Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Profiling

My first post regarding Tuscon focused on seperating the act itself from the guns that were used and the political rhetoric being discussed. But now, in less than a week, the story has gone from the incident itself and stories of the victims to the way the media victimizes "conservatives." Why do all our news stories end up "victimizing conservatives?"

Let's see if I've got this right, Sarah:

Violent rhetoric from politicians against other politicians? OK.
Military metaphors from politicians against other politicians? OK.
Gun and target graphics in political campaign literature? OK.
Talk of secession? OK.
Demonizing political rivals and their supporters? OK.

Questioning whether any or all of the above contributed to the assassination attempt of a political figure? NOT OK.

Now, did the violent rhetoric drive this shooter to murder a bunch of people? We don't know that, yet. Right now, it is looking like this guy is just one of those men who wants to watch the world burn. But I'm willing to say probably not.

So why, in the first shocked hours as our nation tried to make sense of the tragedy, did there come to be a focus on the violent, vile and destructive political rhetoric of the right-wing? One word answer.

Profiling.

Back it up just a second (I mentioned this on Maitri's post the other day). When almost anything bad happens, and the perpetrator has even a slightly Middle Eastern name, the immediate gut reaction is to blame terrorism from fundamentalist Islam. And then crank up the right-wing "Sharia law is coming to get you" meme. And then blame all followers of Islam, everywhere. Hell, as far as over-politicizing a tragedy is concerned, the right-wing wins this contest going away. And soon after, you hear the calls for "profiling" possible evil doers and the assertation that "political correctness" is leaving us open to terrorism.

So, in a country with our political rhetoric being what it is, where we have faced the real spectre of political violence in the past, when a Democratic congresswoman - a congresswoman who has, in fact, gone on record responding to violent rhetoric, images, threats and vandalism to her person and office - her staff, and bystanders are gunned down by a 22 year old white male, in Arizona of all places, what do you think the immediate, gut-reaction is going to be?

That's profiling. Sorry, folks, you got to dance with the one that brung ya.

Because even more than overblown, violent rhetoric in this country, we have developed a well-honed progress-resistant trait called jumping to conclusions. Then we hold onto those conclusions despite contrary evidence. Or we argue about the initial reaction instead of discussing the contrary evidence.

And even as this story began to move away from the initial political aspects, as any story tends to do, the right grabbed a hold of it from their angle and won't let it go. I wonder how many stories were actually written about Sarah Palin's map being at fault for this shooting compared to how many stories, talk radio segments, and breathless pundit appearances have been made about how those few stories unfairly demonize the right wing? Because all I'm hearing about now is the latter.

Thus: "Democratic Congresswoman, staffers and bystanders shot; actual human beings dead and hurt; right-wing noise machine victimized by media."

Perhaps we should not let the right-wing define the terms of the debate any longer, because they're doing it even here. Y'all, I can't speak for others, but I've been concerned with the overblown, hyperbolic and emotionally overwrought rhetoric of the American right for a long, long time. I don't know how many times I can say it. From a sitting US Senator (R-Texas) politically justifying volence against judges back in 2005, to Sharon Angle's "Second Amendment Remedies," this has become a destructive cultural trait of the political right. And it has been years in the making.

Though there may be large numbers of professional protesters, internet meme creators, and even some candidate also-rans of the Democratic Party that spew vile rhetoric against the right; there may be some ridiculous college students who try to silence Ann Coulter by throwing pies - let us try to remember who is doing what.

But there is a big difference between a cafe-press t-shirt and Rush Limbaugh. There is a difference between a poster at a protest and Candidate for Vice-President of the United States of America Sarah Palin. As a matter of fact, I would state that there is a Mount f ing Everest of difference there, in terms of cultural and political power. And before we start comparing apples to apples, even the right-wing also-rans can become political celebrities if you add guns and promise to kick someone's ass.

So is it a shock that, in the hours following what appeared to be a political shooting, people may look immediately at those who have marketed themselves as gun-toting ass-kickers and literally used target images when describing the specific individual who got shot, so much so that the specific individual who got shot publicly raised concerns about it? Think about it another way, right-wing, this just proves that your marketing works as well as you think it does.

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