Monday, April 06, 2009

Get Your Pointing Finger Ready

I have never been a fan of Andrew Sullivan, and this surely doesn’t improve my opinion of the man. Newsbusters, a conservative media watch group, has brought to my attention some of Andrew’s recent comments concerning the murder of 3 Pittsburgh police officers last weekend, putting part of the blame for the crime on moronic talk show hosts like Glenn Beck. Andrew writes:
Many of us have worried that the heated, apocalyptic rhetoric of the anti-Obama forces might spill over at some point into violence in the hands of individuals prone to lashing out. We now have what seems to be a clear instance of that and three dead police officers. One wonders whether Fox News or the Second Amendment fanatics will chill it out a little. And then one realizes who we're talking about.”
The mental imprudence of that statement says a lot about Sullivan’s reasoning process, but Andrew’s defenders can take comfort in the fact that he wasn’t as contemptible as some lefty bloggers at the Daily Kos. Dan Houle wrote and was then echoed by Markos Moulitas:
With no Veep to shoot people, folks are taking things into their own hands.”
Classy guys. From what we can gather, the gunmen who killed the Pittsburgh officers was a nutcase who believed Obama was out to ban guns, that the Jews controlled the country, and other various conspiracy theroies. And since I have no intention of defending Glenn Beck; the man is an utter buffoon. But to say that some right wing radio hosts are responsible for this murder’s actions is up there with those who believe Lovelle Mixon went on his homicidal rampage because he couldn’t find a job; or because the police in Oakland don’t have a good reputation with some of the city’s residents. Mixon was a rapist, a thug, and a murder: to blame his actions on variables faced by countless other individuals that don’t produce the same disgusting result should discredit such an asinine theory. The same is true of this nutcase in Pittsburgh.

How about the man who killed his five children in Washington this weekend, because he was apparently angry that his wife was leaving him: is it fair to say liberals and feminists who have pushed for equal rights for women in martial relationships are responsible for this man’s actions? Or can we, as a reasonable adult society, recognize that many people go through break-ups and don’t murder their children, and that giving any credence to the idea that anyone other than those directly responsible for such vile actions are to blame is wrong.

Nor am I carrying water for the Right in America: portions of the Right have shown their true paranoid colors as of late (with talk of Obama concentration camps being built and the like), but murders happen regardless of the administration in office or what is being said about said executive in the press, so let’s drop the idea that these crimes are anything but cowardly disgusting crimes committed by sick and terrible people.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t assail and address outlandish paranoia from both right and left wing pundits; lord knows I have spent a great deal of time addressing nonsensical arguments made on the right and left. But let’s also recognize that these cranks are not gods that control the minds of men.

Nor am I arguing that cultural norms and media narratives can not slowly legitimize criminals or vigilantes, and fuel their actions. History has shown that the furthering of conspiracies and justifying violence can have disastrous and bloody consequences. But as Noel Sheppard writes, “when an unstable, highly-armed, recently laid off guy who was kicked out of the marines for throwing a food tray at his drill sergeant gets into a fight with his mother and shoots three police officers, it is absolutely irresponsible for people to blame it on anyone BUT the man pulling the trigger.”

More importantly, moderate Republicans and conservatives need to put a large chasm between themselves and individuals who peddle fringe nonsense. David Horowitz has recognized the irrational obsession that has developed with some right wing figures over the Obama administration, and how it is starting to look a bit like the Bush years, where all civility and intellect were discarded by those only interested in vilifying a sitting president. He writes:
ODS [Obama Derangement Syndrome] refers to the wildly overstated views of the president as a demonic and even dictatorial figure, sometimes even as the Manchurian candidate of the Osama bin Laden crowd. The other night I hung up on a rightwing talk show I was being interviewed on when the hosts insisted on returning to Obama as a "foreign occupier." This goes to the heart of the ODS problem which is a refusal to accept that Obama won the election -- creating an exact parallel with those Democrats who refused to accept George Bush as their president and justified this by absurdly comparing him to Hitler or claiming that he deceived Democrats into voting for a war they subsequently betrayed. Obama got 63 million votes. Calling him a foreign occupier is tantamount to saying 63 million Americans are idiots and their votes mean nothing. This is not a rejection of Obama anymore than the attacks on Bush were a rejection him. They are a rejection of democracy, no conservative should be party to that.”
Well said.


TNC said...

“[P]ortions of the Right have shown their true paranoid colors as of late (with talk of Obama concentration camps being built and the like).”

Back in the Clinton years the paranoid right (survivalists, separatists, fascists, etc.) was talking about FEMA concentration camps, black helicopters in the night, the government coming to take away your guns, the same things they are saying today. It’s like a broken record with these people.

“More importantly, moderate Republicans and conservatives need to put a large chasm between themselves and individuals who peddle fringe nonsense.”

I’d like to see Democrats and Republicans move closer to what used to be called “the Vital Center” but given the politics of the moment I do not see it happening any time soon.

Back in 2004, Michael Totten suggested that the “neos” of the two parties break away to form their own (The Neo-Centrist Alliance”):

“Sometimes I wish the neos could form their own party: the neo-liberals and neo-conservatives against the Democrats and the Republicans. Not gonna happen, I know. But that is the "party" I feel like I belong to these days.”

Roland Dodds said...

I do remember what the loony right was saying back in the Clinton years, but since it was before the internet age and my interest in these movements, I must say that I did not pay a great deal of attention to what they were saying outside of what was reported in the mainstream media.

