Harsh Rhetoric

The news programs, newspapers, editorial pages, and blogosphere are full of the story of the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, many focusing on the increasingly harsh political rhetoric we’ve seen:

WASHINGTON — The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and others at a neighborhood meeting in Arizona on Saturday set off what is likely to be a wrenching debate over anger and violence in American politics.

While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man, Jared Lee Loughner, contained antigovernment ramblings. And regardless of what led to the episode, it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture.

I don’t want to get too deeply into this story; this blog is not a “hot news of the day” blog. For a roundup of blogospheric commentary I’d direct your attention to this one by my friend Joe Gandelman, who covers the subject with his usual excellence. I would also like to hold out the post of my blog-friend Steve Hynd on the subject for praise:

Various individuals are frantically trying to make connections between Loughner and either the right-wing Palinite tea party movement or ultra-left radicals, depending upon their own partisan bias.

We at Newshoggers will try not to do that. It’s way too early to make such pronouncements, both in terms of evidence and of good taste. Apparenty the shooter was arrested so we’ll all find out in good time.

Our deepest condolences to the bereaved and best wishes to the injured and their families.

There is one word I’d like to add. I have already seen multiple newspaper columns and blog posts condemning one or the other person for their harsh and inflammatory rhetoric, frequently, ironically, by those with the most opaque partisan blinders. I genuinely wish I were seeing more pledges to eschew harsh and inflammatory rhetoric rather than condemnations of it on the part of political adversaries.

Moderation has more than a single dimension. Not only is there moderation in policy, something quite different than mechanical compromise or meeting halfway, but there is moderation in tone. In my view we need more of both.


James Joyner has a fine post in which he puts one of the communications that has been sharply criticised into perspective. In the post, too, he notes a puzzling post by James Fallows which to my eye portrays itself as a critique of pat explanations for violence by people with complicated and irrational motives while suggesting just such a pat explanation in its peroration.

8 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    Is it just me, or do the OTB comment threads get crazier over the weekend?

    I think it’s pretty clear that the murder suffers from some form of psychotic disorder. While the attention exists, it’s probably most useful to understand what the symptoms are. He’s in the classic age range for an onset, but it’s also the age when relationships become attenuated — you’re off to college or the work world, you’ve withdrawn from parents as you seek to establish independence, and you may no longer have the same friends who would see the behavior change. Only if it can be identified, is there any hope of doing anything.

  • michael reynolds Link


    I think he’s likely schizophrenic. But it’s premature to conclude that, just as it’s premature to point a finger at the right wing.

    We’ll get a look at the man’s DVR and his web browser, we’ll see what books or materials he has in his apartment, we’ll find out whether this second guy, the person of interest is relevant, and at some point we’ll hear from the shrinks.

    In the meantime it would behoove the right wing to stop fetishizing guns, stop the dog-whistle racist rhetoric, stop the apocalyptic rhetoric and the self-congratulatory revolutionary posturing because right now they are one pysch evaluation away from being on the hook for this. One of the reasons not to talk crazy is that you end up finding yourself associated with crazy people, whether that was the intent or not.

  • steve Link

    The guy is probably nuts, like most mass shooters. As such, no one else is directly to be blamed. However, I do think that the constant barrage of overheated rhetoric creates an atmosphere that is conducive to problems. I liked this bit form Taibbi’s piece.


    “I didn’t think it was funny at all,” Driehaus says. “I’ve got three little kids and a wife. I said to him, ‘John, this is bullshit, and way out of bounds. For you to say something like that is wildly irresponsible.'”

    Driehaus is quick to point out that he doesn’t think Boehner meant to urge anyone to violence. “But it’s not about what he intended — it’s about how the least rational person in my district takes it. We run into some crazy people in this line of work.”


  • DaveC Link
  • john personna Link

    James, and now Doug, want to say “we have been against violent rhetoric, but we can’t talk about that now.”

    Stop and think about that.

  • michael reynolds Link


    Exactly. Let’s wait until some undefined point in the distant future and when we get there let’s talk about tax cuts. Don’t talk about violent rhetoric when there’s been political violence. Some other day, some other time, when we’ve all forgotten this day.

    The right wing has made unto itself a graven image in the shape of a gun. But let’s not talk about that. Let’s never talk about the cult of the gun. Especially not when a 9 year-old child has been murdered. Let’s talk about it right after the NRA sends out their next round of campaign contributions.

  • cfpete Link

    After Virginia Tech shooting,

    “People who want to take this within 24 hours of the event and make it their political hobby horse to ride, I’ve got nothing but loathing for them,” Kaine said at a Tuesday evening news conference.

    “To those who want to try to make this into some little crusade, I say: Take that elsewhere. Let this community deal with grieving individuals and be sensitive to those needs.”

  • john personna Link

    There will be people who take this too far, and try to score crazy (literally) political points.

    But let’s not forget that guns and violent rhetoric have been a concern for some time. That concern was there before this happened. It’s perverse that this tragedy should be used in a rhetorical ju-jitsu to say those concern’s can’t be discussed.

    As a case in point, a blast from the past, dated 8/19/2009:

    Do Guns at Political Events Disturb You? Then Consider Skipping Arizona for Now

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