Because American Politics is Not Just A Game

There are, and always have been, very dark energies swirling around the politics of the republic. Those who seek to lead it, and who have deserved to, have in the past understood that. The narcissistic culture of the past forty years, though marked by sentimental emotionalism about the sundry and disastrous assassinations for which it was responsible, has never really got the point. I think that the boomers understand the darkness, but that they get off on it. From Oswald to Oklahoma, the other side was always to blame, and badness was in some way, way cool.

Many people are dropping the Giffords shooting at Sarah Palin's door tonight. Fox News understands this, which is presumably why they were going around suggesting that the gunman, Jared Loughner, may have been an illegal immigrant before anyone knew anything. They are now suggesting that, like Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber, he is some kind of deluded libertarian in terms which suggest that he is actually the form of antifederalist whom they and the GOP in general have been courting for some time. Move along folks, nothing to see here but the pigeonhole. I almost feel sorry for the mob, since, well, many of their concerns are legitimate. The danger of taking on 'Washington' though is that they and their fellow travellers notice, set you up, corrupt you, or blame you when it is convenient, especially if you idealise the simple rustic stupidity of your ideal. This is what happens in empires.

On the left, an attempted massacre including someone whom the American media care about, as well as five others, perpetrated by an anti-Washington person, may seem like Oklahoma come early. Some are rather shamefully already behaving as though the ferociously destructive terrorist attack which rebooted Bill Clinton and hobbled Newt Gingrich has come round again. The more shameless of the right have to be hoping that he was high, or that Janet Napolitano released him from some federal programme, or that a teacher was to blame.

Both sides will misbehave, feeling no shame in doing so, in the coming days. Some already are doing so. It's not surprising. The left and right understand the blame game which is coming. After all, both understand that the conveniently named-and-isolated Tea Party are Jacksonians, though conservative Democrats and a good part of the GOP fear that people will understand that they usually pretend to be as well. Life was cheap for General Jackson when those living it disagreed with him.

I would make one point; there is absolutely no real evidence for the motivations of the maniac with the automatic weapon who opened fire in Arizona; there is as yet no clear news story detailing the facts; names and backgrounds have not been made clear; and there has been no trial.

In those circumstances, people should refrain from attempting to shove the picture accompanying this post down Sarah Palin's throat, and remember that the only way the west proceeds in the economic crisis which we are in is for people of goodwill to push aside those of badwill, in order to get through the vast cultural and economic challenge which is opening up over us, every day, wider and wider.

If evidence does emerge that Palin's posters, rhetoric, campaign style, or shallow high school sub-fireeater politics of division had anything to do with what happened, that sarahpac image at the top of this post should be plastered over every single Palin 2012 site until people move on into tomorrow.

Until then, I suggest that everyone just pray for the victims of this tragedy and their loved ones.

UPDATE: A reminder of just where rhetoric was going-beyond Palin and beyond the Pale--here. Some Americans are armed at the minute, many are under severe economic and personal stress, and the human being at the centre of politics is in many cases being forced to acknowledge the mismatch between the promise of American life and their circumstances. In such situations, people should not be stirring snake oil and threats into the body politic.

UPDATE TWO: There are some very interesting comments over at salon, including this one from the New York Times via 'Betzee';

What’s different about this moment is the emergence of a political culture — on blogs and Twitter and cable television — that so loudly and readily reinforces the dark visions of political extremists, often for profit or political gain. It wasn’t clear Saturday whether the alleged shooter in Tucson was motivated by any real political philosophy or by voices in his head, or perhaps by both. But it’s hard not to think he was at least partly influenced by a debate that often seems to conflate philosophical disagreement with some kind of political Armageddon.

The problem here doesn’t lie with the activists like most of those who populate the Tea Parties, ordinary citizens who are doing what citizens are supposed to do — engaging in a conversation about the direction of the country. Rather, the problem would seem to rest with the political leaders who pander to the margins of the margins, employing whatever words seem likely to win them contributions or TV time, with little regard for the consequences.

