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January 29, 2015

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Forget civility. How about more truth in politics?

Arizona shooting (Eds. note: Graphic content)

Two people embrace each other at the scene where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and others were shot outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011. Launch slideshow »

In the wake of last weekend’s horrific shooting, many observers have weighed in with both trenchant and idiotic takes on what the incident means and doesn’t mean.

There has been some wonderful stuff — George Will, the National Journal’s Kathy Kiely and Josh Kraushaar, to name a few — along with gigabytes of left and right Jabberwocky. But as I have reflected on the tragedy, while marveling at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ resilience, my reaction has gradually metamorphosed from disgust to resignation.

As many have observed, Jared Loughner so far seems to be a lunatic who does not possess the intellectual moorings to be classified as a right-wing or left-wing maniac. As partisans on both sides discard their self-editing mechanisms to gain advantage, the issue of vitriol in the political discourse is much less relevant than many other topics. And I don’t just mean the obvious ones — a renewed debate over limits that should be allowed so Second Amendment remedies are more difficult to carry out and a rare chance to look at how mental health funding, in Nevada and in the country, needs to be revisited.

Those will happen, they will be ephemeral, little will change. But what is dominating the colloquy now, from Capitol Hill to cable TV to the Twitterverse, are calls for more civility in politics, for a tamping down of incendiary rhetoric that may or may not have created an environment for Loughner to act but supposedly could trigger latent Manchurian assassins. And those calls spectacularly miss the point.

Don’t misunderstand: There are careless politicians such as Sharron Angle who toss out flammable phrases such as “Second Amendment remedies” and “domestic enemies” and “Sharia law,” without any regard to the violence that could spring from the small percentage of potentially unhinged folks out there. I never believed, as did some, that Angle was dog-whistling to the nuts; I just think she doesn’t think.

There also are unserious politicians such as Oscar Goodman, who blithely talks of whacking his opponents or getting a baseball bat to pound critics or, most recently, wishing someone would break a journalist’s legs. Considering his past associations, I don’t think those comments are funny — and, yes, I know I am in the minority.

The media enable the Angles and Goodmans, by either sensationalizing or laughing at the awful rhetoric, and sending a message that the more outrageous you are the more attention you get. Which gets to the real point: The problem in this country is not a lack of collegiality but a lack of truth.

American politics has for centuries been characterized by a lack of civility that was much more uncivil 200 years ago than it is today. There is just so much more of it now because of the Web and cable talkers that so many more people can be affected by it, although a minuscule fraction will be impelled to violence.

But what about the destructive effect on democracy of empty or hollow rhetoric that is not just unchecked by the media or opposition voices, but either ineffectually parried or even shamelessly highlighted?

I would much rather see congressmen or senators act more like members of Parliament during PM question time, hurling invective and insults, than simply reading off a cue card provided by the Democratic National Committee or Republican National Committee. So, too, in Carson City, would it be refreshing to hear someone called an “ignorant slut” if it weren’t followed by the meaningless “no new taxes” or “we need to study the tax base.”

The real issue in the American polity is that if you treat people like idiots, they will act like idiots. No, most will not buy a Glock and start firing away at a congresswoman who gave him an unsatisfactory answer. But many will do much more damage to democracy’s fabric in the long run by voting based on hot-button, vapid issues.

Yes, there are enough people out there, based on the blind fury I saw and experienced during the 2010 Senate conflagration, that politicians should think twice before using violent imagery. Perhaps journalists should take heed, too — I probably have used “kill” a few too many times in metaphorical ways.

Reflection, in contrast to censorship, is one thing. But to dwell on some false hope that the Giffords shooting will cause politicians to be kinder and gentler to each other is not just naïve but foolish and meaningless. The best way to honor the dead and pay tribute to Giffords is to use this as a call to a different kind of arms, from Carson City to Capitol Hill, for politicians and the media to be more responsible and honest in the way information is presented.

Now who’s the crazy one?

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  1. This reminds me of the movie, Taxi Driver!

