anecdata from Tim, found it wanting, and declared game over._

    However, I wrote:

    bq. _This is the best I’ve received. If you have something better to offer, go ahead._ [#65, last lines]

    That doesn’t sound like “game over” to me. That sounds like being open to discussion, especially including contrary arguments.

  57. In 1856 a Congressman almost beat a Senator to death with a cane _on the Senate floor._

    I’d say there is more sound and fury over the sound and fury than anything else. I don’t see our political era as being unusually partisan or inflammatory. In fact I’d argue that its the norm, interspersed with brief periods of civility (generally following or in the midst of massive upheaval such as wars or 911 etc).

  58. How’s the burden of proof get on me to show our era _isn’t_ extraordinary? What’s the evidence that it is?

  59. Wasn’t the ‘Eisenhower Era’ the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, the time of the Dixiecrats, the John Birch Society? The president had to send troops to overturn a governor’s racist refusal to comply with the courts. And also the era of McCarthyism?!

    That’s the era of long lost civility you point to?

  60. It was also during the Eisenhower Era that a Secretary of Defense resigned and committed suicide, supposedly because of savage columns written by Drew Pearson.

    In fact, previous eras were so rich in McCarthyite ore that some people are mining them for present use.

    “This WaPo column”: is maybe the most astounding thing I’ve read all week. Dana Milbank notes that William Randolph Hearst was blamed when President McKinley was murdered by anarchist Leon Czolgosz – an accusation that even Dana Milbank understands was completely absurd. He hopes that Sarah Palin gets the same kind of blame, so “good can come of the horror in Tuscon.”

    While the accusations sometimes go too far – there’s no evidence that either Palin or Beck inspired the Tucson suspect – the heat is well deserved.

    That pretty much sums up the kind of thinking we confront. More calculated and less honest than the inquistors and the witch hunters, who really believed their victims were guilty.

  61. The true art is combining sarcasm with inflammatory rhetoric. References to firearms are always bonus. According to Beard’s link, above, even the use of the word “surround” is a highly effective provocation, because it makes some people flash on Custer at Little Big Horn or something like that.

    A favorite example: Dallas police sniper Harry Weatherford, asked by a smartass reporter if he was the one who shot JFK, said “You little son of a bitch, I shoot lots of people!”

    One can only aspire, and study more Cicero.

  62. I love the change of political seasons, when we are free to change out of our coats stained with years of bomb throwing, invective, and indeed sarcasm at the last administration, and can chastely demand political opponents monitor their tone and engage in serious dialog.

    But I adore hypocrisy, so maybe its just me.

  63. The Second Amendment and Heller are not issues here. They are not even side issues. The Democrats have no stomach for that fight, and have not for years – because they have nothing to gain from it and lots to lose. It interests only vestigial organs on the left that have specialized in gun phobia.

    Obama didn’t even blink at Heller. Not out of restraint – he threw a public fit over Citizens United v. FEC. He responded to Heller by saying that he had always believed that gun ownership was an individual right.

    Liberals ought to pay attention to the way that leftist ire has shifted targets from the Second Amendment to the First, which is combined with a novel disdain for the Constitution in general. They ought to ponder the reasons for that – should have started pondering 20 years ago, in fact.

  64. _Liberals ought to pay attention to the way that leftist ire has shifted targets from the Second Amendment to the First, which is combined with a novel disdain for the Constitution in general._

    Because we get upset when somebody puts our name in cross hairs? And then (god forbid) we get even more upset after they get shot?

    Look, most of this is going to be a momentary overreaction. In 2 weeks, this whole thing is going blow over with no legal changes. But most liberals I’ve met have only ASKED for that this be a good reminder to use civil dialogue, we have not demanded new laws from this.

    Freedom of speech remains intact.

  65. alchemist –

    So Sarah Palin caused the shooting of a congresswoman and the death of 6 people, and you are merely expressing disapproval? And even that is so inconsequential that everybody will forget about it in two weeks?

    He who says A must say B. If you’re going to make this kind of insinuation against people, have the courage to make it and take responsibility for it. You don’t throw a rock through somebody’s windshield and call it traffic safety.

    Otherwise you are guilty of the very thing you accuse others of – making insinuations that no intelligent person would believe, in the hopes that less intelligent people will believe them.

    Which is already accomplished. You are right that most people will put this into perspective and move on. Some percentage, however, will believe the Paul Krugman version until the day they die.

  66. _So Sarah Palin caused the shooting of a congresswoman and the death of 6 people, and you are merely expressing disapproval?_

    I”ve been very careful not to say that. If she had actually threatened Giffords, this would not blow over in two weeks.

    This is clearly not Palin’s fault. But when the victim complains about possible escalating violence, is laughed off, and then gets shot, it’s always going to look bad.

    Again, looks here have nothing to do with reality. It just happens to be an unlucky coincidence. Unfortunately, the human mind does not deal well with coincidence, and so overreaction is expected.

    The 1st amendment has faced tougher tests than this (see McCarthy)

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