I have found the national political response to the shootings in Arizona a fascinating study this past week. As I blogged earlier this week , when Democrats held out an olive branch to Republicans last year, asking for a mutual statement urging civility in political discourse, they were firmly rebuffed by RNC leadership. I had expected this recent tragedy to move them somewhat; to reconsider their position and, perhaps, to move toward pushing for a “toning down” of violent language and imagery.
Instead, what I have seen is the right searching for excuses why they don’t need to do that and reaching, sometimes almost comically, for examples of liberals “doing the same thing”.
Certainly Sarah Palin’s video yesterday was the most atrocious and sickening example of this excuse-finding. The Tea Party Nation, whose email list I am on, has sent out about a dozen essays since Saturday, deflecting blame and pointing fingers back on progressives. Across the blogosphere, violent rhetoric apologists/deniers have fanned out to protest what they see as an attack from liberals.
They point to a statement President Obama made during the 2008 campaign where he said, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun” in reference to the national campaign. This morning, the Tea Party Nation dredged up a pardon given by President Clinton (membership req’d) – something that happened a decade ago – that, in their minds, apparently justifies any violent rhetoric the right cares to dole out. Most of these are a considerable stretch but stretch they do. A quick visit to any conservative blog is all it takes to see this in action.
And, of course, if you look at the political life of any politician, you’re sure to find something objectionable. Even a man as temperate and reasoned as Barack Obama has things in his past that you could point to. That’s simply human nature, I would argue.
But you don’t have to stretch to find examples of over-the-top violent political language and imagery and other references from conservatives. It has nearly become their modus operandi in recent years. Talking Points Memo has an extensive list and these are just the more obvious ones. Even if you leave out the most absurd teabagger signs and statements and focus only on actual politicians, the examples are common and easy to see.
But more interesting to me is not that they have done it so much in the recent past. It’s their rejection of the need to tone things down NOW. While progressives are doing a significant amount of soul-searching, and I have seen this on countless blogs and in countless comments on liberal blogs, the right is quite silent. There is little soul-searching in evidence from their side. They have no apparent interest in dialing down the rhetoric or improving the tone of our national discourse. Rather, they point fingers, shout “they’ve done it too!” and then turn away. No suggestion that, hey, maybe we could moderate our approach a little, maybe we could be part of the solution here.
And, at the end of the day, I would suggest this tells you a great deal about the difference between liberals and conservatives. Liberals are willing to consider when they have played a role in making things worse, change for the better and move forward — to progress. Conservatives seem incapable of admitting their mistakes. They deny their role and continue down the same path, firmly convinced of their infallibility and “rightness”.
After the remarkable memorial in Tucson last night, politicians from both sides of the ideological divide have been given an opportunity to change the direction of our political discourse. As President Obama said in his comments, “We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another; that’s entirely up to us.” The only remaining question is if and how the conservatives will respond to this opportunity.
I’m just sayin’…