  2. Read "Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free" by Charles P. Pierce.

    Kentucky is building a 'full scale' model of Noah's Ark, complete with dinosaurs and Unicorns that were supposed to have shipped onboard. This project is sanctioned by the Governor and funded in part by the State. The Ark is part of a Creationist Theme Park designed to create jobs, like making cotton candy, snow cones and Coney Island hot dogs for tourists.

    It took more brains and common sense to make whiskey.

  3. "I would much rather see congressmen or senators act more like members of Parliament during PM question time, hurling invective and insults, than simply reading off a cue card provided by the Democratic National Committee or Republican National Committee. "
    I would much rather see reasoned debate based on facts that lead to solutions. You conversations. But that would be boring for a political pundit like you and might even hurt the bottom line of profit driven media.

  4. Enjoyed the article, Jon.

    But, on the national scale, your insight and helpful advice will fall on deaf ears.

    Especially for those on the far right. Those on the left are not effected nor involved in this situation (even though fingers are pointed at them copiously). Because the overwhelming majority of inflammatory talk comes from the radical over-the-top far right.

    Agree this guy was a nutcase, but the far right, which, by the way, is the ONLY right there is, there ain't no moderates, the lunatics have taken over the asylum, especially those far right in the news and commentating business, are ALL taking this personal and lashing back at everyone and anyone that tries to blame this current environment of hate speak on them.


    Because they HAVE to...they MUST...get a handle on this. In order to continue using violent rhetoric. This is clearly their goal. This is what makes them money. They believe to their souls that their audience wants to hear them spew this garbage all the time.

    The far right TV and radio commentators are required to fight to get the moral high ground on this horrible shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Even while it may appear they may not have anything to do with the cause of it.

    Their very livelihood and ability to make more money necessitates this course of action. If they don't, they are out of a job.

    That's why Sara Palin is worried right now. Because, specifically with this horrific shooting, she is personally involved due to violent rhetoric, whether directly or indirectly, leveled at this Congresswoman.

    And she should be worried. Because there is already actions afoot to remove her from the political spotlight and just plain ignore her insane ramblings.

    People are dying out here from violence from people being whipped up into frenzies. And people can only take so much of this talk. To have her continue with this frontier Alaska justice outlook all the time does not prove to help anything in current society. And people know this and I'd even go so far as to say that Sara Palin is already history. Her brand is dead.

    Sara Palin is a pundit. And there is an implied responsibility that goes with it. When you are in the public eye, words have consequences. They need to be chosen wisely. And she blew it. No longer can anything emitting from her lips be trusted anymore. And if it is? It will be only by those who ultra-conservative...soooo far right that they are not the norm in America.

    No one wants to go back to this violent rhetoric again. Because that's all she's got. She is clearly not a politician. She has no clue what she is saying. And the American people don't wish to go down the road that leads to political assassination anymore.

    You take away her pioneer woman symbolism, violence encouraging rhetoric and plain idiotic ramblings, you are left with...nothing.

  5. I'm very disappointed that Ralston is willing to display his bias in this article. The third paragraph is illustrative of such. He says that partisans on both sides had used the tragedy in AZ for political gain. Wrong! Only the liberals did that! Further, the "vitriol" in the public discourse is initiated by the left, and it is vicious at times. Right wingers react to it in defense. Then he eludes to "Second Amendment remedies" as being relative to the carnage in Arizona. That is a rediculous and incompetent comparison. Finally, he jumps on the bandwagon of the liberal lunatics who are castigating Sharron Angle for some of her comments which pale in comparison to the despicable comments which come out of the mouths of liberals. You can always count on Ralston to show his liberal bias if you are capable of deciphering it.

  6. ColinFromLasVegas: Your attempt to turn the tables and blame the vitriolic hate speech which is used by liberals onto the right-wingers isn't going to work anymore. The People are on-to the "Psychological Reversal" game you libs play.(I must say you have played it skillfully for decades). But, not any more. By a margin of 57% to 32%, we The People understand that it is liberals who use hate speech to further their tyrannical political agenda. We conservatives have very mild speech, by comparison, and most of our discourse is in defense of the leftists' lies, hatred and vitriol in their discourse. You liberals can't fool The People anymore, Colin. We are awake and kicking back!

