On the Self-Indulgence of the Tucson Media Orgy

It is perfectly normal that we were all shocked and saddened to learn of this terrible event. It is perfectly normal that we would discuss it here, and it is perfectly normal–and useful–for us to discuss our legal framework for coping humanely with the criminally insane. Particularly given the terrible personal loss suffered by our own George Savage, all of this is normal. 

What is not normal is the now-monomaniacal focus of the entire American media, on both the Left and the Right, on the question, “Whose rhetoric is most hateful and unpleasant?” The question is in the first place irrelevant and in the second obviously unserious. If you show me a well-constructed, longitudinal study of young schizophrenics, half of whom have been exposed to the Sarah Palin’s crosshair-chart and half of whom have not, and mutatis mutandis, a statistically significant number of the second group go on to commit an act of political violence, maybe it might be worth talking about. But absent that, this is pure hysteria. 

It’s just as self-indulgent for those on the Right to preoccupy themselves obsessively with the grave insult offered their amour-propre by the suggestion that their rhetoric has been intemperate, and to spend hour upon hour collating and cataloguing examples of equally intemperate Leftist rhetoric–as if it was some kind of competition with a prize at the end–as it is for those on the Left to do it. Surely no one doubts it possible to find examples of rudeness and vitriol all over the spectrum of American political opinion? Surely no one doubts that the metaphors of the military–and shooting and boxing, for that matter–are part of the normal fabric of the English language, used by everyone, and that sane people know the difference between the literal and the metaphorical?  

Meanwhile, while we are focused on a shooting that is obviously a shattering tragedy for the victims but has no particularly deep political meaning, this  assassination and its aftermath is pregnant with minatory significance and should be scaring agitated, hand-wringing American columnists to death, or at least into pro forma agitated hand-wringing if they can’t muster a bit of authentic sentiment: 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Cheering crowds have gathered in recent days to support the assassin who riddled the governor of Punjab with 26 bullets and to praise his attack — carried out in the name of the Prophet Muhammad — as an act of heroism. To the surprise of many, chief among them have been Pakistan’s young lawyers, once seen as a force for democracy.

Their energetic campaign on behalf of the killer has caught the government flat-footed and dismayed friends and supporters of the slain politician, Salman Taseer, an outspoken proponent of liberalism who had challenged the nation’s strict blasphemy laws. It has also confused many in the broader public and observers abroad, who expected to see a firm state prosecution of the assassin.

Instead, before his court appearances, the lawyers showered rose petals over the confessed killer, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a member of an elite police group who had been assigned to guard the governor, but who instead turned his gun on him. They have now enthusiastically taken up his defense.

That’s a nuclear power. Which one of these events is really worth talking about this much? 

MORE ON THIS TOPIC:

Senik >  Searching for Grace in Tucson

Robinson >  The Utter Irresponsibility of Sheriff Dupnik

Savage >  A Plea for Mental Health Reform

  1. genferei
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    Stuart Creque: Claire, you’re making a grave error if you think the national debate is somehow balanced and reciprocal.

    As for Pakistan, let’s pray it doesn’t come to nuclear war between Pakistan and India.

    Doesn’t this juxtaposition of sentences make my point?.  · Jan 10 at 10:03pm

    Not really, Claire, no. Unless the US retains (recovers?) the ability of its people to speak and think freely and clearly then there is no solid base from which to contemplate solutions for difficult parts of the world. Don’t underestimate the stakes involved in the contest for the narrative on this incident – it is a well-greased slope from a requirement for civilized discourse to human rights tribunals to the thoughtcrime of not accepting the leftist view of the world. And if the narrative isn’t corrected at home, then the chances of it being corrected abroad drop from slim to none. Which can’t be helpful for US (moral) influence. And without such influence what point discussing foreign happenings?

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t be sad if there wasn’t another thread on Ricochet on the shootings and their aftermath.

  2. Nick Stuart

    It is a struggle for control of “The Narrative.”

    The Left has been striving mightily to paint the Right, particularly including Tea Party types as racist, violent, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and generally outside the bounds of civilized discourse. Their misrepresentations cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.

    In the coming weeks and months we’ll see the Left attempt to use this incident as the reason to regulate speech and firearms, so as tedious as it is to not move on, we’re not going to be able to.

  3. Nick Stuart

    Cases in point, while I was waiting for the above to finish posting, I switched over to another site and was greeted by links to:

    Our Insane Handgun Policy – Richard Cohen, New York Daily News A Flood-Tide of Murder – Bob Herbert, New York Times

    The Left is not going to “let this crisis go to waste.”

  4. dittoheadadt

    Move on? Put it to rest? Are y’all serious??

    The reason to continue to push back is not because we’re obsessed with the story.  The reason to push back and to continue to fight the Left’s narrative on this event is precisely because they HAVEN’T moved on or put it to rest.