Consider the comments of Sharron Angle, the Tea Party favorite who unsuccessfully ran against Harry Reid for the Senate in Nevada last year. She talked about “domestic enemies” in the Congress and said, “I hope we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies.” Then there’s Rick Barber, a Republican who lost his primary in a Congressional race in Alabama, but not before airing an ad in which someone dressed as George Washington listened to an attack on the Obama agenda and gravely proclaimed, “Gather your armies.”

I'm in two minds about the wider point, or, rather, I can see emotionally that most republics worth the name are ones in which the governors are more afraid of the governed than vice versa. Rationally, however--and in the face of what has happened in Arizona, as an example--I am not impressed with that tradition at all. What criteria should be applied to politics before violence can be sanctioned, if it ever can? As I write, of course, thousands of people in the Sudan diaspora, and many more in Sudan, are attempting to solve a brutal civil war with a referendum.....


Anonymous said…
No one can be blamed for the actions of a complete lunatic. To suggest otherwise is just stirring. Sarah Palin is a joke but she is in no way responsible for this outrage.

As a one time supporter of Sarah Palin, mainly because you didn't take her seriously, I don't know how you can write this drivel.
Martin Meenagh said…
Hello Anonymous, thank you for your comment

Six things;

1) I didn't blame Palin--I said that if it became clear that the people involved were politically motivated, those who put gunsights over the districts of political opponents from a prominent position of moral leadership may have played a part in making it OK in someone's mind to talk of shooting. I'm reminded of Lincoln--

"Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch the hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?"

2) in any event sanctioning such political talk, which is done far too much--people talk of 'the ground war' 'ammunition' 'killing opponents' and so on--is irresponsible and the culpability rises the further up the political scale one goes. How many GOP and Tea Party adverts talked about 'cultural war' and 'gathering armies' these last cycles? Palin, as usual, would not be the only one to blame (High School bullies never are) but would be a safe start.

3) You're right, I gave her a chance, because of the people opposed to her, the way they dismissed her, and the way that the sort of ordinary Americans to whom she made an appeal were sidelined just as they were asked to pay the taxes and fight the wars. She's had two years to prove herself. At best, she's an inadequate narcissist who can't be bothered to grow up and think about the world or serve out her term; at worst, she is a malicious bully. Anything that keeps another disaster away from the presidency is to be welcomed; since 1960, we have had 6 presidencies ruined or wrecked by the inadequacy of the incumbent.

4) How do you know this person or persons (because there are stories of him arriving with an older man derived from the CCTV) was a lunatic? Acts of political assassination often have an underlying logic in the minds of those who carry them out which can be traced to political rhetoric. That is why people in positions of influence need to be careful what they say--why, for instance, President Bush went to a mosque shortly after 9/11. If he is charged alone, I will look forward to the likes of you suggesting that he needs medical care rather than the death penalty, unless of course you are into murdering the insane.

5) I plead in evidence the words a few months ago of the shot candidate herself, making most of the points which I have just made on video. The film is available on the Wall Street Link which I gave in the post.

Finally--I don't mind your points. I make mine with, I hope, courtesy. But next time, man up, sign your comment, and don't make sweeping statements not based on the evidence, as a general rule. Any personal abuse won't be posted, unless it is deserved or funny, and I get to define both.
Martin Meenagh said…
Another, final point just occurred to me. If a student had gone mad at a school, and shot the faculty and science class, how long do you think a prominent school figure who stuck up posters suggesting that the faculty and science class were a menace and needed to be 'taken out', complete with gunsights over names, would stay out of custody?

In minutes?
Edward Spalton said…
I remember the capital made out of the Dunblane tragedy which originated in failure of duty by a policeman who had the honour and decency to resign. Yet it was made the pretext for stupid legislation which destroyed target shooting clubs and the businesses which supplied them and made it necessary for the British Olympic pistol shooting team to practice abroad, so that "nobody, ever again, would be killed by a legally held pistol". (Ah, lovely! The Snowdrop Campaign to which MPs buckled under the weight of sentimentality)

Apart from the police showing the way how to gun down unarmed people and never be prosecuted, fire arms offences have increased enormously as we have imported alien populations whose criminals do not bother with licences.

