A place of indeterminate subject, goal, and merit.
In the interim while I get things up and running, I’m going to throw up some older stuff I’ve written, back in my Wordpress days. This was written January 10th, 2011, in response to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, and the subsequent brouhaha over civility in political discourse. This is possibly the last major thing I wrote that involved Sarah Palin in any way, a hiatus that has been very restful and worthwhile. Anyways, it’s undergone some minor edits from its original form, and there were images in the original that I haven’t reproduced here.
I think it bears stating at the top, so nobody can accuse me of any ambiguity: there’s no sense, justification, or humanity in placing causal blame for what happened on the backs of people like Sarah Palin. I’ve found, sad to say, that this has been a familiar occurrence on the part of many who dwell on the internet, and yes, much of it has come from the left-wing, to my dismay. But more on that later.
The information that is available about Jared Lee Loughner, her alleged shooter (though the sort of “alleged” where it’s simply judicial scheduling between him and life imprisonment or execution), has been steadily streaming in over the past few days. His conspiratorial, inane, and at times ominous YouTube videos seem to betray a lack of any semblance of a logical or rational mind, and the efforts to tether his motives to specific political rhetoric haven’t shown merit. People who knew him have claimed (under anonymity) he was deeply interested in grammar, and his videos seem to bear that out; references to crackpot theories of government mind-control though their hold on the English language.
“At an event roughly three years ago, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords took a question from Jared Loughner, the man accused of trying to assassinate her and killing six other people. According to two of his high school friends the question was essentially this: “What is government if words have no meaning?”
It would not be accurate to say that he espoused strictly issues unrelated to politics- as he claimed his college was constitutionally illegal, and that he wouldn’t submit to a non-gold or silver backed currency, for example- but the political content pales in comparison to the pervasive essence of mental dysfunction that jumps off the screen.
Gabrielle Giffords, as it happens, escaped better than many. Even as she now lies in intensive care, and doctors are no doubt working constantly to pull her through the bullet wound that shot through her brain. At last word she is able to respond to basic commands, and her swelling seems to be under control, both promising signs. Not everybody who came under Loughner’s fire, sadly, was so fortunate.
Something that resonates especially powerfully with me are reports by Loughner’s fellow students, that he was prone to random, inscrutable declarations that made the people in his class uncomfortable, and led to his teacher’s unsuccessful attempt to have the administration remove him. I find this chilling because this is a story I’ve heard, and lived, before. I’d venture a guess that anybody who’s advanced through the school system for fifteen or sixteen years of their life can think of similar examples, of people amongst them clearly deranged or disturbed, yet written off as harmlessly peculiar or unworthy of being seriously addressed. I realize that in a society as large as ours, there are decisions that will be made by overstrained public institutions that will be utilitarian, it’s an unavoidable reality. I also realize that being strange or sketchy looking is not, in itself, a crime. That said, on a strictly emotional level, I felt pulled me back into middle school, high school, college- and back into my state of mind as I’d strenuously try to ignore the few clearly unbalanced or dysfunctional individuals I encountered. It makes me feel a little sick.
But beyond whatever added awareness this event raises, and whatever security reforms will be implemented (of which I suspect we’ll see many), there’s isn’t really a true solution to this sort of problem. I’ve always marveled, frankly, that things such as this don’t happen more often; we live in a highly chaotic, unpredictable world, especially insofar as the thoughts and deeds of our fellow humans are concerned, and yet things still seem to be able to march forward more or less peaceably (at least on the home front). However, there are some realities both our political leaders and the most vociferous among us should embrace. Remember when I said of Sarah Palin, “more on that later?” It’s later.
The problem with Sarah Palin’s ad has nothing directly to do with Jared Loughner. It is, however, a garish reminder of the speed at which, no matter how we may say “never forget,” we always end up forgetting. The devaluation of language and nuance that comes with violent metaphors applied to a political campaign is, even in a scenario in which nobody ends up hurt or dead, deleterious to a fruitful discourse. Somebody commits a horrible act, and the words of those who would exploit fear for political gain may recede a bit, but the pendulum always swings back, given enough time and distance from a tragedy.
It becomes especially inane and terrible when political discourse hinges on boilerplate, conspiratorial rhetoric that is in most cases uninformed, misrepresented, or flat-out dishonest. This is particularly relevant to Sarah Palin (though it’s also true of countless politicians in office at this very moment), who has made a tidy living out of ginning up a base of supporters, themselves greatly suffering through dire economic times, into believing a vast array of sinister nonsense. Perhaps no example is as vividly clear as Palin’s characterization of last year’s Health Care Law including “death panels,” a particularly unpleasant lie in the light of the true function she was referring to: reimbursing doctors for their end-of-life planning with their patients, which is a crucially important step, practically and emotionally, for both patients and their families.
What this shows clearly is that Sarah Palin feels no moral responsibility for her political rhetoric. Is her speech protected? Absolutely! But that doesn’t render it immune from criticism. In the case of her now infamous “target map,” she and her handlers have behaved disgracefully, with SarahPAC representative Rebecca Mansour going so far as to suggest that the points on the map weren’t even gun-related. That’s laughable, and an insult to the intelligence of a reasoning mind, especially as Sarah Palin’s propensity for gun-related metaphor is well-known. Don’t retreat, reload, anyone? It also begs the question why they took it down at all if they find it so benign. In a moment of national tragedy, she is in damage control.
What Sarah Palin was presented with was an opportunity to renounce her unpleasantness in a public setting, and to call for a more civil, nuanced discourse (hopefully founded on truth and respect). It doesn’t mean she’s responsible for Jared Loughner or the six-dead he left behind him, nor does it mean she hasn’t a right to free speech. It just means she, like any reasonable person, could admit when she’s done something that in the stark light of true violence, is a plainly unethical way to refer to your political opponents. What she’s done instead is posted a brief Facebook message condemning the attack, and not spoken on it publicly, opting instead to swap emails with Glenn Beck.
If these events can’t move a person to self-reflection or apology, I don’t know what can. She seems incapable of admitting to any wrong, or merely ill considered action. While that may not be a person to vilify, it is not a person to respect.