    We are in an eternal battle (oooh, war metaphor – my bad) with the Left for the hearts and minds of America. This sad event is just more proof of it. If we walk away (“move on, put it to rest”) and they don’t, they win.

    Kenneth may be right that here in Ricochet we need to move on (preaching to the choir and all), but out there, where there ARE people who assert that harsh political rhetoric and imagery is the exclusive domain of the Right, I say, continue to take up arms and fight against the lies that keep emanating from the [expletive deleted by an editor]-peddlers on the Left.

    It’s said that nature abhors a vacuum; if we abandon the fight, any fight, against the Left, the Left will fill that vacuum.

  5. Jerry Carroll

    This is from Mein Kampf:

    “Iin the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”

    This is why it’s necessary to answer back.

  6. liberal jim

    This tragedy and the deluge   of shallow commentary about it reveal the parasitic tendencies of both press and politicians.   Other than medical updates and eulogizing of the dead all that needed to be said has been said; yet this will go on for days, because it benefits not the people and families directly affected or the people listening, but because it benefits the people doing the commentary.   This, I believe, says something about the character of these people.  Why do they control the national discourse?   You’re point is correct Claire.  Most things that warrant serious in depth discussion are not discussed or not discussed in a seriuos way because of this type of blather.  I look forwarded to Fridays book discussion.

  7. Nickolas
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    It’s just as self-indulgent for those on the Right to preoccupy themselves obsessively with the grave insult offered their amour-propre by the suggestion that their rhetoric has been intemperate, and to spend hour upon hour collating and cataloguing examples of equally intemperate Leftist rhetoric–as if it was some kind of competition with a prize at the end–as it is for those on the Left to do it

    Politics is war without violence. The media is one of major theaters of battle. The weapons are TV, radio, the internet, movie/TV program storylines and dialog, pop music lyrics, etc. They are all used to distribute propaganda.

    The Left currently has a huge advantage on this battleground, but they do not control it. They have launched a major offensive on it. The Right must not only blunt that offensive, it should counterattack.

    Ooops…. Sorry about using all that violent military jargon and rhetoric.

    Sure, there are likely more important events people should focus on. But the Right does not currently control the agenda. The Dems and the MSM do, and to a point so does the public, via TV/radio ratings, internet hits, etc.

  8. Wylee Coyote
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: It’s just as self-indulgent for those on the Right to preoccupy themselves obsessively with the grave insult offered their amour-propre by the suggestion that their rhetoric has been intemperate, and to spend hour upon hour collating and cataloguing examples of equally intemperate Leftist rhetoric–as if it was some kind of competition with a prize at the end–as it is for those on the Left to do it. Surely no one doubts it possible to find examples of rudeness and vitriol all over the spectrum of American political opinion?

    I disagree.  The demonization of everyone right of center in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing gives conservatives every reason to fight back and point out the blatant games that are being played.  It’s not as though the right is trying to pin Loughner on the left, we just want them to play by their own rules.

    If they control the narrative on this, and are permitted to reduce every conservative position to a shorthand for violent extremism, it will have great consequences down the road.

  9. Mike LaRoche

    I would say that the decline of civil discourse between Left and Right in the United States is certainly worth talking about.  The gleeful eagerness of many on the Left to use this massacre to demonize their opposition lends further credence to the notion – popularized by William Gibson in Spook Country -  that America has, during the past decade, slipped into a Cold Civil War.  The situation in Pakistan is incredibly terrifying, but the very prospect of the complete collapse of reasoned political discourse (and what that may imply) in the United States is no less distressing.

  10. EJHill
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: It’s just as self-indulgent for those on the Right to preoccupy themselves obsessively with the grave insult offered their amour-propre by the suggestion that their rhetoric has been intemperate, and to spend hour upon hour collating and cataloguing examples of equally intemperate Leftist rhetoric–as if it was some kind of competition with a prize at the end–as it is for those on the Left to do it.

    Except that a charge left unanswered is a charge accepted. Otherwise, this becomes Mr. Obama’s “Oklahoma City Moment,” his opening to redefine the Left as morally superior, reset the narrative and pave the way to rolling back the gains of last November.

    You may not like it, you may find it unseemly, but there it is. Arguing against the major political story in the United States by setting it against the background of another case of political violence a half a world away is like trying to save the Titanic by bailing water with a thimble. The rush of the water is still going to knock you down and drown you. (I’m trying so hard to avoid the military metaphor.)

  11. Kenneth

    Claire, after the last two days of wall-to-wall punditry about the Arizona tragedy, I’m worn out.  I agree with you; it’s time to move on.

    With regard to Pakistan, I recognize that its combination of Islamist-inspired instability and a nuclear arsenal represents a threat of significant proportions; perhaps second only to that presented by Iran. 

    But I am at a total loss to know what we can do about Pakistan.  We seem to have no effective diplomatic influence.  And the prospect of a military adventure there is nightmarish. 