  7. To me, ambiance is everything, intent is more murky. I don't believe Ms. Palin or Ms. Angel influenced this murderer directly, any more than did Ms. Huffington or others on the left. It seems pretty clear that this fellow was not "political" per se. He was goofy way beyond that subtlety.

    But, that he was not does not change for me the immutable fact that the lack of civility and the vicious rhetoric of political discourse may well have had at least subconscious impact upon him, or upon many others out there who are invisibly inflamed by the ambiance of incivility that exists. In that context, thoughtful people of good will can conclude jointly, hopefully, that words do have broad consequences, and that they and others have to tone them way down.

  8. GREAT ARTICLE! Jon you said it the way it is.

    Rather Richard Hopkins doesn't want to admit it or he just doesn't understand I don't know. I do know that when people are constatnly fed the poisoned lies over and over again by the dominate "right wing" media it will have an impact. That combined with the addition of viloence can be fuel for the narrow minded and most certainly can contribute to the shaping of dreadful actions. Influence is influence no matter where it comes from. That goes for both sides.

    Was this guy motivated to do these terrible things by the media, no one really knows. But no one can deny that the purpose and sole intent of the media is to influence peoples opinions. It's time to speak the truth and eliminate the examples of violence from the political scene. The American public is stressed out and fragmented to such a degree that it doesn't take much to push some over the edge.

  9. Richard is off the reservation. Its amazing how the right can do the things it does, say the things it does, incite the things it does, use its bought and paid for "Fox" propoganda rag to promote violence and when something like this happens use the golly gee whiz "who us" excuse.

    The right has a long list of hate merchants that promote chaos through the use of words. When weak minds pick up on those words the result is what we saw Saturday. There may not be a direct connection to all of those who incite violence for a living, but Jared was primed by someone besides a little voice in his head. There were connections between him and Giffords. Perhaps he had seen the Sarah Palin crosshairs map with Giffords district as a target, and he'd seen her in public before. Perhaps he had given Jesse Kelly $50 to fire a rifle "and take Giffords out"

    The right can't simply wash their hands of this, however I agree with Jon,...politics needs to change and must return to truth, facts, and the real issues,...not which politician or candidate is the dirtiest of them all. That kind of politics has been around for far too many decades already.

  10. A very good article Jon. Everyone has forgot about truth in journalism, It worth be nice to see the national and local media held to a truth standard.

  11. "Richard is off the reservation." (@richardhopkins).
    True Dat, Kevin!!!
    Do you think he actually BELIEVES what he posts???

    But what a fool believes he sees
    No wise man has the power to reason away
    What seems to be
    Is always better than nothing
    There's nothing at all
    But what a fool believes he sees...


  12. Well...

    It's manifestly obvious to me that in order to prevent future shootings of our elected representatives as well as their constituents we must demand a constitutional amendment revoking that portion of the First Amendment that confers the right of free speech to anyone possessing access to the public airwaves, the print or electronic media or owns a megaphone. Moreover, Congress should immediately pass a law requiring all political pundits to wear a gag, lest they unwittingly incite some barely-existing-on-the-margins-of-society lunatic to violence by means of their rhetoric. We must also revoke the Second Amendment and prohibit the manufacture, sale and possession of all firearms in the United States. While we're at it, we may as well ban knives, rocks, bottles, sticks, screwdrivers, icepicks, hoes, axes, railroad picks, hachets, hammers and baseball bats. We could also follow the lead of Merrie Olde England and ban the cherished pub staple of the pint beer glass [too much potential as a weapon].

  13. Having more truth would be a nice thing, but I have to disagree with Jon that we can continue with the present lack of civility. Just look at any comment thread on the Sun and you can see the attitudes of the politicians and pundits reflected in the posters comments.

    It is almost impossible to have an intelligent discussion with the exchange of ideas and opinions when almost everyone involved is too busy making or defending against ad-hom attacks or worse.

