Tucson, Political Rhetoric, And Where We Go From Here

There is a problem with political rhetoric in this country, but telling people to be nicer to each other isn't going to cool it down.

David Frum has an excellent article up at The Week that tries to make some sense out of the events last Saturday in Tucson, and the debate about political rhetoric that we’ve had over the past week.  In the article, Frum identifies what he believes are the three truths about the past week:

Truth 1: It’s important to be clear about what the problem is. The problem is not military metaphors. It’s not Glenn Beck joking about poisoning Nancy Pelosi’s wine or Paul Krugman hanging Joe Lieberman in effigy at a party.

The problem is, rather, the construction of paranoid narratives that might justify violence to a violent-minded person.

(…)

What does do damage to the fabric of democracy is the charge made by prominent conservative broadcasters that the president is deliberately wrecking the U.S. economy to advance his scheme to overthrow the constitution and transform the nation into a Marxist or Leninist or even Maoist tyranny.

Not just broadcasters, Sarah Palin made this same charge just days before the shootings in Tucson, and while no serious person accepts the argument that there is an sort of causal connection between the rhetoric of talk radio and the actions of Jared Loughner,  it cannot be doubted that it has contributed to the general tenor of political debate in the country over the past several years.

Frum’s second truth, that the opposition party tends to behave more poorly than the party in power seems axiomatic. Partly because of the nature of our system, the part that is out of power has the incentive to be more vituperative not only because that’s one of the only ways to get noticed, but also because it is the most effective way to rally the base.

Frum’s final point, however, is likely to prove controversial on the right:

It’s worse.

It’s worse today under Obama than it was under George W. Bush, worse under Bush than under Bill Clinton, worse under Clinton than under Ronald Reagan.

Frum doesn’t offer any evidence for this proposition, probably because he doesn’t think he needs to, but he cites four factors as contributing to the increasing coarsening of political discourse:

  1. The rise of talk radio, 24/7 cable, and the internet
  2. Migration pattens that make it more likely that Republicans will live in predominantly Republican areas and Democrats will live in predominantly Democratic areas
  3. The weakening of the major political parties and the rise of the grassroots candidate
  4. A decade of government incompetence, financial scandals, wars, and general decline in public confidence in government at all levels.

It’s certainly no doubt that political rhetoric in the United States is mean spirited in a way that it hasn’t been in recent memory. When you have the most prominent conservative on talk radio saying he hopes the President fails before he even took office, or a Member of Congress saying that the Republicans wanted Americans to die, it’s pretty obvious that the state of public debate is pretty bad. I’m not sure, though, whether it’s actually worse than it used to be, or just louder. If talk radio, cable, and the internet had existed during the Reagan years, does anyone doubt we would have been hearing a lot more from the  elements of the left wing who spent the 1980s spreading conspiracy theories that the Reagan Administration was important cocaine into the United States would have been far more prevalent? And I don’t know how anyone who lived through the Clinton Administration can say that Republican opposition to Bill Clinton was really more civil than the opposition to Obama has been to date. The difference is that it wasn’t on a repeating, always accessible 365/24/7 loop that does nothing but reinforce the idea that the President is not just wrong, but evil.

On both sides of the political aisle it seems clear that people are mostly talking at each other, rather than with each other. They are also mostly only exposing themselves to sources of information that already confirm their beliefs, rather than allowing those ideas to be challenged, tested, and possibly changed. It’s always seemed rather boring to me, to be honest, but then I am not a regular viewer of most programming on either MSNBC or Fox News Channel after 5pm on weekdays and I haven’t listened to talk radio on a regular basis in years. The idea that someone would want to call themselves a “Dittohead,” and do so proudly, is rather inconceivable to me. The point is this, if you only expose yourself to sources that reinforce what you already believe, you lose your ability to think critically, and you start to mindlessly accept what you’re told, whether that comes from Beck, Limbaugh, or Hannity, or Matthews, Schultz, or Olbermann.

It’s also worth noting in any of these discussions about political discourse that, as bad as things seem today thanks to the rise of technology, they are still not as bad as they’ve been in the past. The rhetoric that was employed in the Election of 1800, or during the years leading up to the Civil War, or during the populist era makes anything other than the most extreme fringe material today seem positively mild by comparison. That’s not to say that today’s political culture is healthy but, at the moment at least, it seems far healthier than it was at other points in American history.

