Thankfully, my Saturday evening tweet referring to the ‘murder’ of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was premature. However, the sentiment of hope that Saturday’s shootings might lead to a calming of the right-wing politics of hate, from politicians and media alike, was not.
Why, some asked, did I only refer to politics of hate on the right? Answer, because in recent times in the US, that is where it is overwhelmingly to be found. For some time, reasonable public-spirited people have been growing more and more concerned about the angry, hate-filled, gun-laden rhetoric of the right’s attacks upon President Obama in particular and Democrat politicians in general.
The Tea Party movement has been a brilliant political operation masquerading as a democratic grassroots campaign, complete with its cheerleading media wing in Fox News and leaders like Sarah Palin.
Palin is a fascinating political phenomenon. In appointing her as his running-mate John McCain in my view destroyed any last vestiges of hope that he might beat Obama. His strategy, if not exactly defined in these terms, was experience plus ‘I’m not George Bush’. In appointing Palin he demolished both planks of his own strategy.
Alas he also propelled her immediately to a new league and she has exploited it brilliantly. The impact on American politics, however, has been putrid.
Her Facebook message of condolence, alongside a giant plug for her book, rang very hollow when her previous messages about Congresswoman Giffords included the now infamous ‘crosshairs’ targeting of 20 members of Congress complete with the message ‘Don’t retreat. Instead – RELOAD’.
Her spokesman said yesterday they ‘never ever ever intended’ the crosshairs to be gunsights and that attemps to link her to the shootings were ‘obscene’. So is a lot that has come from Palin’s mouth and pen. So is a lot that has come from the mouths of the shock jocks and the Tea Party activists busy telling each other Obama is, well, not really American.
Let’s imagine that a leading British Muslim had put out campaign literature ‘targeting’ 20 MPs in the last general election. Let’s imagine that at the weekend one of the 20 had been shot. … And now imagine how our media would be reacting, swiftly followed by the cops moving in.
What the right are now doing is trying to portray the killer of Tucson, Arizona as a crazed loner operating in some kind of vacuum. But even if it turns out that he had never heard of the Tea Party, did not know who he was shooting, and was in fact a card-carrying member of the Democrat Party, (all three unlikely) it is time for the right-wing prophets of hate, many of whom have grown rich and famous on the back of their bile, to recognise the harm they do to public discourse, and their possible role in the actions of those who follow and listen to them.