  14. Right on, Jon. Honesty, words and imagery do matter. Too much of what passes as political profundity from reckless elected officials and some media is nothing but propoganda designed to build the support base by dehumanizing the opposition. Accusations fly: "They're not Americans. We're the true patriots! Where's her flag lapel pin? She can't be trusted!". Fantasy, as presented in the position papers circulated by think-tanks (who skew the numbers to get the desired outcome), is presented as fact. Conspiracy theories abound: "This government is lying to to you. Ours won't!". Sound bites proliferate the airwaves and, when repeated often enough and gone unchallenged by adults on both sides of the argument, are readily absorbed by a childlike populace.

    Then, when something wholly unintended and horrific occurs the standard alibi is: "C'mon. You didn't really embrace that, did you? This is only entertainment! Obviously, you misunderstood my point.".

    Much as you, Jon, I don't anticipate any change. At least not until there's a Truth in Politics & Punditry Law that is rigidly enforced.

  15. To understand where we're at with this volatile political climate as related to us by TV and radio pundits, look at what happened just recently.

    A man in Seattle, Washington called his Representative and threatened to kill him awhile back. He was tracked down and arrested by the FBI. Today, he was arraigned and faces formal charges.

    Sara Palin produces a map on her website awhile back that actually targets Representative Giffords, distinctively marked by using a symbol without any doubt whatsoever resembling the crosshairs of a rifle. And then she gets on the internet and said that Congresswoman in Arizona is in fact the one on her "bullseye."

    The man in Washington is facing the full brunt of the law.

    Sara Palin is not. She gets a free pass.

    Even though she conveyed a threat electronically in more ways than one, she is not charged. It is pooh pooh'ed and waved off like it's nothing.

    I said it before on other posts commenting on Las Vegas Sun articles.

    I said it not only once, but I said it twice.

    Now, here goes yet again for a third time....

    Sara Palin is a walking piece of crap.

    And people need to immediately start ignoring her.

    She is a hate monger, a failed, substandard, poor excuse for a politician and is CLEARLY in all of this for herself to achieve fame and collect mounds of cash by selling this violent rhetoric....rhetoric she CLEARLY wants to continue using.

    If you don't believe, look at the trends. EVERY single time she feels her brand is dying and/or no one is talking about her, she throws something controversial, stupid, something even sometimes having reference to violence out there for people to talk about. This is her "schtick." This is what she's about. Without it, she's nothing.

    She DOES NOT deserve any attention by sane and loyal Americans at all. There is nothing there for people to respect. At all.

  16. Forget civility..
    Lets have some truth..The shooter was a heavy metal fan, a member of Zeitgeist, a fan of "Loose Change" who did not vote in the midterm. He did not listen to political radio or watch television news
    That is truth
    Ok..The newspapers who shall remain unnamed published a vitrolic, unfounded hare speech by an Arizona sheriff where the citizens of Arizona were castigated as racist and bigots and responsible for the shooting.."Arizona is becoming the capital of racism and bigotry" as if that were the gospel truth..
    So..the people..who for very many different reason..are against illegal immigration...were blasted with an untrue insult ..portrayed as racist bigot ..who were directly responsible for the deaths
    Do I hear an Apology Ralston?
    Then..the American Renaissance was incorrectly identified as a anti-semetic site and the shooter was a member..The American Renaissance, who incidentally..are anti-illegal immigrant..has received bomb threats, threatening hate mail from the left..
    Do I hear an Apology Ralston?
    NO...?? I didn't think so..

  17. So strange that people continue to try and lay blame at Sarah Palin, even as it has been made clear that the Tucson shooter was a registered independent and clearly liberal in his beliefs. He was not influenced by right wing pundits which has also come out but so many liberals are in denial and looking for blame anywhere but in themselves.

    Where was you outcry when Democrats put out maps with targets on them in 04? Silence everywhere. Where was your indignations and calls for civility and censorship during 8 years of death threats, hanging cartoons, NPR calls for assassinations of Bush, and burning and hanging effigies of Bush? Complete silence and frequently encouraged and supported in the media.

