Keith Olbermann closed Saturday’s edition of Countdown with a Special Comment that called for an end to the violent rhetoric in American politics. In response to the mass shooting in Tuscon, AZ today where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was among those wounded, Olbermann said, “The rhetoric has devolved and descended, past the ugly and past the threatening and past the fantastic and into the imminently murderous.”
Here is the video from MSNBC:
Olbermann started off by suggesting that today was the day that our violent political rhetoric turned murderous, “Left, right, middle – politicians and citizens – sane and insane. This morning in Arizona, this age in which this country would accept “targeting” of political opponents and putting bullseyes over their faces and of the dangerous blurring between political rallies and gun shows, ended.”
He suggested that those who will not reject the language of violence should be rejected by the American people, “This morning in Arizona, this time of the ever-escalating, borderline-ecstatic invocation of violence in fact or in fantasy in our political discourse, closed. It is essential tonight not to demand revenge, but to demand justice; to insist not upon payback against those politicians and commentators who have so irresponsibly brought us to this time of domestic terrorism, but to work to change the minds of them and their supporters – or if those minds tonight are too closed, or if those minds tonight are too unmoved, or if those minds tonight are too triumphant, to make sure by peaceful means that those politicians and commentators and supporters have no further place in our system of government.”
Olbermann named several Republicans including Sharron Angle, Allen West, Jesse Kelly, and Sarah Palin, “If Sarah Palin, whose website put and today scrubbed bullseye targets on 20 Representatives including Gabby Giffords, does not repudiate her own part in amplifying violence and violent imagery in politics, she must be dismissed from politics – she must be repudiated by the members of her own party, and if they fail to do so, each one of them must be judged to have silently defended this tactic that today proved so awfully foretelling, and they must in turn be dismissed by the responsible members of their own party.”
He also mentioned Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, “If Glenn Beck, who obsesses nearly as strangely as Mr. Loughner did about gold and debt and who wistfully joked about killing Michael Moore, and Bill O’Reilly, who blithely repeated “Tiller the Killer” until the phrase was burned into the minds of his viewers, do not begin their next broadcasts with solemn apologies for ever turning to the death-fantasies and the dreams of bloodlust, for ever having provided just the oxygen to those deep in madness to whom violence is an acceptable solution, then those commentators and the others must be repudiated by their viewers, and by all politicians, and by sponsors, and by the networks that employ them.”
Olbermann also called on the left to vigilant against their own suggestions of violence and gave a personal example, “Here, once, in a clumsy metaphor, I made such an unintended statement about the candidacy of then-Senator Clinton. It sounded as if it was a call to physical violence. It was wrong, then. It is even more wrong tonight. I apologize for it again, and I urge politicians and commentators and citizens of every political conviction to use my comment as a means to recognize the insidiousness of violent imagery, that if it can go so easily slip into the comments of one as opposed to violence as me, how easily, how pervasively, how disastrously can it slip into the already-violent or deranged mind?”
The Countdown host connected the violent rhetoric to what he called an attack on our liberties, “Because tonight, what Mrs. Palin, and what Mr. Kelly, and what Congressman West, and what Ms. Angle, and what Mr. Beck, and what Mr. O’Reilly, and what you and I must understand, was that the man who fired today did not fire at a Democratic Congresswoman and her supporters. He was not just a mad-man incited by a thousand daily temptations by slightly less-mad-men to do things they would not rationally condone. He fired today into our liberty and our rights to live and to agree or disagree in safety and in freedom from fear that our support or opposition will cost us our lives or our health or our sense of safety. The bullseye might just as well have been on Mrs. Palin, or Mr. Kelly, or you, or me. The wrong, the horror, would have been – could still be just as real and just as unacceptable.”
Olbermann called on those who won’t rebuke the language of violence to be shunned and ignored, “At a time of such urgency and impact, we as Americans – conservative or liberal – should pour our hearts and souls into politics. We should not – none of us, not Gabby Giffords and not any Conservative – ever have to pour our blood. And every politician and commentator who hints otherwise, or worse still stays silent now, should have no place in our political system, and should be denied that place, not by violence, but by being shunned and ignored.”
He urged after American, politician, and commentator to pledge to reject the violent rhetoric. Olbermann focused on the right, because this rhetoric has become the stock and trade of the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party that views political discourse as nothing less than the final battle between good and evil in which the soul of America herself is at stake. People and their politics are no longer separate in this country. Many Americans on the right and left would never consider going out to dinner with someone that they just engaged in a heated political discussion with. This nation has become a place where liberals stay in their corner and conservatives stay in theirs, and the two shall never interact.
In their never ending quest to get voters motivated and to the polls, conservative political operatives have long been aware of the power of the emotional appeals on their base. After the election of President Obama conservative media networks and figures took the bitterness and anger of their audience and gave it an exaggerated voice. By vocalizing these feelings and amping up the emotional content the Glenn Beck’s of the world did something else. They fanned the flames.
Olbermann himself has been guilty of throwing logic out the window and appealing to the emotions of his audience. This very tactic is what makes his Special Comments so popular with his viewers. He seems to speak for them, but there is a key difference. Even at his most misguided, Olbermann is never trying to provoke fear in his audience, nor does he ever hint at violent action or revolution. However, these types of statements and feelings have become the stock and trade of the right wing media.
Yes, this is about politics, but the reason why the violent rhetoric in the media won’t stop is because of money. By spreading fear, Fox News has cornered the market on conservative cable news viewers, while Glenn Beck has become a very wealthy man with his salesmanship of a message of fear wrapped in a paranoia blanket. The business of violent rhetoric and the politics of violent words meet in the person of Sarah Palin who has managed to both become rich and a 2012 presidential contender on the basis of a language of violence.
The man who shot Rep. Giffords and all of the other victims may or may not have been influenced by the violent rhetoric in the air, but this message here is that political violent metaphors help to create an entire culture where to a mentally unstable person violence looks like a good option. When elected officials are turned into enemies and targets even verbally, there will be some of our fellow Americans who take those words seriously.
In this age where television and the Internet are the fibers of our collective unity, words matter more than ever before, but as long as a dollar remains to be made, the merchants of rhetorical violence will continue to do a brisk trade, all the while blaming transition from their words to deeds on a few bad apples. America has some bad apples all right, but I believe that the genie has escaped from the bottle, and there can be no easy path back from this dark path where politics has truly become a life and death endeavor.