Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reflections on AZ

As news outlets continue to sift through the details of yesterday's assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), which left at least six dead including a federal judge and a 9-year old girl, a few reactions to this national tragedy have really stood out to me. The first is Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnick's press conference yesterday condemning the political climate in the US, and in Arizona in particular. According to Dupnick:
When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

Let me say one thing, because people tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.

It was also announced Sunday that infamous arch-conservative, anti-gay hate group Westboro Baptist Church intends to protest the funerals of yesterday's victims, whose deaths they consider divine punishment for Congressional and judicial action against WBC. According to a flier posted on the Westboro Baptist Church website:
Your federal judge is dead and your (fag-promoting, baby-killing, proud-sinner) Congresswoman fights for her life. God is avenging Himself on this rebellious house! WBC prays for your destruction--more shooters, more dead carcasses piling up, young, old, leader and commoner--all. Your doom is upon you!

The contrast between Dupnick's admonitions and the statement from Westboro Baptist Church leaves my head spinning, but also raises a necessary question: how do we push back against the morally reprehensible language and actions of groups and individuals protected by the First Amendment? Doing nothing is clearly not an option; tolerating intolerance does not make you more tolerant, it makes you complicit in the consequences of that intolerance. Groups like WBC, who try the limits of human decency even in the wake of a tragedy like yesterday's events in Arizona, demand the unequivocal moral condemnation of all people of conscience. But Christians in particular have a special responsibility to speak out against this sort of hatefulness and vitriol perpetrated in the name of their faith. It is only by denying moral and religious authority to bigots like the Westboro Baptist Church that we can begin to challenge even more accepted and institutionalized forms of bigotry like the ones against which Sheriff Dupnick warned.

Update: Terrific Paul Krugman op-ed piece in today's NYT pushing back against both a political culture that thrives on hate and vitriol and the false equivalencies being pushed by conservatives claiming that this is a problem for both ends of the political spectrum. According to Krugman:
Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.

And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.

Bob Cesca shared a similar sentiment earlier today, observing
It'd run entirely contrary to the nature of liberalism for a left-wing authority figure who enjoys similar status to Sarah Palin to suggest that we ought to use "Second Amendment remedies" as a means of pushing our agenda.

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