Nonetheless, I don’t think our political system can go on much longer with the partisan divide and rancor being as stark as it has become over the past several years. Something is going to have to change, but telling people that they have to be nicer to each other isn’t the answer, and neither is the utterly silly No Labels movement that Frum is a part of. The rhetoric is heated for the simple reason that people are upset, and Frum himself detailed some of the reasons they’re so angry:

The frustrations of more than a decade of poor governance. Since 1999, Americans have endured (among other setbacks):

• The huge losses for small savers inflicted by the collapse of the internet bubble
• The failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks
• Two prolonged and inconclusive wars stagnating incomes even during the 2003-2007 economic expansion
• The mishandling of Hurricane Katrina
• An influx of millions of illegal immigrants with government seeming either unable or unwilling to stop it
• Financial crisis and bank bailouts
• An $800 billion stimulus that has not made any difference to unemployment as far as most people can see

No surprise that voters have lost confidence in their government — and that they are receptive to radical explanations of their government’s malperformance. And precisely because the voters are so receptive, it becomes even more important that people in positions of responsibility refrain from inciting anger and exploiting fear for political and financial gain.

Until those underlying problems are addressed, we’re going to continue to see a political culture where people are angry, and upset, and likely to answer the siren call of the demagogue.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    “and while no serious person accepts the argument that there is an sort of causal connection between the rhetoric of talk radio and the actions of Jared Loughner”

    It really does you no service to ignore facts. Remember the doctor’s opinion, found in the Financial Times:

    Jerrold Post, director of political psychology at George Washington University and author of Political Paranoia, said the alleged mental instability of the suspect did not mean that vitriolic political rhetoric played no part.

    “It was intended to be metaphoric. Having said that, there may be an emotionally unstable person who takes that quite literally,” he said.

    Dr Post, who worked on political violence at the CIA, said violence could be triggered by the broader atmosphere of heightened rhetoric and those Tea Party activists who carried weapons at rallies to show their literal adherence to the second amendment defence of gun rights.

    “Although the acts and the costumes, including carrying weapons, is meant to be symbolic … the audience is very heterogeneous,” he said. “And within that audience is going to be some who can be incited to carry out that act, particularly if their own life is falling apart.”

    Here we’ve got a director of political psychology at George Washington University, author of Political Paranoia, and consultant to the CIA on political violence .. but you can shut your mind to him, just because what he tells you is inconvenient.

  2. john personna says:

    Let me add that the doctor’s analysis is just freaking obvious.

    Anyone who has lived more than a couple decades on this planet knows that angry talk leads to more angry talk, and yes, more angry talk sometimes leads to some nut doing something.

  3. John,

    There is no evidence that Jared Loughner was ever actually exposed to any of this “heated political rhetoric,” that he attended any Tea Party rallies, or that he listened to talk radio. In fact, the statements we’ve seen from friends and family have all said that he largely shut those things out of his life years ago. Until such evidence can be provided, then this can of armchair psychology by a person who has neither spoken to Loughner nor examined any medical records is utterly worthless

  4. john personna says:

    That is such a silly defense that I will leave as it is.

  5. John,

    Yes, because something you read somewhere from some guy who has never met Jared Loughner is far more persuasive than, you know, actual evidence.

  6. john personna says:

    (Other than to note that Dr. Post was being interviewed specifically about Jared Loughner. Google search “Attack prompts jolting retreat to civility” for the FT article.)

  7. john personna says:

    Yes, because something you read somewhere from some guy who has never met Jared Loughner is far more persuasive than, you know, actual evidence.

    Did you ever take debate or rhetoric training?

    If you had I think you would understand that you just placed yourself in a position of greater authority about the mental history of Jared Loughner than Dr. Post.

    You’ve just been gunning for Dr. Post … because you know better?

    Where have you studied and practiced on political violence, exactly?

  8. Eric Florack says:

    Here we’ve got a director of political psychology at George Washington University, author of Political Paranoia, and consultant to the CIA on political violence .. but you can shut your mind to him, just because what he tells you is inconvenient.

