Not to beat a dead horse but the dialogue between Left and Right seems to be going down a worm hole much like what has brought us to our current state of partisanship. For the Right to defend their turf without realizing that a small segment of society is susceptible to outside influences is both naive and dishonest
The reaction has been instant and fierce by the critics of those who would accuse the vitriolic remarks and images from the right for contributing to the assassination attempts of Gabby Giffords and the death of 6 other people in Tucson last Saturday. The focus seems to be aimed at Sarah Palin’s SarahPac website that until Sunday, displayed a map with 20 targets of congressional districts that she was encouraging her supporters to work to defeat the Democratic candidates there in last year’s elections. The spots were marked by what many say are rifle sight crosshairs. One Palin defender, Rebecca Mansour, called them surveyor map markings, but even Sarah Palin referred to them as “bulls-eyes”
The heated passion that many on the Left have come out with, attacking the inciting and hate-filled images and words by some conservatives, was instantly rebuked by the Right as hypocritical, showing examples of equally vial images and comments from those on the Left. Rush Limbaugh proclaimed that such attacks on the Right were efforts to quash their free speech rights and Glenn Beck warned Sarah Palin in an e-mail to tighten her security at future events. Do these actions by these two right-wing icons not justify the allegations made by those who say “words have consequences”? Why worry about your free speech rights or the need to beef up security if only words, not actions, are all that has been projected in your direction?
Rather than circling the wagons, those on the Right that are willing to concede that the Left engages in threatening comments also, should step back and see what exactly is being ignored. Clearly both feel the hateful actions of the other are disruptive and ultimately destructive, yet thankfully no uber-conservative politician has been a target of an assassin. Had this occurred first, the defensive reaction by some on the Left would be similar in many ways that some conservatives appear to be reacting today.
The claim on the Right, as it would be on the Left, is that no connection can link the vile acts, words and images to tragic actions, like that in Tucson. How true or untrue it is remains open for debate. There have been studies that suggest a connection between violent images and words and how it impacts the actions of some. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and Walter and Leonore Annenberg Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, who was interviewed by Jim Leher on PBS’s News Hour said “we know that from studies on media violence that ongoing exposure to media violence has a small but statistically significant effect and that effect is magnified in troubled individuals, individuals who are more likely to be vulnerable to forms of modeling.”
The telling point that Ms. Jamieson made is what seems to be going over the heads of those who have not only been guilty of engaging in hateful rhetoric but those who quietly support them and fail to speak out openly against them when they do step over reasonable lines of civility.
When those on the Right today denounce the idea that images like Sarah Palin’s gunsight map could not invoke anyone to violence, that is perhaps only half true. The majority of people in this country that takes sides in the political arena and are highly animated and vocal in their attacks on the opposition are considered relatively sane and capable of controlling their emotions beyond their words and gestures (hopefully).
It is that small population of “troubled individuals” like Jared Lee Lougher who are susceptible to the mean and hateful words and images they encounter more abundantly today than they would have 15-20 years ago. To argue that Loughner had left-leaning or right-leaning political views is absurd. He went beyond all rational models of politics on either end of the spectrum as his website and YouTube comments validate.
Thanks to a multitude of cable channels and the Internet, more people today are exposed to the ugly rhetoric that has perhaps always existed in times past. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik was accurate Ms. Jamieson tells us “when he stated that he grew up in a very different environment than what exists today.” The 24-7 news cycles and thousands of hate sites on the world wide web bring a world to people that is as divergent as it is instantaneous.
The paranoid and schizophrenic are suffering from delusions of grandeur and conspiracy theories that exist only in their minds. Some of the symptomatic feelings that they express are ones of being constantly watched and controlled. When a real life figure that exemplifies these feelings is latched onto by these mentally disturbed individuals, they can play out their fears in manners that can be a threat to the rest of society. It is NOT beyond the pale that Jared Loughner had developed an association between his paranoid tendencies, the anti-Democratic rhetoric from the Right and the personification of this angst in the life of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
To ignore this central point in the on-going debate between the Right and the Left over vitriolic attacks from both sides is completely unproductive. Both need to recognize that there are a number of individuals who walk amongst us each day, seemingly “normal”, that live in a contrived world of their own making and modify it according to circumstances and views they routinely see on their browser or TV screen.
It is not a sign of weakness for both sides to acknowledge that the arguments that ensue between political ideologies needs to be toned down. We can’t assume that there are not those troubled people out there that will take these often graphic messages to a different level and act on it in a manner that was suggested or implied in the images and the words that were conveyed.
Egos need to be subdued and the better angels of our nature need to be allowed to take the high ground to re-open a dialogue that fears the loss of our once proud heritage more than one’s own closely guarded views. It is a disservice to the efforts that seek to engage in civil dialogue when an angry minority are more ready to defend their actions rather than stepping back to see things from another angle; a perspective which recognizes there is a growing number of people with mental health issues in our communities that when ignored will fester and come out as erratic and possibly life-threatening behavior for themselves and others.