Put Hate Speech in the Crosshairs

There's a well-known line from Edmund Burke: "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." In the wake of the Tucson shootings, it now has a corollary: All it takes for evil to triumph is for lesser men to turn away and claim plausible deniability. As with all such tragedies, we immediately enter into a mode of national reflection. Who's to blame? What's to blame? Was this an isolated incident? A symptom of our overheated political rhetoric? Will we reevaluate our gun-control laws? Will the tone of our political discourse ever change?

Who's to blame is one delusional psycho loner with a private and twisted worldview. He's Whitman. Chapman. Hinckley. McVeigh. Harris. Klebold. Cho. These people grow in society like cancer cells. They can be treated. Isolated. Medicated. Counseled. Arrested. Incarcerated. But, as with the disease itself, despite any chemotherapy, a lone cell can slip through the cracks and metastasize. Unfortunately, in this country, once someone snaps, they have easy access to weapons of mass destruction for taking out social revenge. One sick bastard with a knife can't do as much damage as one sick bastard with a 9mm automatic.

As for our rhetoric, until it becomes known exactly what was in the mind of the shooter, we won't know whether or not it was a factor. This time. But it doesn't require an investigation to know that anger and hate speech have become a factor in our lives. "Going negative" has not only become a prerequisite in political campaigns, it's now SOP for the policy campaigns between campaigns. The screamers at the health care town halls. The gun toters at the president's rallies. The "patriots" who spat on members of Congress. The birthers and deathers. Palin's crosshairs. Angle's 2nd Amendment remedies. Joe "you lie" Wilson. They've all been weapons in a war to demonize and de-legitimize this president and his policies that's been going on for two years, due to the fact that there is a particular segment of the population that went absolutely batshit when we elected a black guy president. "Socialist!" "Fascist!" "Death panels!" "Government takeover of health care!" "The job-killing health care bill!"

But it hasn't just been the nuts with their sidearms, misspelled signs, and dingle ball hats. Even more egregious has been the GOP's willingness to coddle this wing of their party for political advantage, celebrating their recent election victories while turning a blind eye to their extreme rhetoric. Not one Republican has had the guts to come out and say that many of their statements and actions have been irresponsible, or even dangerous. As recently as last week, John Boehner, a guy who now permanently sports the sly smile of a golfer whose opponent just missed a key putt on the 18th hole -- was asked by Brian Williams if he would call out the birthers within his own party. And instead of showing some class and admitting that, as any reasonable person knows, they're a ridiculous political sideshow, he skulked behind some oblique statement, chalking up their delusions as "part of the melting pot of ideas." This is not melting pot. This is crackpot. Yet, someone as powerful as Boehner refused to disavow them because he didn't want to piss them off and lose potential support. This kind of disingenuousness validates dangerous nonsense as legitimate opinion and sets the table for extremism. Currying Tea Party favor is the reason that the moment they took power in the House, they immediately got down to bullshit by reading the Constitution on the floor. The implication was clear: What's come from this administration over the last two years has been un-Constitutional. Does anyone remember that the president taught Constitutional Law? I'd welcome a debate between him and any Tea Partier, or member of Congress on the subject.

But this is the way the GOP operates. No, they're not necessarily doing the name-calling themselves. They don't have the guts to throw the brick through the store window, but they'll happily buy a hot TV set that someone else carried out. You can't turn away when the heat gets turned up, then throw up your hands and call for calm when the pot boils over. It's one thing to decry the incendiary rhetoric. But it's hypocritical to offer a pat statement of regret along with the perfunctory "our hopes and prayers are with the families," while all the while reaping political benefit from the kind of talk that may have created the climate for these actions.

And as for Ms. Crosshairs herself, it's doubtful that this sick, delusional nobody actually took even tacit instructions from her "don't retreat, reload" exhortation. Though it was telling that the first reaction from her camp was to assert that the crosshairs were actually map-reading symbols. What is it about stupidity that it assumes everyone else around it is just as dumb?

But what remains to be seen is if responsible individuals in politics will begin to eschew hysteria in favor of reason. It has become much easier in this country to inflame than to educate or enlighten. I'll be curious to see if the modifier "job-killing" will be removed from the ceremonial bill to repeal health care. It will be interesting to see if any Republican will even suggest revisiting stricter regulations on the sale of guns. I'll be eager to see if, in a month or so, when the anguish over this shooting has subsided, if the name-calling, incendiary rhetoric, and robotic recitation of inflammatory talking points will also subside in favor of reason, and an honest discussion of political differences in the hope of finding the best solution. Frankly, I doubt it. It's a shame that it takes mass murder to sober us up. Sadly, the one reality that seems to eclipse our momentary reflection and soul-searching, is that when the smoke clears we tend to revert to business as usual. Which is unfortunate. We can't cure everyone's insanity. We can only cure our own.