    And your thought about the death threats against Tea Party types, is, what, exactly?

  9. Jay Tea says:

    And yet, john and Doug… it hasn’t happened that way at all.

    First things first: Limbaugh’s “I hope he fails” line. (God help me, I’m defending Limbaugh.) He made it clear that he wants Obama to fail in enacting his agenda, which Limbaugh believes — as do I — would be ruinous for the nation. And it’s certainly turning out that way.

    Next, I’m starting to favor a theory that the heated, violent, confrontational rhetoric is actually good for us as a nation. It seems to serve not as a trigger, but a catharsis, allowing us to vent our hostility in non-physical ways.

    It’s similar to my belief that it’s bad to ban groups like the Klan. They do their best work in the shadows, and it plays into their persecution complex, when we outlaw them. Let them do what they want in public — it makes it easier to identify them, and confront their putrid ideology.

    Likewise, we should “tolerate” those who talk in inflammatory, inciting, hateful rhetoric. It makes them easier to identify, confront, and help them destroy their own credibility.

    For some time, we’ve been hearing the left talk about how dangerous all this talk on the right is, and how sooner or later it’s going to trigger some great atrocity. But it never seems to happen. I thought some leftists were going to wet themselves in glee over Tucson (starting with Kos, and his “Sarah Palin: Mission Accomplished” message), and then it turned out to have nothing to do with “right wing hate speech.” And each time, we’re told “OK, it didn’t happen this time, or the last time, or the time before that, but sooner or later, it WILL!!!!”

    But it doesn’t.

    I’ll stick with the First Amendment, and simply tell people that what they will be judged by what they say, and we’ll remember what they say.

    And finally… nuts will always do something nutty. It’s part of the description. And they’ll always find something to set themselves off. We should in no way restrict the freedom of people because “some nut might do something nutty after it,” or punish people because some crazy person did something crazy.

    J.

  10. john personna says:

    It’s similar to my belief that it’s bad to ban groups like the Klan. They do their best work in the shadows, and it plays into their persecution complex, when we outlaw them. Let them do what they want in public — it makes it easier to identify them, and confront their putrid ideology.

    That’s an interesting shift, in part because it uses this word “ban.” We are talking about legal 1st amendment speech. I haven’t heard anyone call for bans.

    What I’m hoping for, and what I would have thought was easy, was just calling out what was bad, unproductive, and in cases dangerous.

  11. john personna says:

    And your thought about the death threats against Tea Party types, is, what, exactly?

    Why would you think that’s hard? Treat them exactly the same.

    See … the moral high ground is so easy, once you just let yourself accept it.

  12. John,

    Again, provide us with any evidence that Loughner was ever even exposed to this “heated rhetoric.” All I’ve said is that, so far, there is none and that the most likely hypothesis is that this was a deeply mentally disturbed individual whose problems are independent of anything having to do with the political culture.

    Again, do you have any evidence that he was exposed to this rhetoric?

    If not then you, and Dr. Post, are just making stuff up.

  13. john personna says:

    Let me just add what I see happening at a meta-level.

    Some OTB authors staked an early position that violent rhetoric does not lead to violence. They probably didn’t understand at the outset that the claim doesn’t really work unless they can argue that violent rhetoric does not ever lead to violence.

    We know that’s not true by experience, but we’ve had psychologists pop up here in comments to confirm, and of course we have that quote by the good Dr.

    So do they hold on? I guess it’s just human nature. They feel too bonded to their earlier position to be sensible.

  14. john personna says:

    Again, provide us with any evidence that Loughner was ever even exposed to this “heated rhetoric.”

    First of all, that’s the kind of demand a crazy man makes. WTF.

    Second, it’s pretty easy, isn’t it? He lived in Arizona, a state of the USA, and was exposed to our media right along.

    What fraction of the US do you think was not exposed to the whole range of paranoia experienced in the last few years? How many residents of Tuscon do you really think did not know they earned a rifle scope?

  15. john personna says:

    (God Doug, look at yourself. You are saying “maybe Loughner lived in a bubble.” Heck of a defense.)

