Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Yglesias Rule

Within hours of the first news reports of the deaths of six people at a political gathering in Arizona some on the left were seeking to turn the tragedy to ideological advantage.

Matthew Yglesias was quick to finger the culprits ultimately responsible - Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman. Palin had sent out a political flier in which crosshairs were superimposed on Congressional districts of congresspersons Palin hoped to see defeated, and Bachman had once told an audience that she wanted her supporters to be "armed and dangerous".

Of course, both of these were metaphors. Palin was trying to show visually that she had targeted certain politicians for defeat, an expression everyone in politics uses. Bachman was telling her supporters to arm themselves with information so that they'd be "dangerous" to those seeking passage of the Waxman-Markey "Cap and Trade" bill.

Apparently, though, subtle linguistic tropes are lost on people like Yglesias who seems eager to exploit the Arizona tragedy by turning it into an opportunity to score political points. Here's what the Daily Caller tells us about what Yglesias said:
Yglesias blames Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann for creating a political climate in which “violent rhetoric and imagery” apparently incite people to murder.

“A reminder that gun imagery and electoral politics don’t mix that well,” Yglesias opined on Twitter, while referencing a flier published by Palin’s political action committee, SarahPAC. In the flier, Palin “targeted,” with crosshairs, 20 House Democrats for defeat.

Yglesias also referenced a Huffington Post article in which Rep. Bachmann reportedly said, “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous” to block global warming legislation.

When it was reported that Bachman was grieving over the shooting, Yglesias responded:

“If Bachmann is “stunned and angered” by [this] shooting, why did she call for “armed and dangerous” resistance to Waxman-Markey?”

That sounds ominous, doesn’t it? There’s only one problem: Bachmann clearly was using “armed and dangerous” in a metaphorical and political, not literal and violent, sense. In fact, she quite clearly meant “armed and dangerous” with information, not bullets.
The Daily Caller then goes on to give us the transcript of Bachman's speech which plainly shows the innocuous context in which she used the phrase "armed and dangerous."

This sort of attempt to exploit a tragedy to discredit one's political opponents is as despicable as it is stupid. It's stupid because people like Yglesias would have us believe that all metaphorical language that may in any way be associated with violence is at least partly responsible for any violence that actually occurs.

Yglesias isn't the only guilty party, of course. An Arizona congressman also blames Palin at the Huffington Post and one commentator on Fox News Sunday even suggested that calling one's opponents fascists, nazis, communists, or socialists creates an incendiary climate in which people are more likely to resort to violence. This despite the fact that some, even in congress and the media, describe themselves as proud socialists. If they call themselves that why shouldn't others call them that? And why stop there? Why not include conservative and liberal in the list of pejoratives that should be beyond the pale of politically correct discourse?

Perhaps soon we'll hear calls to abolish any language that makes anyone else mad because it could, after all, lead to violence.

It seems to me, though, that it's at least as reasonable, even more reasonable, in fact, to think that violence such as we witnessed Saturday in Arizona is a product of a culture which glorifies such mayhem on television, in the movies, and in our video games. Of course, if people like Yglesias were to blame those influences for Saturday's murders then they'd have to pass up an opportunity to smackdown their political opponents, and besides, it would offend their friends in Hollywood. It's much easier, and safer, to blame Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman.

So, in the spirit of Mr. Yglesias' concerns, I'd like to propose what might be called the Yglesias Rule of public discourse. Any and all words and phrases that make any allusion to anything that could be remotely construed as violent must henceforth be avoided in our public conversation. Let's ban from our political dialogue all use of words like political massacre, political bloodbath, political enemies, political suicide, battleground states, tortured reasoning, shootout, fight, beating, drubbing, slugfest, murderous, target, foot-soldiers, rhetorical weapons, character assassination, two-edged sword, and a host of others I'm sure readers can come up with.

Any politician or commentator, or more precisely, any conservative like Palin or Bachman, who uses any of these terms must be made to share responsibility the next time some lunatic perpetrates a horrific tragedy. But of course we'll give the President a pass for his famous quip that “If they [the Republicans] bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun”. He is a Democrat, after all, and unlike Republicans, when Democrats employ such imagery they don't really mean it literally.

UPDATE: The number of instances of media lefties and others trying to blame this tragedy on Palin and other conservatives is increasing so fast I can't keep up with it. Go here and scroll down for examples.

Meanwhile, for those who enjoy irony, a former classmate of the suspect reports that the guy was a left-wing stoner when she knew him. Well. That sure doesn't fit the narrative.