[Trigger warning for violent rhetoric of many different stripes.]
Both sides are, in fact, not "just as bad," when it comes to institutionally sanctioned violent and eliminationist rhetoric.
An anonymous commenter at Daily Kos and the last Republican vice presidential nominee are not equivalent, no matter how many ridiculously irresponsible members of the media would have us believe otherwise.
There is, demonstrably, no leftist equivalent to Sarah Palin, former veep candidate and presumed future presidential candidate, who uses gun imagery (rifle sights) and language ("Don't Retreat, RELOAD") to exhort her followers to action.
There is no leftist equivalent to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a group which was created from the mailing list of the old white supremacist White Citizens Councils and has been noted as becoming increasingly "radical and racist" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which classifies the CCC as a hate group—and is nonetheless considered an acceptable association by prominent members of the Republican Party, including a a former senator and the last Republican presidential nominee.
There is no leftist equivalent to Glenn Beck, host of a long-running nationally syndicated radio show, former host of a show on CNN and current host of a show on Fox, best-selling author, DC rally organizer, and longtime user of eliminationist rhetoric, including equating universal healthcare to rape, joking about victims of forest fires being America-hating liberals, comparing Al Gore to Hitler, condoning the murder of Michael Moore, accusing Holocaust survivor George Soros of being a Nazi collaborator, joking about poisoning Nancy Pelosi, equating immigration reform with burning US citizens alive, publicly endorsing violent revolution, and winkingly telling his viewers not to get violent, all of which amounts to a speck on the tip of a very big iceberg.
There is no leftist equivalent to Ann Coulter, best-selling author and syndicated columnist, who has been a panelist on Fox's Hannity 28 times and was on Hannity & Colmes an additional 18 times, who has been a guest multiple times on The O'Reilly Factor, Geraldo at Large, Larry King Live, Huckabee, Your World with Neil Cavuto, Hardball, and other cable news shows, has made appearances on The Tonight Show, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Daily Show, and Real Time with Bill Maher, and has co-hosted The View, and has also said that a baseball bat is "the most effective way" to talk to liberals, as well as: "We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too." And: "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building." And: "In [Clinton's] recurring nightmare of a presidency, we have a national debate about whether he 'did it,' even though all sentient people know he did. Otherwise there would be debates only about whether to impeach or assassinate."
There is no leftist equivalent to Bill O'Reilly, Fox News television show host, nationally syndicated radio show host, and best-selling author, who has appeared on The Tonight Show eleven times, The Late Show with David Letterman six times, The Daily Show six times, Live with Regis and Kelly five times, The View four times, Good Morning America three times, and Real Time with Bill Maher twice, among other national shows, and has lied about and stalked his critics, said that progressive bloggers should be dealt with "with a hand grenade," said Air America hosts were traitors and should be "put in chains," as well as: "And if Al Qaeda comes [to San Francisco] and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead."
There is no leftist equivalent to Rush "I tell people don't kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus—living fossils—so we will never forget what these people stood for" Limbaugh, nationally syndicated radio show host and invitee to the Bush White House.
There is no leftist equivalent to Pat "Hitler's success was not based on his extraordinary gifts alone. His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path" Buchanan, a regular MSNBC contributor and syndicated columnist.
There is no leftist equivalent to Michelle "In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror" Malkin, a regular Fox panelist, best-selling author, and prominent conservative blogger.
There is no leftist equivalent to Pat "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians" Robertson, host of The 700 Club, who was a guest on Fox's Hannity & Colmes five times.
There is no leftist equivalent to Michael "Howard Dean should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war" Reagan, or Michael "Smallpox in a blanket, which the U.S. Army gave to the Cherokee Indians on their long march to the West, was nothing compared to what I'd like to see done to these people" Savage, both nationally syndicated radio show hosts.
There is no leftist equivalent to the Minutemen and other radical and eliminationist-spewing anti-immigration groups, some of whom have been subcontracted to work the border by the US government.
