It is very interesting to see the reaction in the American media to the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona last Saturday night (January 8). Some are taking the view that no one can be blamed for the actions of a clearly deranged individual. Others are saying that while the shooter was indisputably insane, both sides of the political spectrum need to take responsibility for heated political rhetoric in the last several years that may have inspired this demented young man to pick up a gun and shoot a politician, a judge and a number of others.
Bullshit. There is only one political party in America on one side of the political spectrum that has made a specialty of drumming up intensive hatred of the government and that has repeatedly encouraged people to consider taking up arms against the government. That party is the Republican Party, with its young Frankenstein monster the "Tea Party" movement never being told that it should calm down and be less angry and extreme. There is a very long trail here that simply has no counterpart in the Democratic Party or on the left-wing side of the spectrum.
Barry Goldwater, Republican candidate for President in 1964, made the famous statement during his campaign that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." This was in the same time period when peaceful Civil Rights activists were being beaten by right-wing supporters of racial inequality and in some cases killed by lynch mobs in the South. Goldwater made clear where he stood by voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was much appreciated by Southern opponents of Civil Rights and desegregation. The South was the one area of the country where Goldwater did well in the 1964 election, setting the trend of solid Southern support for Republican candidates for President in nearly every election since then.
Ronald Reagan, running for President in 1980, made his first speech after winning the Republican nomination at a site in Mississippi just a few miles from an infamous spot where Civil Rights workers had been brutally slain in 1964. He talked of restoring "states' rights," an unmistakable reference to right-wing, Southern opposition to the Civil Rights movement, which made clear that his choice of location for his first major speech as Republican Presidential candidate was no mere coincidence. Reagan was laying claim to the heritage of violent opposition to the Civil Rights movement, and saw no need to pay homage to the Civil Rights martyrs of that region. Reagan would go on to coin the phrase, "Government is not the solution; government is the problem," which has ever since been the mantra of the anti-government conservatives.
In the 1990s, Republican politicians often shared the sentiments of the anti-government, gun-crazed militia movement, which was in many ways a forerunner of the Tea Party movement. Bill Clinton,a Democrat and a liberal, was demonized with outrageous accusations by right-wing, conservative politicians, including the claim that he had engineered the killing of his friend and aide, Vince Foster. Among conservatives and militia members in this era, there was much paranoia directed toward the United Nations, which they feared was setting up a secret government that would soon enslave Americans and take away their liberties. The mood of anti-government hatred and the glorification of anti-government violence reached its peak in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murray government building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh in 1995.
Under President George W. Bush, right-wing hate and anger cooled down a bit, perhaps because Bush's continually expanding wars against Muslim nations provided an external outlet for conservative anger and paranoia. Though there was angry left-wing opposition to Bush's policies, especially his wars, it never led to the kind of mass cult of paranoia and violence that was typical of the Clinton era. With President Obama's election, there was a resurgence of 1990s-style anti-government sentiment and a renewed glorification of anti-government violence. Once more, wild, extreme accusations were made about a Democratic, liberal President, whose African-American heritage seemed to inflame conservatives into paroxysms of rage and paranoia. Sales of guns and ammunition skyrocketed. The right-wing media, which had been in their infancy in the Clinton era, were now well-tooled operations of mass propaganda and coordinated fear-mongering, and were able to terrify many Americans that the quite mild, liberal and pro-corporate policies of the Obama administration, such as a health-care reform effort that was quite disappointing to liberals and the left wing, were pushing the country to the edge of the apocalypse. The spring and summer of 2009 saw the rise of the Tea Party movement, with angry opponents of Obama and Democratic policies showing up at political rallies armed with guns and shouting out their paranoia and anger with red-faced fury. In Texas, an anti-government zealot flew a plane into a building. The FBI issued a warning about rising activity by right-wing extemists and militia groups.
Then came the 2010 election season. Republican politicians were eager to cozy up to the Tea Party, seeking to harness their passion and fury. Rarely did any Republicans, even those previously known as political moderates, speak out against the paranoid fantasies and violent rhetoric of Tea Party members and right-wing extremisists. Instead, they openly or implicitly endorsed such sentiments. Republican Congresswoman and Tea Party groupie Michelle Bachman urged her followers to be "armed and dangerous" in opposition to new energy policies under debate in Congress. Sarah Palin urged conservatives, "Don't retreat; instead, reload!," and placed gun-targeting cross-hairs on an internet map of Democrat candidates whose defeat she was advocating on a website. One of the candidates targeted on this map was Gabrielle Gifford, the Democratic Congresswoman shot in the head on Saturday night. Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for Senator in Nevada, spoke approvingly of "Second Amendment remedies" and armed insurrection against the government.
In all of these ways, the Republican Party and its right-wing, militia and Tea Party allies have poured huge amounts of energy into creating mass hysteria, paranoia and anti-government, particularly anti-Democrat, anger. It is one thing to express opposition to policies, but it is something very different to give explicit or implicit approval to people brandishing guns and fantasizing about heroic violence against politicans and the government.
The Tucson shootings were aided and abetted by the Republicans and the right-wing in America. There is nothing equivalent on the Democratic or left-wing side of American politics. It is time to call a spade a spade and not pretend that there is equal blame to go around on both sides. There is only one side that is dedicated to pushing fear, hatred and violence. Those who have made their careers and even considerable fortunes by feeding these flames of fury, fear and violent fantasy need to be held responsible.
Furthermore, it is time to realize that the massive amount of violent fantasy and imagery in our culture is a sickness. It plays into a worldview that the only solution to any problem is through heroic violence. Consider how government is represented on American television shows. It is portrayed as useless, corrupt, evil. The only government agencies shown in a positive light are those engaged in violence: police and soldiers. Almost no other part of government is represented in an appealing manner, while violent vigilantes and brothers-in-arms are continually glorified.
So, if you were a deranged young person like the shooter in Tucson, you would find massive encouragement in American culture and right-wing politics for becoming a gun-toting, tyranny-resisting hero in your own twisted fantasy of violent manhood. We need to start speaking out and turning away from this. We need to start valuing our government officials and public servants, in contrast to the right-wing campaign now under way to villify teachers and others on the public payroll. They are not our enemies. They work for us. Are they perfect? No. Are we perfect? No. Do they deserve to die for trying to do their jobs? What do you think?
Peace. That is not a wimpy, foolish thing. It is sanity. We need it. Badly. We do not need more glorification of war, weapons, violence. We have already had too much.