Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Palin and Right-Wing Violence

Dave Zirin has a chilling piece at SW about Sarah Palin's defense of using violence in political rhetoric from last March. He quotes an online piece she wrote about the March Madness basketball tournament last year in order to point out how common violent metaphor is in sports. Apparently, this is justification for using violent metaphor in politics.

To the teams that desire making it this far next year: Gear up! In the battle, set your sights on next season's targets! From the shot across the bow--the first second's tip-off --your leaders will be in the enemy's crosshairs, so you must execute strong defensive tactics. You won't win only playing defense, so get on offense! The crossfire is intense, so penetrate through enemy territory by bombing through the press, and use your strong weapons--your Big Guns--to drive to the hole. Shoot with accuracy; aim high and remember it takes blood, sweat and tears to win. Focus on the goal and fight for it. If the gate is closed, go over the fence. If the fence is too high, pole vault in. If that doesn't work, parachute in. If the other side tries to push back, your attitude should be "go for it." Get in their faces and argue with them. (Sound familiar?!) Every possession is a battle; you'll only win the war if you've picked your battles wisely. No matter how tough it gets, never retreat, instead RELOAD!
Zirin points out how overstated these metaphors are. Though he concedes that there is often military-language in sports, notably football, he notes that he has never seen such an array of metaphors before to describe college basketball. He also points out how much white privilege she has to invoke violent imagery in politics. If she were a Muslim woman, he remarks, nobody would tolerate this from her.

I would also add that it is patently absurd that violent metaphor in sport would excuse violent metaphor in politics, since, you know, politics are really serious business that people have historically been moved to violence by. This happens much more rarely in sports, especially American sports.

Yesterday, Palin defended herself against accusations that these metaphors of violence have been causes of the massacre in Arizona. Most absurdly, she declares, "Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them." Now certainly this cannot be true. She would certainly never say that the acts of 9/11 hijackers begin and end with them. No, rather, they begin with something called Islamofascism and end with the invasion and occupation of multiple countries. How can any act of violence begin and end with the invidual who committed it? We're not allowed to note any social context that may have made the violence possible or even encouraged it?

Now, rhetoric like Zirin points out from Palin is being cited by many as a potential cause of the Arizona shooting, as contributing to a political atmosphere in the state that leads to a violent massacre. I think it's fair to say this rhetoric has contributed to a heightened state of aggression in U.S. political discourse, and whether there are connections between Palin's rhetoric in particular and this Loughner guy's decision to shoot people is yet to be determined by deeper investigation into his political views and motives. But to claim that the violent actor in this case is solely responsible for his violence defies logic, as well as her own previous assertions about terrorism.


Richard said...

Without question, Palin is a very scary person in terms of her conduct and the violent imagery of her public statements, and for that reason alone, she should be condemned, as they say about voting "early and often". But, with that said, interviews of people who knew Loughner paint a picture of someone who was seriously mentally disordered. I conducted certification hearings for mentally disordered people in California for many years, hearings that would decide whether they could be held involuntarily for a specified period of time (14 days), and my experience is that it is unrealistic to expect them to process information and develop a political motivation for their actions in a straightforward way, when they are as impaired as Loughner appears to have been. Indeed, it may be unrealistic to expect clear, linear explanations fo the political values and decisions of much, if not all, of the populace. In other words, a search for an easily reduceable political explanation for Loughner's actions is likely to be futile, and may well, upon subsequent discoveries, backfire against those liberals, like Keith Olbermann and Jane Hamsher, who have sought to do so (Hamsher is backing away somewhat now). From what we know about Loughner, there are serious questions about the relationship between his apparent mental disorder, his fascination with obscure far right ideologues, such as David Wynn Miller, who believes that the government manipulates us by controlling grammar, popular culture (he apparently liked a controversy death metal song that celebrates shooting people) and the lack of resources to provide treatment for him, none of which, with the possible exception of Miller, fits into the liberal narrative. And, of course, there is the question of the gun culture in places like Arizona, where weapons possession and use is integrated with a bizarre sense of personal peril at the hands of unseen, outside forces, creating the potential for eruptions of violence as experienced in Tucson. I am familiar with northern Arizona (my mother retired there), and it is quite frightening, but it is something that has culturally developed there over many decades, and, again, is not easily reduceable to people like Palin, Beck and others, even in the amorphous sense (so far, I haven't seen anything that indicates that Loughner has any familiarity with them and their politics). We can argue as to whether Palin is an expression of it or intensifier of it, but that does little to improve our understanding of what happened in Tucson, and may happen again elsewhere. The threat was there before Palin, and may, sadly, be there after she has departed the political scene. She casts a light on a more dangerous, more deeply ingrained aspect of American culture than both political parties persist in ignoring.

t said...

