Following the tragic shooting in Tucson on January 8, voices of moderation told us that this was no time for shouting, demonizing, or blaming. We were told to “tone it down” which for progressives meant not to even attempt to relate the shootings to the vitriolic denunciations that some on the right have directed towards liberals.
However, the real danger that the right poses to the left and moderates may not come from shouting. Rather it may come from a silent form of intimidation. It is a sort of pre-emptive intimidation that often prevents progressives from even expressing their ideas in the political arena.
An excellent example of the pre-emptive action in which the right indulges is gun control. When many progressives heard of the shooting, their thought processes began with grief and then moved towards solutions to the problems that the shooting reflected. Many thought:
- This is a terrible tragedy.
- There must have been something psychologically wrong with Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter.
- Is it possible that the extreme right wing contributed to the climate of hate that may have encouraged Loughner to go on this shooting rampage?
- We need to once again address the issue of too many guns in our society. It is too easy to get guns in most parts of the United States. Should we try to once again establish tighter controls on the purchasing and ownership of guns, particularly the more powerful types?
So far few if any public figures on the left have publicly raised the issue of gun control in reaction to the shooting.
What has been deafening by its silence is Rush Limbaugh’s lack of condemnation of the shooting or expression of hope that Gabrielle Giffords and the other individuals who were wounded would recover from their wounds. He immediately said liberals saw the shooting as an opportunity to advance their own political agendas, especially advocating tighter gun control.
He went so far as to suggest that liberals actually were happy that the event took place because Barack Obama needed something like this to serve as his nine-eleven or Oklahoma City. It would make it easier for him to advance his liberal agenda.
Talking head conservatives such as Limbaugh have succeed in taking from liberals the right to properly mourn tragedy. Conservatives leaders condition their base and even some moderates to expect that if liberals grieve, the next thing they will want is stronger gun control legislation.
The N.R.A. and others on the right take a logical reaction to a shooting and pre-emptively call it a political act because there will be more calls for gun control. And you know what, they are right; it is a political act. Of course, conservatives are blind to the political nature of their condemnation.
There is a huge difference in the ways in which conservatives and liberals make political statements. Somehow the words of the conservatives sound more authoritarian (as opposed to authoritative) than those of the liberals. Why is this so; why do the liberals seem to cower?
George Lakoff, who knows as much about the framing of language as anyone, says that conservatives come from the perspective of the “strong strict father.” Liberals come from the “nurturing family.” The stern father likes to be didactic; to know everything and to set the rules of the game.
So following the shootings in Tucson it seems that there are two things that liberals “are not allowed” to do for fear of being castigated by the mythical strong father figure like Rush Limbaugh. First we cannot call for a dialogue to promote more civility and second we cannot put the issue of gun control back on the table.
Conservatives have had a long history of intimidating; the McCarthy era is a good and not too distant example. But I would suggest that a more insidious and silent form of intimidation was actually codified in December, 2000.
This is by no means a scientific deduction on my part; it is an intuitive hypothesis that I believe we should consider. When the Supreme Court ruled that George W. Bush was going to be our 43rd president rather than Al Gore, they could rest assured that Gore supporters, while very disappointed, were going to peacefully accept the ruling. But what if the Court had ruled in favor of Gore? Could we have said that there would not have been sporadic acts of violence by Bush supporters? Could they say for sure that there would not have been organized violence by the right? Could they say for sure that there would not be calls for rebellion from the right?
We don’t know. What we can hypothesize is that conservatives have more guns than progressive and they are more comfortable either using them or threatening to use them.
I just wonder if the concern of violence, perhaps even a rebellion, was on the minds of some Supreme Court justices in 2000 when they ruled in Bush v Gore? Were one or more of the justices actually feeling a sense of intimidation, even if they couldn’t describe it as such and certainly would not speak a word about it?
The unspoken fears of 2000 may be the rhetoric of today. Conservatives are telling us that we can’t discuss how political dialogue has become less civilized because that would be political at a time when we shouldn’t. We can’t talk about gun control for the same reason. We need to do two things: (1) not cower in the face of conservative bullying and (2) monitor other progressives as best we can. Liberals are not without engagement in ratcheting up some uncivilized debate. There is a Facebook group called “I hate it when I wake up and Sarah Palin is still alive.”
This senseless shooting is another teachable moment. My suggestion: let’s talk in a civil fashion about at least going back to the assault weapons ban that existed in the Clinton years, and possibly having far more restrictions on gun ownership and use. Anyone else interested in this discussion?