Friday, January 14, 2011

Tombstones in Arizona

Obviously, the massacre in Tucson was committed by a deranged man.

We may never know his motives, but if it was apolitical he would've probably killed his parents or neighbors or some strangers with no connection to politics.

He didn't.

He murdered a nine-year-old girl and five others at a political gathering. He wounded 14, including a congresswoman who is a conservative Democrat in a swing district.

The local sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, noted this coincidence and offered some points to consider:

The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous, and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital,” Dupnik said last Saturday at a press conference about the shootings.

"We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry,” Dupnik added. “The fiery rhetoric that has taken hold in politics may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.”

“To try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with,” Dupnik said.

Naturally, he created a firestorm among conservatives and allowed liberal pundits to pile on.

Now, we don't know if the "fiery rhetoric" had anything to do with the tragedy in Tucson, but the fundamental truth of Dupnik's comments cannot be denied.

It is also true that this "fiery rhetoric" comes almost entirely from the right wing, be it Republicans, Libertarians or teabaggers.

On one side you have MSNBC, which few Americans watch. On the other, you have Fox News, which a lot more viewers watch, plus the extensive range of "hate radio." (Newspaper punditry doesn't matter because newspapers' influence these days is minuscule when compared to TV and radio.)

In Bend, we have three AM radio stations. One is all sports. The other two feature lineups of conservatives from Limbaugh to Hannity that spew hate 24-7. Judging by the sheriff's comments, I'm sure Tucson mirrors Bend in this regard.

In Bend, though, we don't have a Democratic representative in Washington and haven't had one for decades.

If we did, gauging from the hostile letters printed in the local paper since President Obama was elected and all the angry anti-Obama bumper stickers around town, I wouldn't be surprised if we did have some sort of horrific incident here.

But, Oregon isn't Arizona, not by a thousand miles.

In spite of the general crankiness of ultra-conservative rural voters in Oregon, the state is run by progressives on the west side of the Cascade Range in Portland, Salem and Eugene.

In Arizona, a red and red-meat state, Republicans dominate state government and routinely stumble over issues like illegal immigration and Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Arizona State University waffled on whether or not to give Obama an honorary degree when he gave a commencement address there.

For a thorough background on Arizona's legislative wackiness, check out this piece from Harper's Magazine.

But back to "fiery rhetoric."

You would think that people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin and others would tone down their hateful rhetoric after what happened last Saturday. Rep. John Dingell read aloud on the House floor some of the violent political rhetoric uttered this past year.

I don't think that will happen. In fact, this shooting of a Democratic representative will somehow be turned on its head. We'll hear how "freedom-loving" gun owners and "hate" radio hosts are under siege.

Palin, in fact, posted an ill-advised video on the internet. As Lincoln, and others, said, better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. Check out this story from the NYT or this from Slate on the reaction to Palin's comments. Joan Walsh at Salon slams Palin's narcissism. Or for an absolutely brilliant takedown of Palin and Beck, check out Stephen Colbert's segment "The Word" from Wednesday night's show.

What is most shocking about the terrible events in Tucson is that these mass killings have become so commonplace in America that our local paper treated it as if it were a bus crash in India. On Sunday, the local paper teased the massacre at the bottom of the front page and ran a story inside.

It is also shocking that these shoot-em-ups don't happen more frequently.

Afterall, we are a nation that believes less in God than in Glock, the type of gun used by the shooter. Glock sales have escalated since the Tucson mayhem.

And the super-sized ammo clip used by the gunman was made illegal under the assault weapons ban in the 1990s, but Republicans let that ban expire under Bush II.

A Republican lawmaker now wants legislators to be able to pack some heat on the House floor.

Uh, we not only need to tone down the "fiery rhetoric," but we would also be better off with fewer guns out there rather than more.

But, the NRA would have none of that. Neither would Republicans who successfully defeated a bill last year that would have blocked gun sales to individuals on the terrorist watch list.

It's a sad commentary in our country when a mentally disturbed individual can't get any help from our diminishing social services, but he has easy access to firearms.


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