A special round table discussion took place on Meet The Press today to discuss the attempt on the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The two Republicans Reps. on the panel Trent Franks and Raul Labrador tried to associate the gunman with the left, and offered up the defense that the left engages in violent rhetoric too. Labrador said, “We have to be careful not to blame one side or the other because both sides are guilty of this.”
Here is the video from NBC News:
The special round table consisted of five of Rep. Giffords’ House colleagues Democrats Paul Grijalva, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Emanuel Cleaver, and Republicans Trent Franks and Raul Labrador. After talking about Giffords and security issues for members of Congress the discussion turned to the political climate and the Republicans started to dodge responsibility for how their own rhetoric has added to the toxicity in our current political climate.
Rep. Franks broke out the unfortunately now standard Republican excuse when violence occurs that the shooter was a lunatic, and the GOP’s rhetoric of violence had nothing to do with this, “Well, you know, I’m always concerned about how we treat each other. In the ultimate analysis here, that’s what this is all about. This Jared Loughner had no respect for innocent human life and, ultimately, no respect for his fellow human beings. As willing–whatever his statement was, he was willing to kill someone, kill many people to make it. And, ultimately, I, I feel like that we need to realize as, as members of Congress, as, as Americans, that true tolerance is not pretending you have no differences. It’s being kind and decent to each other in spite of those differences. And when we allow people like this to go unnoticed, that have no respect for their fellow human beings, I think we make a terrible mistake. Because, ultimately, if we don’t have a more loving respect for each other, we, we really have no hope as a society.”
Rep. Cleaver discussed how the nation is in a dark place right now and much of that darkness originates in D.C., “We are in a dark place in this country right now, and the atmospheric condition is toxic. And much of it originates here in Washington, D.C., and we export it around the country to the point that people come to Washington, they come to the gallery, and they feel comfortable in shouting out insults from the gallery. We had someone removed last week shouting out some insult about President Obama’s birth. I think members of Congress either need to turn down the volume, begin to try to exercise some high level of civility, or this darkness will never ever be overcome with light. The, the hostility is here. People may want to deny it. It is real, and if we, and if we don’t stop it soon, I think this nation is going to be bitterly divided to a point where I fear for the, the future of our children.”
The Tea Party backed Rep. Labrador claimed the left engages in violent rhetoric too, “We have to be careful not to blame one side or the other because both sides are guilty of this. You have extremes on both sides. You have crazy people on both sides. And I think what I have done in Idaho when we have some vitriol or maybe some political rhetoric that is going beyond the pale, your job as a leader is to talk to the people in a reasonable way, to have a rational conversation with, with the people in your district. And I think that brings down the level of rhetoric quite a bit down. So those are some of the things that we have to do. But I just, I just need to–you know, the American people need to understand that during the Bush administration; we had a bunch of people on the left who were using the same kind of vitriol that some people on the right are using now against Obama. So it’s, it’s not something that either party is guilty by themselves or either party is innocent of. And we have to make sure that we, we take care of it.”
Ever vigilant to duck responsibility, Rep. Franks returned to blaming only Loughner, “Well, I think, you know, we’re a country that tries to solve our problems by ballots and not bullets, so a good debate is fine. But when you try to, to, to go into an area of threatening debate and things of that nature, then it’s very dangerous. But I want to be very careful here. We don’t want to give this Loughner too much credit here… to make it somehow politically analyzed that somehow he was some person making a grand political statement. This guy was a deranged lunatic that had no respect for his fellow human beings and completely rejected any kind of constitutional foundation of this nation.
Franks then implied that Loughner was a member of the left because he read The Communist Manifesto, “And I would say, you know, when you, when you consider some of his readings being the Communist Manifesto, I don’t know where the guy’s coming from. More than anything else, it was bizarre, not politically integrity.”
Rep. Schultz emphasized that the rhetoric needs to be toned down, “Just based on what Trent just said and what, what everyone has said, I agree, it’s our responsibility to, to make sure that we set the right example and set the tone of civility. But the shock jocks and the, the, the political movement leaders that are out there on both sides of the aisle need to get–have some pause as well. I mean, the, the phrase that you just used, “we, we use ballots, not bullets,” the actual reverse of that phrase was used in my district by someone who was almost the chief of staff to an incoming member of Congress where she said at a rally, at a tea party rally, “We will use bullets if ballots don’t work.” So the rhetoric outside needs to be toned down as well. But we have to set the first example.”
So the discussion went like this, Democrats kept emphasizing that there is a problem, while the Republicans kept agreeing that yes, there is a problem, but the problem is not us. Anytime the Republicans want to distance themselves from the consequences of their rhetoric, they claim that a mentally unbalanced person acted alone with no influence from their words, but there are too many of these incidents where suspects echo the language of the far for any reasonable person to believe that these violent episodes are isolated coincidences.
Rep. Labrador’s claim that the left also engages in the same kind of rhetoric is a revival of the trap of false equivalency. Labrador’s myth of liberal violence needs to be called out. Since the presidency of George W. Bush through today how many members of the left shown up at Republican events carrying guns? How many left leaning talk show host take to both television and radio airwaves every day to proclaim the need for revolution and warn of blood in the streets? I dare any conservative to name one, and provide examples. How many Democratic candidates have called for violence to be necessary if victory is not achieved at the ballot box? Once again, name one.
The idea that Loughner was a member of the left is as illogical as it is laughable. According to Franks the shooter read The Communist Manifesto, so he can’t be a conservative. Using this logic anyone who read Marx for college political science course, including Republicans is a member of the left. This faulty reasoning is the equivalent to saying that if any conservative has ever read any speech of Martin Luther King’s then they are a liberal. I have read books by conservatives ranging from Charles Murray to Pat Buchanan to Milton Friedman, and many in between but this does not make me a conservative by any stretch of the imagination.
The rhetoric in this country will never change until the right is willing to stand up and take responsibility for their words and deeds. Notice how the Republicans in this discussion condemned the violence, but were not willing to take any responsibility for their role in it. Whether it is the Bush recession, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the violent rhetoric in our political dialogue, the right only wishes to share responsibility for their own mistakes.
In this case, a member of Congress has been traumatically wounded, and six people are dead, including an innocent nine year old girl. There can be no shared responsibility for the blood that was shed in Arizona yesterday. There is no sharing of the language of violence. The blood of that child is on the hands of those who used the language of violence for political gain. Republicans and conservatives are going to spend this week dodging their share of the responsibility, and deploring violence, but we must not ever let them implicate us in their web of guilt.
No, Rep. Labrador everybody doesn’t do it. No, Rep. Franks reading The Communist Manifesto does not automatically mean that someone is politically left. In the hours after this tragedy, I was contemplating the question how many more innocent people have to die before the American people disavow this political tactic? How many nine year old girls must lose their chance at adulthood before America says no more?
Republicans and their extremist activists may never change, but the American people can. We can reject their emotional appeals to hate and violence. We can stop treating politics like a blood sport, and we can demand better from the voices in the debate. If we accept anything less than this, we will be allowing the climate of violence to continue.