When this awful shooting happened, and I read the (virtually identical) statements of Obama, Boehner, et al, I was disgusted. All of them spoke of a "senseless" attack, and expunged all social or political discourse from their comments. What they've offered instead is overly-psychologized analysis that pins the entire significance of the event on his individual pathological motives. I agree that this is spurious. This is what we get in a capitalist society: we get individualized analysis of everything and a complete effacement of the historical and social dimensions of everything. We get told that all problems are individual problems of "personal responsibility".

The first thing I thought of was 9/11 when this happened. What we were told after 9/11 was that this was in no way a political event: it was entirely due to a few irrational, evil individuals. We were not encouraged to think about the political, global context in which the attacks occurred. And, of course, the rest is history: this paved the way for the dubious arguments for the Iraq War, narratives about a "clash of civilizations" and all the rest of it.

t said...

"Palin is often quite explicit when she wants an enemy of the 'real America', the pristine white America of lore, to be assassinated. So is Pat Robertson, you may recall. Assassination is as American as the hackneyed patriotic schtick that often seems to motivate it. This isn't about the gallows humour of the Republican right which consists precisely of knowing, wink-wink in-jokes (gun-sight imagery, 'Reload', and so on) about the barbarism that already exists, and which they have done so much to cultivate. It's about what the jokes advert to. The problem is not whether and how to domesticate political language, as some have wrongly assumed, but how to fight back against the political forces that are fomenting this bilious filth. The first step here, I think, would be to prevent the Republicans from shutting down discussion of the political dimensions of this crime."

Richard said...

Overall, I understand your perspective and agree with it, but the issue is broader and more serious than whether the Republicans shut down the political dimensions of the crime. It is not a question of Democrats pressing for a discussion and Republicans seeking to foreclose, but, rather, that the Republicans want to prevent a discussion and the Democrats want have one that is factually and ideologically erroneous. For example, participating in a vigil sponsored by the Fresno County Democratic Committee (posted at the website) that emphasizes hate speech by right wing political commentators is merely an effort to exploit the situation for partisan advantage, while ensuring that the real dimensions of US violence and power remain concealed, or, to use the cultural studies term, mystified. Given the global violence perpetrated by the Democrats in power in DC, no one should have anything to do with such an event, unless they insist upon expressing more valid, confrontational perspectives.

As to your point about capitalism and the individualization of analysis of events like Tucson, I believe that it is a more important subject, and while I also agree with what you say generally, that we substitute pyschoanalysis for ideological, historical and social explanations, there is the additional aspect that capitalism manifests itself in peoples' lives differently in different locations, and even among people in the same city or region. The Marxist sociologist Lefebvre understood this well, and dedicated his life towards encouraging leftist sociologists to examine the features of capitalisms as revealed in our everyday lives, as did Bourdieu as well. Many of the things that I mention in relation to Loughner are consistent with such an approach, the lack of care for people with mental health problems in a society that increasingly marketizes health care, the celebration of gun possession and gun violence and the normalization of paranoia about other cultures and peoples, as well as the atomization of social relations more generally. Leftists in the tradition of people like Lefebvre should delve more deeply into Loughner's particular situation, not to evade the sociological dimensions of the tragedy, but to better understand the relationship between him and the society from which he has emreged. Of course, the liberal approach that sees him as an outgrowth of a society polarized between a far right lunatic fringe and a reasonable moderate to liberal alternative is not a particularly useful way to proceed.

JM said...

Renyolds herself was a part of the violent culture too apparently:

She even was in favor of border patrol!

Richard said...

enJoel Nelson, a professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, has a good article on "cowboy capitalism" in Arizona and its connections to the anti-immigrant scene and the Tucson shootings. You can find it here:

His response is, in my view, appropriately grounded in class resistance, too.