  16. John,

    Okay, so you’ve got no evidence thanks for answering.

    Having a good Sunday.

    (And God, John, do you not realize that paranoid schizophrenics really do live in a bubble?)

  17. john personna says:

    You aren’t very self-aware in your argument, Doug.

    I don’t have “evidence” about Loughner’s media habits, because I don’t need it. I am making my argument based on common human experience, the comments of a psychologist in the OTB boards, and this excellent text by Dr. Post.

    You need evidence to support your Loughner-in-a-bubble argument, but do you have it?

    No, in a classic Argument from Ignorance you make the case without having the data. In a nutshell that fallacy is “Nothing is known about A. Yet a conclusion is drawn about A.”

    You don’t know, but you don’t care.

  18. John,

    I point you to the numerous comments from friends of Loughner’s over the past week that he had no interest in politics, didn’t vote, and didn’t listen to talk radio.

    What evidence do you have for your hypothesis other than your own preconceived notions?

    And I find it amusing that you are spending so much time arguing over one sentence in my blog post, and one that doesn’t even have much to do with the overall conclusion. But, hey, whatever amuses you I guess.

  19. john personna says:

    Here’s another study for you:

    More generally, research suggests that exposure to violent images and words does increase aggression, said Christopher Federico, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota who studies political attitudes.

    Most of these studies are on general media violence, not political phrasing. But a recent study by University of Michigan researchers, yet unpublished, found that overall, watching a political ad with violent words (such as “fight for you” instead of “work for you”) did little to change people’s opinions on whether political violence could be justified. However, people who saw the violently worded ads who were already high in aggression became more accepting of the idea of political violence.

  20. john personna says:

    And I find it amusing that you are spending so much time arguing over one sentence in my blog post, and one that doesn’t even have much to do with the overall conclusion. But, hey, whatever amuses you I guess.

    Someone is wrong in the internets.

    And in this case, defending something dangerous.

  21. john personna says:

    (Good lord folks, since schizophrenics don’t watch the media we needn’t worry about its content. Isn’t Doug’s argument priceless, when you really parse it?)

  22. john personna says:

    Nonetheless, I don’t think our political system can go on much longer with the partisan divide and rancor being as stark as it has become over the past several years. Something is going to have to change, but telling people that they have to be nicer to each other isn’t the answer, and neither is the utterly silly No Labels movement that Frum is a part of.

    What I’m trying to do is appeal to better instincts, and to remind people that the highest moral ground in this whole thing is to endorse civil discourse.

    These weak arguments that maybe violent rhetoric isn’t always bad, or maybe the madmen will miss it, are incredible (in the original sense of the word).

    It is easy to always say at the forefront what is best, and least likely to lead to violence.

  23. john personna says:

    (And it saves the mind-bogglingly embarrassing argument that maybe it didn’t matter because maybe Loughner never turned on his tv. As if, that will help us with the next madman.)

  24. John,

    Before you continue this I suggest you do some studying of this history of American political rhetoric. This ain’t nothin’ compared to what we’ve seen before.

    More broadly, I am opposed to the idea of self-censorship for fear of what a crazy man might do. If someone had told J.D. Salinger that a crazy man inspired by his book would kill a famous musician in 1980, should he have decided not to write it?

  25. john personna says:

    Ah, another couple twists that really don’t address my argument in any way.

    So easy to answer though!

    Before you continue this I suggest you do some studying of this history of American political rhetoric. This ain’t nothin’ compared to what we’ve seen before.

    Are you saying since we’ve seen slavery, bring it back?

    More broadly, I am opposed to the idea of self-censorship for fear of what a crazy man might do. If someone had told J.D. Salinger that a crazy man inspired by his book would kill a famous musician in 1980, should he have decided not to write it?

    Do you really feel so limited that you need to self-censor?

    Aren’t there plenty of good sports metaphors out there? What, if you can’t get a lethal image in there, you are wronged?

    Personally, I think “we’re going to take this game to them hard, and we’re going to win” is all you need … to motivate the mentally healthy.

  26. john personna says:

    (Football metaphors may share a lot with war metaphors, but the key difference is lethality. When you crush your opponents in the former, they live to rue the day.)

