Political Hay

Look Bad in Anger

How about those violent Democrats?

By 10.12.10

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What is it that has come over Democrats lately with their use of violent imagery?

First, it was Vice President Biden when he spoke before a Democratic Party fundraiser in Minnesota last Tuesday. During his remarks, the Vice President said he would "strangle" the next Republican who talked about balancing the federal budget.

The following day it was President Obama who said during a radio interview that the election of a Republican Congress in November would result in "hand-to-hand combat."

Now we have West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin actually firing a rifle and putting a bullet into the heart of the cap and trade bill in a television political ad. Manchin finds himself staring down the barrel of an unexpectedly tough battle to hold onto the U.S. Senate seat that was vacated when Robert Byrd passed away last June.

Could you imagine the uproar that would ensue from the Left if Sarah Palin had said she would strangle a Democratic politician?

Could you imagine the howls of outrage from liberals if George W. Bush had said prior to the 2006 mid-term elections that a Democratic Congress would result in hand-to-hand combat?

Could you imagine indignation from Democrats if a sitting Republican governor running for the U.S. Senate had appeared in a political advertisement firing a rifle let alone carrying one?

Of course, we really don't have to imagine any of these things at all. Remember last March when Sarah Palin's Political Action Committee produced a map with crosshairs targeting twenty Democratic members of the House of Representatives who had voted for Obamacare? There was outrage from liberals across America.

"Sarah Palin is targeting -- yes, with gun sights -- House Democrats facing tough reelection fights who voted for health care reform," huffed the Huffington Post.

Yet during the 2004 Presidential election campaign, the Democratic Leadership Council used a "Targeting Strategy" map against President Bush. The caption beneath the map read, "BEHIND ENEMY LINES: President Bush won nine states by single-digit margins. These states should be ripe targets for Democrats."

Given that both a movie was made and a book was subsequently written about the assassination of President Bush it should come as no surprise that liberals did not object to the 43rd President being targeted with gun sights.

Or how about the headline that read, "Who's palling around with terrorists now?" Jed Lewison of the Daily Kos wrote:

Reload? Really?

Of all the images to convey about her movement, it is revealing that Sarah Palin chose one associated with violence. Palin's rhetoric comes amidst a surge in right-wing extremism, a time during which she should be urging cooler heads to prevail instead of fueling the most radical elements of her base.

Yet somehow I don't think Lewison is going to take Obama and Biden to task for using images associated with violence. Nor do I expect Lewison to take a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate -- even a conservative Democrat -- for firing a gun in a political ad if it keeps a Republican from gaining the seat.

Now consider what Rachel Maddow said on March 23 edition of her show on MSNBC:

It's now the vernacular by which supposedly mainstream conservative politicians address their followers now. Sarah Palin tweeted to her followers today, quote, "Commonsense conservatives and lovers of America: 'Don't retreat, and instead -- reload. Please see my Facebook page.'" 

Maddow then spoke about a gun rights rally that was to take place in Washington the following month (a rally at which I might add Palin was not present). But in the space of a minute Maddow goes from Sarah Palin to Timothy McVeigh. Palin's ideas have nothing to do with the despicable actions of McVeigh and Maddow's attempt to link the two is simply pathetic.

Nevertheless, Maddow's act of speciousness begs this question. Does she honestly believe there is a straight line between Palin and McVeigh? There are two possibilities. The first possibility is that Maddow sincerely believes that McVeigh is the fruit of a poisonous tree and that Palin is planting a new set of trees to bear more poisonous fruit. If that is the case, then Maddow has drunk from a poisoned well from which there is no remedy. Maddow thus renders impossible any rational discussion if she cannot discern the difference between the point of view of a mother of five and a man responsible for murdering scores of children.

But let us consider the other possibility. Suppose Maddow doesn't actually believe Palin's tactics will actually cause her supporters to commit acts of violence. But if she doesn't believe it then why say such a thing at all? While Maddow might not believe it her viewers might. So why not tell her viewers what they want to hear? One could make a case that this is even more egregious. By advancing an argument she does not herself believe she is willfully misrepresenting Palin's aims and objectives. In so doing she subverts the possibility of advancing a reasonable argument.

It is worth noting that conservative reaction to Obama's and Biden's statements has been relatively muted. As for the Manchin ad, the reaction has been more grounded in amusement than in anger.

Not for a moment did conservatives actually think Joe Manchin would come to Capitol Hill with a rifle and start shooting his colleagues.

Not for a moment did conservatives actually think President Obama was going to punch John Boehner in the nose.

And not for a moment did conservatives actually think Joe Biden was going strangle any Republican. Biden needn't have said his remark was a figure of speech.

Conservatives, unlike far too many liberals, know what a figure of speech is when we hear it.

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About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.