    It seems to me that Pervez Musharraf at least kept a lid on things while he was in office, but where now is the political figure in Pakistan who stands any chance of bringing sanity to the nation?

    In the past, we might support the installment of some sort of military regime that would impose stability.  But in Pakistan, the military is dominated by Islamists.

    It seems we’re destined to watch Pakistan become a totally failed state.

    Help us, Claire.  What would you have us do?

  12. ggg

    Lucky for me, I am also on a schedule that follows Istanbul time, despite my Ohio residency. A late night Claire post was just the cure I needed for a depressing day of battling the clueless left. Thanks :)

    I’ll go back to my hole of being a secret conservative tomorrow.

  13. Mike LaRoche

    I would like to move on, but the hateful, malicious insults leveled by the Left must be countered.  I will not stand silent while I and those whom I support are falsely accused of being effective conspirators to murder, for silence implies consent.

  14. Kenneth
    Mike LaRoche: I would like to move on, but the hateful, malicious insults leveled by the Left must be countered.  I will not stand silent while I and those whom I support are falsely accused of being effective conspirators to murder, for silence implies consent. · Jan 10 at 9:43pm

    My guess is that the only people who are persuaded by those insults are the people stupid enough to align themselves with the Left in the first place. 

    Sound and fury, signifying nothing. 

  15. Stuart Creque

    “Surely no one doubts that the metaphors of the military–and shooting and boxing, for that matter–are part of the normal fabric of the English language, used by everyone, and that sane people know the difference between the literal and the metaphorical?”

    No, surely NOT.  The narrative on the Left is driven by their hope that they can convince a majority of Americans to abandon the common-sense idea that martial metaphors are a normal part of our language and culture.  Jim Geraghty on NRO’s Campaign Spot blog notes the hypocrisy:

    “‘I understand the idea that, even if Loughner had no idea who Sharron Angle is and even if he never saw Palin’s infamous cross-hairs map, it still makes sense to encourage political leaders to ditch violent rhetoric,’ writes Salon news editor Steve Kornacki at the site’s War Room blog.

    “The first step in encouraging political leaders to ditch violent rhetoric? Stop calling your blog the WAR ROOM.”

    Claire, you’re making a grave error if you think the national debate is somehow balanced and reciprocal.

    As for Pakistan, let’s pray it doesn’t come to nuclear war between Pakistan and India.

  16. ggg

    Mike LaRoche: I would like to move on, but the hateful, malicious insults leveled by the Left must be countered.  I will not stand silent while I and those whom I support are falsely accused of being effective conspirators to murder, for silence implies consent. · Jan 10 at 9:43pm

    In some ways (like one very twisted way) I sympathize with the left punditry, cocked and ready to go in a cathartic moment. Although I plan to move on tomorrow, I suspect someone will speak up in a meeting. I’m actually legitimately concerned about my professional situation considering that I could see myself blowing up in a moment of frustration, goofy as that sounds. Time to put on the sober face.

  17. EJHill
    Kenneth My guess is that the only people who are persuaded by those insults are the people stupid enough to align themselves with the Left in the first place.

    Oh, if it were only so. Unfortunately, there are huge numbers of voters in this country that are only driven to pay attention during big stories like this and the impressions that they come away with can be lasting.

    Even if it seems fleeting at the time, campaign commercials, editorial story arcs and talking point memos in 2012 will try to resurrect the themes articulated now. Too often the casually interested will then respond with, “Oh, yeah, I remember that. The Republicans and their hate machine was responsible for that!”

    When I first got into television 30 years ago, I said I was going to treat my audience with respect. And then I met them. Now I give them the respect they deserve.

  18. Aaron Miller

    Effectively, half our nation is accusing the other half of inciting a political assassination. But no big deal, right?

  19. Mel Foil

    There are also people in government today, on the far left, just waiting for some concrete excuse to limit “hateful” speech–”hateful,” being anything that successfully embarrasses them or thwarts their social “progress.” Crushing conservative or religious free speech has been tried in other parts of the Western World. I don’t see any reason they wouldn’t try it here in the United States. They just need to manufacture some reason to do it.

  20. Claire Berlinski
    C
    Stuart Creque: Claire, you’re making a grave error if you think the national debate is somehow balanced and reciprocal.

    As for Pakistan, let’s pray it doesn’t come to nuclear war between Pakistan and India.

    Doesn’t this juxtaposition of sentences make my point? Okay! The national debate is unbalanced. Does that mean we must participate in some kind of sandbox fight about who said a mean thing first? This is a time to lead by example. It’s appropriate to say once, and simply, “That’s silly. Language is full of metaphor. Greg is not literally about to blow up.” Then the adults have to return to thinking about the things we as adults really need to think about.

    Kenneth, I don’t know the answer. I’d have a better idea, I think, if I could see more serious discussion of this in the news. But the pundits seem too busy to help me out on this one.