  27. PD Shaw says:

    “You’ve just been gunning for Dr. Post … ”

    Is this a joke or incitement?

  28. john personna says:

    You do realize that no one would have objected to Sarah throwing a hockey metaphor after those primary setbacks. “one thing I know, is that you can be down on points at half-time, but you don’t give up. you come back and win!”

  29. john personna says:

    “Is this a joke or incitement?”

    I guess a sign that it creeps into all of our speech at times. Sorry.

    I realized as I was driving along that I had sad “full bore” earlier in the day. I worried that might have been a gun metaphor, but apparently it is a machine derived thing.

  30. george says:

    “Anyone who has lived more than a couple decades on this planet knows that angry talk leads to more angry talk, and yes, more angry talk sometimes leads to some nut doing something.”

    Yup. Like all the angry talk during Bush’s time (how often was Bush burned in effigy? Signs saying ‘Kill Bush’)? How about during the anti-globalization protests?

    Anyone who’s lived more than a couple of decades on this planet has seen the same thing again, and again, and again, by all sides, over the last decades.

    More and more this reminds of “1984” – the way people have no memory of what happened just a few years ago, as basically identical groups do basically identical activities covered up with rhetoric that suggests huge imaginary differences.

    Yeah, I know, its different when your side does it.

  31. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Persona, you got no proof or anything, just some speculation by a lefty prof. who would like to paint the opposition with guilt. You have a lot in common with Krugman. Smears and libel.

  32. john personna says:

    Now he’s a “lefty prof.”

    Perfect.

    “who would like to paint the opposition with guilt”

    Even though I said the high ground is to treat all violent rhetoric equally?

  33. john personna says:

    (George, I think of myself as an independent, and measure in the middle on online political tests.

    I don’t know who you think I’d be defending for violent rhetoric.)

  34. john personna says:

    Seriously guys, just move to sports metaphors and don’t look back.

  35. michael reynolds says:

    More broadly, I am opposed to the idea of self-censorship for fear of what a crazy man might do. If someone had told J.D. Salinger that a crazy man inspired by his book would kill a famous musician in 1980, should he have decided not to write it?

    I’m as on the hook for this as anyone, maybe more than most since I write very dark books for the young adult audience. I am well aware that some mentally unbalanced kid could decide he’s inspired by something I wrote to do something awful.

    I don’t self-censor for fear of the crazy people, but I do try to present a complete picture rather than a simply sensationalist one. I show violence but I also show the consequences. I show depression, murder and suicide, but I also draw lines between good and evil and no rational reader comes away with any doubt as to which side I prefer.

    Still, like many writers, I worry about the nut who decides I was sending him secret coded messages. Helter Skelter.

    So, I’m inclined by virtue of self-protection to deny a connection between the written and spoken word and the actions of individuals. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. In writing fiction I have the advantage of a large canvas, a long timeline, nuance, character, all the stuff that is stripped out of political speech. I can have a character commit suicide, because I have other characters pointing out the evil in that act.

    Political speech is a crude instrument by comparison. It is intended in most cases to connect directly to some type of action: vote or donate. It is designed to be about button-pushing. And it is not about fiction. It is about the real world.

    So political speech — a blunt, one-dimensional form of writing (usually) intended to promote specific actions — is uniquely dangerous. Think George Wallace in the schoolhouse door and many, many other examples. Only a fool would deny the connection between segregationist rhetoric and the KKK for example.

    We protect political speech — as we should — but we should also demand that politicians police themselves.

    I think to say that nothing is accomplished by demanding greater civility is defeatist. We have on numerous occasions changed society by means of changing social mores. There is no law denying anyone the right to use the n-word. But we don’t do it. There are laws that deny smokers the right to smoke in public places, but even before the laws society had changed the sense of things so that smokers became more polite and considerate. Things like littering have become less acceptable because we simply decided we didn’t like that anymore, it wasn’t cool.

    So we do have the power to tone down the rhetoric. If we decide as a society to do so.

  36. John says:

    doesn’t hockey have three periods? When exactly is halftime during a hockey game?

