Thursday, 13 January 2011

Cautious relief

The response to the Arizona massacre has been encouraging. I believe it has come as a healthy shock to many people to contemplate what all this loose rhetoric about ‘Lock and load!’ and ‘Second Amendment remedies!’ actually means in practice.

I am often struck by the odd parallels between the radical tea-bagger movement (joined by its Bible-thumper allies) and the more extreme expressions of left-wing radicalism from the 1960s and ‘70s. The Giffords assassination attempt is reminiscent of incidents like the Manson family killings or the brief heyday of Patty Hearst as the beret-clad ‘Comrade Tanya’. At that time a large body of people got some notions in their heads, for better or for worse, and the lunatic fringe promptly showed how dangerous half-digested versions of those ideas can be.

The reactions of the Limbaugh/Beck/Palin crowd were so stupid as to merit applause. They demonstrated for all the world that they perform on one-note instruments and have few intellectual or political resources. Instead of keeping a prudently low profile and allowing the storm to pass, they all went on the attack as if they had been the shooting victims and showed what whiny pussies they are. Limbaugh and Beck sounded pathetic, but Palin hit the home run with the fatal ‘blood libel’ crack as if her suffering were equivalent to that of the Jews.

It’s one thing not to know where Pakistan is, but a serious politician in the U.S. had better know the basics about European anti-Semitism. Palin proved she doesn’t and isn’t.

That said, several questions remain after Obama’s entirely proper exploitation of the tragedy to push his political goals. (We need many photos of the murdered girl’s bereaved parents and of the elderly ladies shot while out shopping.) All that is good. But the president also pointedly cautioned against blaming his sworn enemies for generating the climate of violence, even though they did.

This is disturbing since the Obama team has no problem demonizing people like Bradley Manning, Guantánamo detainees or Julian Assange as sympathizers of or actual ‘terrorists’ (a term never applied to white people, no matter how many 9-year-olds they kill). Amid all the churchgoing and memorializing of the Tucson victims, there is a stubborn unwillingness on Obama’s part to confront the racially-tinged nature of the ongoing calls for violence to stop the government from providing health care or collecting taxes.

It is no accident that the assault occurred in the new epicenter of racism—Arizona, where it’s okay to drum up all sorts of laws that are no longer acceptable when overtly directed against blacks.

It’s also worth remembering that the opening salvo of disrespect and the campaign to de-legitimize Obama’s presidency—the nasty ‘You lie!’ shout from South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson—occurred at exactly the point in Obama’s speech when he was assuring the rabid opponents of his health proposals that no immigrants would be served by them.

Obama turned the other cheek on that occasion and has been furiously backpedaling on anything that might upset the Republican and Teabagger right ever since—with marvelous results in the last election cycle. Not surprisingly, dead bodies have resulted, Obama now looks like the moderate, reasonable guy, and let’s hope that cools the ardor for blood from the lunatics.

However, if it doesn’t, the guy now in charge doesn’t seem to have a Plan B.

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