    Now when one of your own who also happens to be crazy does something crazy all you can do is blame others as a scape goat? No one is buying it. If you want civility in politics it begins at home. We all know the phrase you can't change others, only ourselves... if you spent half the effort fixing your own hate filled fear mongering rhetoric from the right then you'd have grounds to ask the left to do the same.

    Leftist cries for civility and censorship are not only meaningless but hypocritical to the extreme. When the left ends its campaign of blame, acts like adults and stops lying to get political gain it will have every right to demand the same from the right, until them its time to shut up and stop embarrassing yourselves.

    One last thought:
    Apparently few including the liberal press and Democratic leadership calling for civility knows little of our history or system of antagonism that is our form of government.

    We have been a hard core arguing, blaming, killing, and lying in our politics form the beginning. Many of our founding fathers held duels to end arguments, and betrayal, lies, and manipulation have been the order of the day from the beginning. We are more civil and open today than we have been anytime in history.

    So few understand our past to realize this is just the same thing today as in the past, the shooting was terrible and awful but hardly the first time, and sadly it won't be the last time a crazy person decides to harm others driven by their delusions.

    I just wish the left media and leadership would stop exploiting a terrible situation and act with the civility and honest discussion it pretends to want from others. When what they really want is to take advantage of this situation as a political power play, one they know all to well from the past how to do and so many mindless people play right into.

  18. You're missing an important point here, Mr. Ralston.

    First, the Will column to which you refer was really nothing more than an ad hominem attack. Will was trying to excuse incendiary rhetoric like Angle's by pointing out that people on the left use similar terms. There's no excusing either.

    I'm a liberal and I have been very critical of the calls from the right for violent action against those whose politics are anathema to conservaitves. While such langauge has also come from the left, very little of it, if any, has been coming from Democratic elected officials. It's one thing to have a few wing nuts spouting off (and for the record both parties should be doing more to quiet the wing nuts in their midst), it's another thing altogether to have party leadership - people like Sarah Palin, Allen West, Sharron Angle, and Jesse Kelly - exhorting their followers to violent action. Reasonable people might understand they're resorting to hyperbole, but as Mr. Loughner has clearly demonstrated, not everyone is reasonable.

    While we can't say that Loughner would have done what he did had Kelly, West, and Angle not said what they did, we can say their speech contributed to the creation of an environment that made what Loughner did more likely. We can also say with absolute certainty that it is wrong of these people - ostensibly responsible members of the body politic - to suggest that violence is an acceptable part of American political discourse. Enough of this already.

  19. Does anyone esle remember when the Daily Kos website used the same graphics as did Palin, the reticle of a rifle scope?

  20. The hate, vitriol, invective and vituperous venom spewed by talk radio ranters like Mark Levin infests society with the seeds of this shooter's pathology. Even if the shooter never listened to the likes of Levin, people like Mark Levin harden our society and are indirectly responsible for this "anti-government" killers actions in Tucson.

  21. Can rhetoric lead to violence? Can folks who listen to too much conservative talk radio, Fox News, become unbalanced?

    2008/ Jim Adkisson, 58, entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and shot to death two church members and wounded six more before he was wrestled to the ground as he tried to reload.

    "Adkisson targeted the church, [Investigator Steve Still wrote] 'because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets.' In Adkisson's house, officers found "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by radio talk show host Michael Savage.

    2009/ Richard Poplawski, 23, armed with an assault rifle, met Pittsburgh officers at the doorway and shot two of them in the head immediately, An officer who tried to help the two also was killed.

    Poplawski feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and "didn't like our rights being infringed upon," said Edward Perkovic, his best friend. (Obama has not proposed ONE gun law, despite the claim of talk radio hosts, some on Fox News, and some from the NRA.)

    2009/ Scott Roeder, anti-abortion right-wing extremist, assassinated Dr. George Tiller in Kansas, while Tiller was at church.

    2009/ Von Brunn, Holocaust denier and right-wing extremist, opened fire at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, killing one security guard.

    2010/ A pilot furious with the Internal Revenue Service crashed his small plane into an Austin, Texas, office building where 200 federal tax employees worked.