  37. john personna says:

    You now John, I knew I was taking a chance with that second-half thing 😉 Insert whatever.

  38. george says:

    “(George, I think of myself as an independent, and measure in the middle on online political tests.

    I don’t know who you think I’d be defending for violent rhetoric.)”

    I don’t know, I’ve just noticed you’ve tended to go heavily after Palin (who’s definitely not fit to be President, or apparently even governor) but hardly responsible for what happened), so I assumed you were a democrat. My mistake.

  39. mike says:

    Hinckly shot Reagon to impress Jodie Foster. Jodie foster doesn’t known Hinckly. Jodie Foster is a lesbian. I like jelly beans. Clearly heated rhetoric made Hinckly shoot jodie foster.

    Blame someone for something.

    I love the logic of some people.

  40. Terrye says:

    I am 59 years old, it is not worse today than it was when Bush was president. In fact, I am not sure it is worse today than it was when Truman was president.

    What is happening, is that the left is getting some of this stuff thrown back at them and they don’t like it, so now we need a change in tone.

    You betcha!

  41. Eric Florack says:

    Why would you think that’s hard? Treat them exactly the same.

    Fine. When I see you doing exactly that, I’ll sit up and take notice. Hint: It’s not happened yet.

  42. Pug says:

    I would have to agree that it isn’t worse, it’s just louder and there’s a lot more of it, on talk radio, the Internet and so forth.

    Terrye, if you are 59 I would think you would know that “the left” has had stuff thrown at them for a long time. Don’t you remember “America, Love it or Leave It” bumper stickers? No one, including Sarah Palin, was better at exploiting grievance and resentment than Richard Nixon and Sprio Agnew.

    Conservatives haven’t exactly been the poor little shrinking violets you seem to think over the last forty years.

  43. anjin-san says:

    > I love the logic of some people.

    Its a logical fallacy to assume too much commonality between the mental states of the two shooters. Unless you have spent time around a schitzophrenic, it is probably impossible to imagine just how different the workings of their minds are from that of a normal person. Where they both psychotic? Yes. But psychosis is a very complex thing, and uninformed assumptions about the state of mind of someone suffering from it are useless.

  44. anjin-san says:

    > I am not sure it is worse today than it was when Truman was president.

    Define “worse”. In Truman’s time, the GOP was chock full of intelligent, articulate, sophisticated and educated people. Today, not so much. In Truman’s time, the GOP was a party of high enough standards that Gen. Eishenhower, a man of vast ability and character, chose them to carry his banner.

    Different times.

    And if you think “the left” has never had anything thrown at it, you should study a little more history. Consider focusing on the FBI under Hoover, and the Nixon era.

  45. anjin-san says:

    > Signs saying ‘Kill Bush

    Can you show even a single instance when a significant Democratic politician or “left” commentator supported that kind of crap?

    That is the difference between left and right. Democrats recognize things like a “kill bush” sign as the work of fringe wackos, and they want no part of it. In the world of the modern conservative, some of the most prominent folks on the right are the ones peddling the garbage…

  46. John says:

    You are all a%$#OP+Ues

  47. Ben Wolf says:

    As this discussion has yet again devolved into pointless sparring, I’d like to ask Michael if he’s the same man who wrote “Gone”.

  48. An Interested Party says:

    “What is happening, is that the left is getting some of this stuff thrown back at them and they don’t like it, so now we need a change in tone.”

    Delusional strawman argument…the change is being suggested because of what happened in Arizona, not because “the left” is supposedly “getting some of this stuff thrown back at them”…

  49. G.A.P.THEORY says:

    ***As this discussion has yet again devolved into pointless sparring, I’d like to ask Michael if he’s the same man who wrote “Gone”.****That’s him, our beloved Harry…..

  50. michael reynolds says:

    Ben:

    That’s me.

  51. Janis Gore says:

    We’ll go down the same damn road, Doug. People jumping the gun. People sniping at each other.

  52. modaca says:

    Sidebar: Don’t let Frum get away with saying (in his list of why people are mad) that the stimulus bill didn’t have any effect. Maybe “people” think that but other “people” know that while it could have been bigger, it did lots to bring the country out of a terrible recession.