I am beginning to agree with the American National Rifleman's Association that banning guns in the hands of citizens will, if effective, eventually ensure that the only armed criminals are working for the government.
Martin Meenagh said…
I tend to agree, Edward. I am very disturbed by the ease with which the senior police have taken to giving orders to kill people here over the past twenty years, and by the apparent political support for them in doing so.

Then again, the ordinary bobbies themselves now face huge dangers amidst a populace who often view them as the enemy whereas before they would have viewed them as doing things that other civilians would have done without the uniform. They must feel, somewhere, that they have switched to the American role of resented urban occupation force. There are many decent policemen who want to serve their people who feel like that, I know. As far as I can tell, their internal procedures are some sort of Kafkaesque soup focussed on engaging with communities who hate them or smothering people who ought to be kicked downstairs with tea and rights.

It is their weird institutional appearance of militarisation and politically correct, self-righteous bureaucratisation all at once that has got to people, I suppose, as well as their role as 'fine' (tax) collectors and protectors of rip-off private industries when the public get shirty.

I would say that they have recruited too many bullies, but in a way, that's a problem of deployment. When they turn up at all, it is as a gendarmerie to bully the weak, when you want the school bully under someone sensible's command wandering round a criminal area with a stick.

Thank you for the comment.
Conservative Cabbie said…

Soirry to be absent for so long, but I'm afraid your comments here are...well..qyite a bit off.

"in any event sanctioning such political talk, which is done far too much--people talk of 'the ground war' 'ammunition' 'killing opponents' and so on--is irresponsible and the culpability rises the further up the political scale one goes."

You mean as opposed to "political campaign", "battleground state" etc. Politics is by its nature adversarial, that militaristic metaphors are used is irrelevant.

And why has Palin become the narrative here? For someone as thinking as you (and usually balanced) I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed. You say that you don't blame Palin, but then include a map for which you have no evidence that Loughner even saw it, nevermind was influenced by it. Why eould he necessarily be influenced by Palin's map and not by Markos Moulitsas putting a "bullseye" on Gabrielle Giffords for example?

In the last eight years, we've been able to play kill Bush flash games on the internet, go to films fetishising the assassination of Bush, listened to a sitting President talking about taking a gun to a knife fight or exhorting supporters to "get in" their opponents faces. Sarah Palin can be hung in effigy, Paul krugman can celebrate Obama's election with a burn an effigy of a politician you don't like party, Democrats can put a crosshair on JD Hayworth in a political ad run on television. All of this can happen and yet somehow Sarah Palins map which, shock horror, uses targets to signify the districts she's targeting electorally becomes the overriding narrative. This unbalanced Palin-phobia is just irrational.
Conservative Cabbie said…
Sorry wouldn't let me post my comment in one chunk. Here is part two:
"At best, she's an inadequate narcissist who can't be bothered to grow up and think about the world or serve out her term; at worst, she is a malicious bully."

Malicious bully? That's ridiculous. What possible evidence do you have for that?

"I plead in evidence the words a few months ago of the shot candidate herself, making most of the points which I have just made on video."

What relevance is the video. With no link between Loughner and Palin, that video is meaningless.

Anyways, good to see you back blogging. Hope all is well.
Martin Meenagh said…
Cabbie! Great to hear from you. Palin's refused to grow, and is timewasting and divisive. I'd dearly like to see her leave, now. There are some signs that (in the wake of her ilk being silenced) Congress and the administration are facing up to the economic crisis that is brewing, and that requires people to work together.

I'm well aware that politics has always been a tough game in America--but both sides (I always said this) have pushed their luck way too far in recent years.

I did try to be guarded and balanced in the original post--but it seems to me, as a few Irish ladies of my acquaintance would have said, that sometimes good men and women have to start beating civility and responsible, non violent language into people :)

Genuinely nice to have you back.


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