I check out Alex Jones’ Infowars website from time to time to see what that crowd is going on about, and its surprising how little they deviate from the old (and sometimes timeless) conspiracies about the Illuminate and such. That’s the power of a conspiracy theory I assume; it doesn’t have to stand up to scrutiny and facts, it just adapts to fit whatever the situation is at the time in question.

While I don’t blame Alex Jones for the Pittsburgh police murders (the gunman apparently frequented Infowars), I do believe the kind of people who believe in the things Alex Jones does are generally unstable people. A broad assessment for sure, but if one really believes some secret cabal of people secretly controls everything in the world (and believe this based on the flimsiest and weakest evidence imaginable), something is not completely right with said individual.

I would also like to see a breakaway centrist minded party, but like you, I don’t see it as likely. And since I no longer have an interest in working to build a third party in the United States, I find it best to push for influence in the Republican and Democratic parties simultaneously.

TNC said...

"I do remember what the loony right was saying back in the Clinton years, but since it was before the internet age and my interest in these movements, I must say that I did not pay a great deal of attention to what they were saying outside of what was reported in the mainstream media."

I used to work for an "alternative" book distributor and we carried everything from "Behold a Pale Horse" and "The Turner Diaries" to every book written by Ward Chruchill and Chomsky.

But my first real contact with these groups occurred at an event organized by a radical left community project I was affiliated with (a pirate radio station that will remain nameless).

The station covered an event on "Gulf War Syndrome" and all the presenters were anti-NWO gun-rights types who went on and on about FEMA camps and the illuminati. I asked some of the organizers, "why the heck are we covering this event? these people are total right-wing nuts!" They replied, "anyone who hates the government is on our side" or some similar nonsense. That really led me to reevaluate my relationship with the station and I quit a short while after.

Daniel Stark said...

I couldn't agree more. Nothing is worse than alarmist hysteria, no matter what side of the political spectrum they fall on.

Mark Thompson said...

Roland - I mostly agree with this, although I have a much higher opinion of Andrew despite thinking he's wrong on this. Much as I despise talk radio, it's influence on people's personal behavior towards others is usually pretty minimal. That said, though, I think you're too dismissive of the notion that people like Glenn Beck could eventually succeed in brainwashing people into murderers if they ratcheted their rhetoric even more - the role of talk radio in the Rwanda genocide is something that cannot be pooh-poohed, for instance. Insane as Beck is, I don't think he's at 1994 Hutu Power radio - but he's moving ever closer by the day. And we should recognize that just as low-information liberal voters too often rely on Jon Stewart for their news, low-information conservative voters too often rely on talk show hosts for theirs.

Roland Dodds said...

I agree that the type of rhetoric people like Glenn Beck employ could eventually lead to a more violent position within society, but at this moment I don’t think he has gotten anywhere close to that level, even if I find the things he says buffoonish and wrong. Alex Jones is another issue entirely, but he is far from the mainstream, and I believe the people who really listen to what that man has to say are disturbed to begin with. I will also admit I don’t watch Beck’s program often, so I don’t know the ins and outs of what goes on there.

Part of my problem with this argument against Beck is that it is similar to the one used against Obama and his “socialist” policies. A lot has been made of Obama being some Manchurian communist that is going to destroy America from within the highest office (something many people had to say about Bush and all those “Trotskyite Neocons” as well – who would have thought the commies would be so successful in co-opting both parties?), and that type of language is obviously overblown and childish in its application of what those ideas actually represent. But it isn’t without some truth, and by that I mean Obama has been moving the United States closer to a European social democracy model than was previously thought imaginable (especially by conservatives). In the same way a lot of the criticisms made of neo-conservatism and the Bush administration are ill informed and simplistic, there still remains a shred of truth in their larger argument (I believe the Bush administration’s foreign policy was a significant departure from past policies). There was reason for those in favor of the previous foreign policy arraignment to be fearful and disparaging to the new one, and I feel the same way about Glen Beck and other right wingers who speak like him. They have good reason to be fearful of the Obama administration, and while I disagree with the reason for their alarm, I don’t think it is crazy when they take to the airwaves to make their case against him and his policies.

TNC said...

I know one should never say never, but the idea that the U.S. is (or could be) like Rwanda is ridiculous. We live in an advanced democratic economy with a wide array of media options. How many radio and tv stations are there in Rwanda? What is the average educational level of media consumers in Rwanda compared to the U.S.? etc. etc. etc.

Even at the height of the Great Depression, where you had people like Father Coughlin blaming Jews for the economic situation, we never experienced anything close to the levels of violence that Rwanda went through. And despite what some crackpots on AM and Internet talk radio may claim, the situation today is not nearly as dire.

Another thing, nobody (or very, very, few people) are being "brainwashed" by these sorts of media. In a free society like ours, the consumers of media are largely self-selected. In other words, people are listening and/or watching this crap because the hosts are telling them things they already believe. That's the case for Fox News, Pacifica, "truther" websites, etc.

There will always be people who blame media and entertainment--whether talk radio, tv, movies, video games or certain types of music--for their violent acts but the American public (and our juries) don't fall for it. I remember families blaming heavy metal bands like Judas Priest for violent acts their family members committed, then it was punk, then it was hip-hop/rap. These cases went nowhere.

Roland, thought you might be interested in this piece by Charles Blow. Not sure why the NYT thinks their graphic-arts expert is competent to address these issues:

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Great post, Roland!