There is no leftist equivalent to radical and eliminationist-spewing anti-choice groups, who openly target doctors and call for their assassinations—and had a success just last year in the murder of Dr. George Tiller—and whose leaders get featured in whitewashing profiles in the Washington Post.
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
This is not an argument there is no hatred, no inappropriate and even violent rhetoric, among US leftists. There is.
This is evidence that, although violent rhetoric exists among US leftists, it is not remotely on the same scale, and, more importantly, not an institutionally endorsed tactic, as it is among US rightwingers.
This is a fact. It is not debatable.
And there is observably precious little integrity among conservatives in addressing this fact, in the wake of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Palin takes the absolute cake for audaciously asserting that her rifle sight imagery was really "a surveyor's symbol," and not even having the decency to sheepishly acquiesce that, even if that were true (and not evident bullshit), it's understandable how a reasonable person could look at her "surveyor's symbol" alongside the word "target" and get the wrong, ahem, idea. No, it's all just a wall of total denial in the Palin camp, when she's not whining about being a victim herself of people who have the temerity to actually hold her accountable for her carelessly casual violent rhetoric. It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. And then it's deny and play the martyr.
But it's not like Palin's ideological allies are covering themselves in glory, either. There's no call for accountability, no call for reflection, not among conservatives. Just the usual game of deflection and projection, as they desperately try to find a way to make this liberals' fault.
Bill Kristol took to the airwaves this morning to call criticism of Palin "a disgrace" and accuse liberals of "McCarthyism." Commentators on Fox News, meanwhile, blame President Obama for not changing the tone in Washington, like he promised. Which would be hilarious, were that redirection of blame not a key part of conservatives' strategy to dodge responsibility for the eliminationist rhetoric that certainly contributed to the tragic events of this weekend.
When, a few months ago, there was a spate of widely-publicized suicides of bullied teens, we had, briefly, a national conversation about the dangers of bullying. But in the wake of an ideologically-motivated assassination attempt of a sitting member of Congress, we aren't having a national conversation about the dangers of violent rhetoric—because the conversation about bullying children was started by adults, and there are seemingly no responsible grown-ups to be found among conservatives anymore.
Faced with the overwhelming evidence of the violent rhetoric absolutely permeating the discourse emanating from their side of the aisle, conservatives adopt the approach of a petulant child—deny, obfuscate, and lash out defensively.
And engage in the most breathtaking disingenuous hypocrisy: Conservatives, who vociferously argue against the language and legislation of social justice, on the basis that it all "normalizes" marginalized people and their lives and cultures (it does!), are suddenly nothing but blinking, wide-eyed naïveté when it comes to their own violent rhetoric.
They have a great grasp of cultural anthropology when they want to complain about progressive ideas, inclusion, diversity, and equality. But when it comes to being accountable for their own ideas, their anthropological prowess magically disappears.
Only progressives "infect" the culture, but conservative hate speech exists in a void.
That's what we're meant to believe, anyway. But we know it is not true. This culture, this habit, of eliminationist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum. It's happening in a culture of widely-available guns (thanks to conservative policies), of underfunded and unavailable medical care, especially mental health care (thanks to conservative policies), of a widespread belief that government is the enemy of the people (thanks to conservative rhetoric), and of millions of increasingly desperate people (thanks to an economy totally fucked by conservative governance).
The shooting in Tucson was not an anomaly. It was an inevitability.
And as long as we continue to play this foolish game of "both sides are just as bad," and rely on trusty old ablism to dismiss Jared Lee Loughner as a crackpot—dutifully ignoring that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators; carefully pretending that the existence of people with mental illness who are potentially dangerous somehow absolves us of responsibility for violent rhetoric, as opposed to serving to underline precisely why it's irresponsible—it will be inevitable again.
Let's get this straight: This shit doesn't happen in a void. It happens in a culture rife with violent political rhetoric, and it's time for conservatives to pull up their goddamn bootstraps and get to work doing the hard business of self-reflection.
This is one problem the invisible hand of the market can't fix for them—unless, perhaps, it's holding a mirror.
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