    2010/ Byron Williams, 45, reportedly had been on his way last summer to kill individuals at the liberal nonprofit group the Tides Foundation and at the ACLU San Francisco office when he engaged in a shootout with Highway Patrol officers.

    The Tides Foundation had been attacked in the media, particularly by Fox News host Glenn Beck. Williams' mother stated he had decided to act after he learned on television "the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items."

    2010/ An anti-government father and son armed with an AK 47 shoot and kill Two West Memphis police officers during a traffic stop. Two other law enforcement officers were shot and injured in a separate shootout with the same suspects.

    2010/ The last of nine people indicted in a plot to kill police officers to hopefully set off an anti-government uprising was arrested at a home in Hillsdale County, Mich. The group, known as Hutaree, was planning to kill police officers and then bomb their funeral caravan using "IEDs."

  22. I agree with Mr. Hopkins. It's these damn liberals messing with our gun rights. Take that dastardly liberal Ronald Reagan for instance.

    1967: Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act in 1967, "prohibiting the carrying of firearms on one's person or in a vehicle, in any public place or on any public street."

    As Governor, Reagan also supported and signed a 15-day waiting period to purchase guns.

    1991 Reagan once again stated his support for waiting period to buy guns.

    1991, Reagan: "I support the Brady Bill ...and I urge the Congress to enact it without further delay."

    1994, Reagan, along with Carter and Gerald Ford, issued a letter supporting the ban on assault weapons.

    So, let's all condemn liberals like Reagan.

  23. The Obvious Problem.

    The frantic efforts of democrats and other unstable liberals to turn the tragic events in Tucson into a hissy fit over conservative talk radio and the comments of some conservative politicians, and then to morph their squealing into a tantrum on gun-control, overlooks one obvious cause for the unfortunate cascade of events that eventually led to a berserker in a Safeway parking lot. Tucson and Pima County are blue enclaves in an otherwise red state. Only 2 out of 7 members of the Tucson City Council are Rs' and Republicans represent only 2 out of 5 on the county Board of Supervisors. Democrats hold a 39% to 30% edge over Republicans in voter registration in Pima County with the remainder mostly Libertarians. Pima County Sheriff Dupnic, has been obvious about his liberal political philosophy. Clearly, the liberal mindset of the democrat party is firmly established in the majority of the good citizens of Tucson, Arizona.

    The finger-pointing of the liberal press and politicians has been directed toward everyone else. It was society's fault for not providing enough mental health funding. It was the fault of gun proponents who reversed the assault weapons ban. Their fingers should be directed back upon themselves. At every turn during the cascade-of-events, the entities who encountered Loughner, relinquished their responsibility to protect greater society by simply passing the buck to whoever encountered him next. Tragically, liberal cowardice, and an escapist, "can't we all just get along" policy, meant that Representative Gillfords and the other victims were next in line.

    Loughner had been visited by campus police FIVE TIMES before finally being presented with an order not to return without mental health clearance. Bank tellers in Tucson have said that they, "held their fingers over the alarm button" whenever he entered their bank because of his statements and behavior. Fellow students sat near exits just in case he "went off" during class. Teachers feared for their own safety and that of their students because of how he acted. Everyone who had any contact with him sensed that he was dangerous.

    Can anyone imagine this cascade in Mills Lane's Reno, Nevada? Can you imagine it happening in Joe Arpio's Maricopa County?

    Rabid and mentally-ill berserkers have been among us since mankind first began to form themselves into bands and tribes. We have an instinctive alarm reaction whenever one of us begins displaying signs of irrational violence and we exercise due caution as a result. We also seem to be able to differentiate between a likely gentle person with Down Syndrome or autism and a potential berserker like Jarad Loughner. The liberal mindset defeated these instinctive safeguards and it reminds me of an old wall poster from the 80s' that showed a human skull x-ray with what appeared to be a pile of excrement in the middle of the brain. The caption read, "Your Problem is Obvious". It was funny once.

  24. Has anyone ever seen drafting registration marks? Maybe we need to outlaw them.