Violence and False Equivalencies

Jan 10, 2011 at 5:55 pm

After the tragic shootings Saturday in Arizona involving a U.S. congresswoman and a federal judge, some progressive commentators were quick to note the heated rhetoric and provocative imagery used by Sarah Palin's political action committee (PAC), with many blaming it for helping incite violence.—-

After the health-care reform vote last March, SarahPAC used its Facebook page to identify 20 Democratic members of Congress that it hoped to defeat in the 2010 mid-term elections. Among the number was U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot in the head and critically injured Saturday. Giffords remains hospitalized.

Six people were killed and 14 others injured in the attack, which occurred during a meet-and-greet event outside a supermarket.

Palin's Facebook page used symbols resembling rifle scopes to “target” the congressional districts. Shortly afterward, on Twitter, Palin tried to encourage supporters upset by the health-care bill's passage by writing, “Don't Retreat, instead – RELOAD!"

The PAC deleted the graphic from the Facebook page within hours of Saturday's shootings, after having been left online for 10 months, no doubt sensing the coming firestorm of criticism.

(A side-note: Palin has since recycled this lame line numerous times, most recently on her horrible reality TV show on The Learning Channel. Hey, Sarah, it's time for a new catch phrase.)

Many progressive critics said the violent imagery used by Palin was inappropriate, and helped spur psychologically unstable people into acting out on their dark fantasies.

But, as some conservatives have pointed out, it's not just Palin that's resorted to such tactics.

In June 2008, The Daily Kos, a popular liberal bog operated by Markos Moulitsas, used “bulls eye” and “target” wording to identify several Democratic congressional members who voted for amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that gave retroactive immunity from lawsuits to telephone companies that assisted in warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens and turned over telephone records to the government under President George W. Bush.

Among those companies was AT&T, which contributed heavily to several Democratic campaigns and was among the sponsors of the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Critics said this was political quid pro quo in exchange for supporting the amendments which, in many instances, it probably was.

The Daily Kos suggested that Democrats who supported the FISA amendments should face primary challenges from people who better represent the party's core values and principles.

The blog wrote on June 25, 2008, “Who to primary? Well, I'd argue that we can narrow the target list by looking at those Democrats who sold out the Constitution last week.” The list included Giffords.

Later, the item continued, “Not all of these people will get or even deserve primaries, but this vote certainly puts a bulls eye on their district.”

Of course, the blog clearly states “on their district” and doesn't resort to the type of gun-related language and imagery that's commonly used by Palin.

And The Daily Kos wording is nowhere near the type of invective used on the Far Right. For example, the liberal blog today posted a copy of a “liberal hunting license” issued by PatriotShop.US, which includes several bullet holes in the body of a donkey that is standing in front of a target. It includes the phrase, “No bag limit, tagging not required.”

Moulitsas believes the mainstream, corporate-owned media is trying to create false equivalencies where few, if any, exist. As an example, he cites the quote from Sharron Angle, the GOP's unsuccessful senatorial candidate in Nevada from last year's election, when she said citizens might have to resort to “Second Amendment remedies” if they weren't successful at the ballot box.

Bottom line, there's a movement fixated on guns and ammo and the Second Amendment and locking and loading and violence as a solution to their problems,” Moulitsas wrote. “Liberals don't talk about 'Second Amendment remedies.' And while many liberals own guns, they don't use them to validate themselves as men and Americans.”

He added, “Fact is, one side is obsessed with using violence as a solution to their political frustrations, and the other side is not. There is no equivalency. Not even close.”

As The Daily Kos also noted, had President Clinton's assault weapons ban not been allowed to expire, alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner probably wouldn't have been able to buy the high-capacity magazine used in his semiautomatic pistol — perhaps a more relevant issue than who's rhetoric might inspire violence.

In the shooting's aftermath, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.) is proposing a new law that would prohibit the use of certain threatening imagery and wording in political advertisements.

"This is not a wakeup call," Brady told The New York Times. "This is a major alarm going off. We need to be more civil with each other. We need to tone down this rhetoric."