I was checking my Blackberry on my way out the door yesterday when I saw the messages about Gabrielle Giffords; as it turns out, the first one I saw was the erroneous NPR report that she had died.
My first thoughts were of my friends in elected office. I mean that in the actual "friends" sense, not the political BS "my honorable friend" sense. I'm talking about help you move kind of friends, people I've known 20 years, whose children I've watched grow up.
I've seen some of these friends dehumanized for their views or personalities. Even as a bit player, I've been a caricatured target of hate speech myself. I've never felt in fear for my safety, but I have been intimidated out of discussing some topics, and it's making me choose my words differently now.
Metaphors of battle are part of the fabric of politics on all sides. I'm trying to think of a term to use in place of "targeted district" and I can't. But in all fairness, the rhetoric of the right has been uncomfortably loaded with gun and combat imagery the last couple years, escalating exponentially since Obama's election. It's eerily reminiscent of the climate of 1995, just before Oklahoma City.
Two years ago, as state senator Matt McCoy was getting death threats, David Niewert called this sort of rhetoric "eliminationism":
"Right-wing rhetoric has been explicitly eliminationist, calling for the infliction of harm on whole blocs of American citizens: liberals, gays and lesbians, Latinos, blacks, Jews, feminists, or whatever target group is the victim du jour of right-wing ire."No other country, save perhaps some banana republics in the middle of civil wars, is as gun-fixated as we are. I'm never going to run for public office again so I'll say it. The 2nd Amendment is my least favorite part of the Constitution. Maybe it's because my dad went fishing instead of hunting, but I simply do not understand why anyone wants or "needs" a gun. The most I can muster is a begrudging acceptance that some people are absolutists about their 2nd Amendment the way I am about my 1st.
I recognize the contradiction; Sarah Palin has the absolute right to put gunsight targets on a map. The correct response is not to ban such rhetoric, but to call it out. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik says it best: "It may be free speech, but it does not come without consequences."
Iowans with long memories know that Tom Vilsack got his political start when a disgruntled gunman opened fire on the Mt. Pleasant City Council. Here in Iowa City, we had an ugly public meeting last month, with a followup on the same subject scheduled for Tuesday. A rough draft first attempt to regulate a trailer park slum is being mis-represented as The Gubmint Trying To Take My Farm, with a corresponding escalation in rhetoric:
"Portwood said people wonder why some of these people go off their rocker, and go around and get a gun and get even. He said sometimes it makes a guy even consider it. Stutsman said she hopes not. Portwood asked if Board members understand what he is saying; there are people who go berserk, that's it, they snap."Our state gun laws have been loosened, to an uncomfortable degree, as of a week ago. Only four senators and sixteen representatives, all Democrats, resisted the gun lobby pressure and voted against this flawed law. We're seriously asking questions like: Can we legally say no guns in the library? No guns in the courtroom? The fears now being expressed by public officials and staffers aren't paranoia. As the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords shows, those concerns are real.