  53. john personna says:

    George, Eric,

    I guess the worst thing is that when someone puts forward a call for civil discourse, you see it as an attack on a “side.” Even when that call was made without side. Even when that call was made without exception.

    You have some vague idea that I must have forgotten some real, liberal, threat to peace and stability, and so you can ignore the message.

  54. Ben Wolf says:

    Michael,

    Good book.

  55. Davebo says:

    There is no evidence that Jared Loughner was ever actually exposed to any of this “heated political rhetoric,” that he attended any Tea Party rallies, or that he listened to talk radio. In fact, the statements we’ve seen from friends and family have all said that he largely shut those things out of his life years ago.

    His family? Where? And friends? I haven’t found such quotes.

  56. mike says:

    Anjin – i agree – you can’t know the mind of a schizo or mentally ill person and how political arguments will affect them or anything will affect them – if someone is mentally ill then we never know if or how something will effect them. My point is that let’s stop pointing the figure at everyone whenever a crime like this occurs.

  57. john personna says:

    Mike, psychologists and “directors of political psycholog” disagree.

    Let’s stop pretending.

  58. michael reynolds says:

    Ben:

    Thanks dude.

  59. george says:

    “George, Eric,

    I guess the worst thing is that when someone puts forward a call for civil discourse, you see it as an attack on a “side.” Even when that call was made without side. Even when that call was made without exception.”

    If you’ve been making the same calls in the past against uncivil discourse from both sides, then I apologize.

    One thing I’m curious about is the implication by Anjin-san that it makes a difference if the leaders of a party say something opposed to the mass of its members … my suspicion is that people are more likely to be influenced to do something violent if the call comes from something like a demonstration than if its a call from a leader. For a start, most people don’t respect political leaders of any stripe (opinion polls show the kind of regard political leaders are held in), secondly there tends to be much more emotion in a protest than in a political speech. I suspect this is one of the reasons there has in fact been more violence in various protests (both sides) than as a result of political speeches, and by several orders of magnitude.

  60. john personna says:

    If you’ve been making the same calls in the past against uncivil discourse from both sides, then I apologize.

    Feel free to remind me of anything I should call out. Seriously.

    One thing I’m curious about is the implication by Anjin-san that it makes a difference if the leaders of a party say something opposed to the mass of its members … my suspicion is that people are more likely to be influenced to do something violent if the call comes from something like a demonstration than if its a call from a leader. For a start, most people don’t respect political leaders of any stripe (opinion polls show the kind of regard political leaders are held in), secondly there tends to be much more emotion in a protest than in a political speech. I suspect this is one of the reasons there has in fact been more violence in various protests (both sides) than as a result of political speeches, and by several orders of magnitude.

    I like the word zeitgeist , meaning the spirit of the times. Leaders and followers in aggregate make that spirit, and that spirit sets the stage for the future.

    I think I’ve mentioned the west African tribal wars as the worst example of what can go wrong. I’m sure there were both leaders and followers feeding off each other, and responding to opponents in increasing cycles until … hell broke loose.

  61. anjin-san says:

    > you can’t know the mind of a schizo or mentally ill person

    Thats not quite what I said. I was talking about uninformed opinions. A doctor who has worked with him or family member may know quite a bit about his state of mind.

    > My point is that let’s stop pointing the figure at everyone whenever a crime like this occurs.

    I think perpetuating the gun fetish and dog whistle buzzwords with violent connotations are something that needs to be looked at. As for “whenever a crime like this occurs”, well luckily, this particular type of crime is very rare, so I am not sure what you are talking about.

  62. anjin-san says:

    > There is no evidence that Jared Loughner was ever actually exposed to any of this “heated political rhetoric,” that he attended any Tea Party rallies, or that he listened to talk radio. In fact, the statements we’ve seen from friends and family have all said that he largely shut those things out of his life years ago.

    Much of the life of a schizophrenic consists of him/her hiding things from his family and friends. In this particular case, we just don’t know.

  63. john personna says:

    There is no evidence that Jared Loughner was ever actually exposed to any of this “heated political rhetoric,” that he attended any Tea Party rallies, or that he listened to talk radio. In fact, the statements we’ve seen from friends and family have all said that he largely shut those things out of his life years ago.

