Monday, January 10, 2011

Does Language Matter?

Much of the response to the attempted assassination of Rep. Giffords centers on the vitriol and language used by the right. The idea that the right needs to take arms against the government is no longer wacky way-out talk--it is spouted by sitting Representatives (Michelle Bachmann, R-MN, wanted her constituents "armed and dangerous" over Obama's tax plan ) and would-be Senators (Sharron Angle, REpublican candidate for Senator from NV, suggested that there were "Second Amendement remedies" to cure the "problems" with Harry Reid). Giffords' opponent in the last election had an event "in which voters were invited to “shoot a fully automatic M-16” with him to symbolize his assault on her campaign." And of course, Sarah Palin's webpage put graphics of rifle sights over the Democratic Congressional districts she wanted her followers to target.

In AZ, Rep Giffords endured vandalism and threats. She said,

Of course we all have the right to free speech. But with rights come responsibilities. No one sensible wants to ban language, just re-establish sensible norms of usage. No one thinks Sarah Palin advocates actual violence, but she foments outrage using the language of violence. When Palin, on the campaign trail, went on and on about Obama, a supporter shouted "kill him!" and she did not reprimand him. The right's rhetoric is not against the ideas of the left, but against the left's very existence. And the consequences to such language, used intemperately, are dangerous, as we've discussed before.

H/T to ELizabeth Kaeton for finding this quote from John Cole:
The point we have been trying to make for the last couple of years is that Republicans need to stop whipping up crazy people with violent political rhetoric. This is really not a hard concept t
o follow. There are crazy people out there. Stop egging them on.

More examples of language and events here

1 comment:

Marshall Scott said...

One of the central tenets of the Christian faith - indeed of all the Abrahamic traditions - and one that I think IT and many non-faithed folks will agree with, is that words have power. It seems forever since I saw the public interest TV ad in which the child is consistently belittled and the effect on the child's self image, and so on behavior, is noted.

Indeed, the talking heads want their words to have power. They just don't want to share in the responsibility. They want responsibility (and causes) to be individual and immediate: only the shooter, only the criminal.

Unfortunately, there is such a thing as society. We are all connected; and while we don't want to absolve the individual who commits a crime, we also share responsibility for the culture in which the crime happens.

So, Palin and Angle share responsibility for a culture that has sought to demean the humanity of one's opponent, even though not specifically for this incident. The thing is, so do the rest of us. To the extent that we didn't challenge those statements, at least in our own communities; or didn't vote against those who would use such language; or don't just turn off the bitterest of the talking heads on whatever channel, and let their advertisers know why, we have some share.

I'll accept and repent my responsibility. Will Palin accept hers? (From what I've heard so far, I don't think so.)