Tragedy spawns new low in American civil discourse
By: James Di Fiore
The polarization of politics in America has been a thorn in the side of its democracy for decades. While Presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were able to overcome most dethroning attempts from their party’s opponents, the current state of rhetoric and behaviour displayed by political ideologues has reached a possible tipping point. The idea of civil discourse in America seems as likely as Mike Hucklebee presiding over a gay marriage ceremony, and the Left VS Right paradigm is in full swing, much to the discontent of centrists, moderates and proponents of reason.
Shining a spotlight on this predictable ongoing squabble is the case of Jared Lee Loughner, the man allegedly responsible for killing 6 people and injuring 13 others, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The shooting is unfortunately nothing new in a country like America where this kind of killing spree happens every few years, but the politicization of the event has spawned accusations of influence from the right by the gatekeepers of left wing ideology.
And they say tragedy can bring two sides together.
Politics had an opportunity in the aftermath of this crisis to calm the waters of political rhetoric and take a moment to cooperate and harmonize their messages of condolences, sadness and reflection. Instead, commentators on the left took this tragedy and systematically pointed fingers to those on the right who had used inflammatory language or gun metaphors during political campaigns and speeches. With the finger print ink barely dry on Loughner’s guilty hands, the responsibility of his crimes were being laid on the doorstep of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and other right wingers who have a tendency to speak without thinking, or speak with a tone of division and partisanship. Instead of civil discourse the public was being drowned in the typical sound bites all too common in today’s political arena.
The right wing is not innocent in this situation either. After being put on the defensive through the irresponsible comments by Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who should have stuck to finer points about the case and the evidence, and commentators like Keith Olbermann, right wingers began to label Loughner as a left wing nut and communist. And the battle of ‘which ideology was the most dangerous to the American public’ was on. Don’t bother trying to find a winner in that unfortunate contest. Instead, try to separate your political leanings from your logic and understand that this Left vs Right battle is the main flame-thrower in the deterioration of discourse in politics. Jon Stewart, who took shots from both sides after his Rally to Restore Sanity tried to take a ‘both sides are equally irresponsible’ approach to help explain today’s lack of decorum, gave an off-the-cuff monologue to start his show on the day of the tragedy. His message: that while today’s political rhetoric is inexcusable and childish, it is impossible to blame the rhetoric for this particular tragedy. He cited blaming heavy metal music for Columbine as an equally distorted viewpoint. Most centrists or non-affiliated politicos would agree with that comparison. As for Palin, she posted this video in an attempt to explain her own version of events, but what started out as sympathy for the victims turned into a manifesto, an over-explanation and underwhelming attempt to paint the left with her ominously partisan brush.
But non-affiliated political enthusiasts are not part of the dialogue in this tragedy. The microphone is being drenched by the mouths of the same usual suspects, wagging their collective tongues at what they see as a chance to score political points disguised with sympathy for the victim’s and their families. Instead of a politician from the right or left coming forward and denouncing the tactics of blame and division, America has to once again look to its political comedian for reason.
In a situation that has no punchline, the rhetoric remains something of a joke.