    This argument is wrong for depending on a fallacy, but it is also deeply, morally, wrong.

    People who make the “no evidence that Jared Loughner” formulations are trying to tell us that they were lucky, with this particular nut, and since they were lucky there is no concern going forward.

    That is also bad logic, but why?

    Why try to sneak past this at all? What are you protecting? Extremism?

  64. anjin-san says:

    > That is also bad logic, but why?

    That’s pretty clear. Set a precedent. Absolution in advance if there is a similar tragedy in the future.

  65. george says:

    “Feel free to remind me of anything I should call out. Seriously.”

    JP: did you miss all the verbal violence aimed at Bush during his presidency? That sort of thing always come from those out of power (remember ‘smash the state’), so its the republican turn to make extreme calls. When they eventually get back in power suddenly they’ll decide such verbal violence is evil, and the democrats will decide that its just metaphor.

    “I like the word zeitgeist , meaning the spirit of the times. Leaders and followers in aggregate make that spirit, and that spirit sets the stage for the future.

    I think I’ve mentioned the west African tribal wars as the worst example of what can go wrong. I’m sure there were both leaders and followers feeding off each other, and responding to opponents in increasing cycles until … hell broke loose.”

    I think that’s a pretty good description of what goes on, thanks.

    One thing which bothers me about this whole debate is the notion that words have to be watched so closely because a certain percentage of the population is insane. Is that really the bar you want to set for discourse? Isn’t that going to ban even a lot of great literature, not to mention popular music, movies, games. An insane person can be triggered by a huge host of things, most of which are normally considered innocuous.

    Wouldn’t it just be better to have the state provide adequate care for such people, rather than restricting the actions of 300 million people because of how a tiny percentage of people might react? And of course, bringing in reasonable gun control laws might help as well, though I suppose the counter argument is that such a person could just as easily kill large numbers with a car.

  66. john personna says:

    JP: did you miss all the verbal violence aimed at Bush during his presidency? That sort of thing always come from those out of power (remember ‘smash the state’), so its the republican turn to make extreme calls. When they eventually get back in power suddenly they’ll decide such verbal violence is evil, and the democrats will decide that its just metaphor.

    Ok, I deplore whatever verbal violence there might have been.

    FWIW, I kind of thought of protesters in that era as pathetic and dis-empowered to begin with. I mean, people keep bringing up WTO protests. Those were just weird. They had native rights protesters asking for increased whaling limits while adjacent you had vegan protesters calling for an end to meat. If they were remotely near achieving anything they would have turned on each other. As it was, it was their sheer powerlessness that made them common allies against The Man.

    One thing which bothers me about this whole debate is the notion that words have to be watched so closely because a certain percentage of the population is insane. Is that really the bar you want to set for discourse? Isn’t that going to ban even a lot of great literature, not to mention popular music, movies, games. An insane person can be triggered by a huge host of things, most of which are normally considered innocuous.

    I’ve never said “ban.” I just want social censure. I want us to “deplore.”

    And in the case of political speech I don’t think we lose much. As I say, there are a lot of great sports metaphors with sufficient power.

    Wouldn’t it just be better to have the state provide adequate care for such people, rather than restricting the actions of 300 million people because of how a tiny percentage of people might react? And of course, bringing in reasonable gun control laws might help as well, though I suppose the counter argument is that such a person could just as easily kill large numbers with a car.

    Again, not restricting, but just redirecting.

    To say this is a hardship, we have to say that lethal and violent metaphors are the only (or best?) way to motivate in a democracy. I hope to Heavens not.

  67. Davebo says:

    Just to follow up on my request for Doug. All my research indicates the family has released one written statement through a spokesman and it did not include any of the claims Doug says it did.

    And despite reading dozens of articles quoting neighbors and family friends, again, no such statements are attributed to them.

    So Doug, where are you getting your information?

  68. anjin-san says:

    The input from Loughner’s friends is worth noting, but it hardly tells the whole story. When he started to get scary, his friends bailed. How much time elapsed between then and the time of the shooting? How clear of a picture do we have of what Loughner was doing in that time frame?