Hours after the Arizona massacre The New York Times lead the Left in an ideologically vindictive all-the-insinuation-not-fit-to-print campaign to censor political debate.
In 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama boasted of winning the Chicago Way: “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said at a Pennsylvania fundraiser. Picking up the theme, Pennsylvania Democrat Congressman Paul Kanjorski said of another Republican candidate, “Put him against the wall and shoot him.”
Brassy rhetoric and martial – if not mobster – imagery have been mainstays of American politics since before Alexis de Tocqueville observed, in his early 19th century essays published as Democracy in America, “It is astonishing what imprudent language a public man may sometimes use in free countries, and especially in democratic States, without being compromised.”
If de Tocqueville were writing a postscript today, he might add, that he or she will remain untouchable unless a cherished agenda of The New York Times is challenged.
The horrific shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona allegedly by apparent paranoid schizophrenic Jared Loughner is a case in point.
The Times didn’t wait a New York minute to imply the left’s favourite bête noire Sarah Palin (who’s been hung in effigy and threatened with gang rape) along with a cast of others – Fox News, Tea Party supporters, border protection advocates and even Obamacare opponents – were in some way culpable.
In obscene haste to vilify the political right, Exhibit A in the Times’ case was a 2010 election campaign map Palin posted on her Facebook page: “Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”
There was never a map showing Giffords or other Democrats in gun crosshairs. Palin’s was a typical election campaign map, much like one used by the Democrats in 2006 – that showed “targets” for Democrats “behind enemy lines” – and featured districts and states. The Times has since revised this – shall we say, rash? – report.
In fact, there was not a skerrick of evidence to support the ludicrous charge that Loughner took his cues from overheated political metaphors much less from campaign maps. To the extent his deranged mind had a view on politics it was of the left.
But in a reprise of its “fake but accurate” headline (over the CBS 60 Minutes fraudulent story about George W. Bush’s National Guard memo), the Times cynically clung editorially to the narrative that conservative rhetoric was causa proxima for mass murder, and lectured Arizonians to “lead the nation in quieting the voices of intolerance,” rather than the imagined voices inside the alleged assassin’s head.
Altogether, an impressive rush to judgment, considering it took forever and a day for the Grey Lady to stumble into the bleeding obvious after the Ft Hood massacre, when Nidal Malik Hasan stood on a table shouting “Allahu Akbar” before shooting dead 13 and wounding 30 of his fellow soldiers.
But that was just the warm-up act. The newspaper’s “Conscience of a Liberal” columnist Paul Krugman, didn’t merely smear Palin and the Tea Party with the claim they had created a “climate of hate” which led to the attack, he mainlined Oliver Stone; imputing shrewd if maniacal political calculus to a drug addled community college dropout evidently suffering mental illness:
For those wondering why a Blue Dog Democrat, the kind Republicans might be able to work with, might be a target, the answer is that she’s a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona, precisely because the Republicans nominated a Tea Party activist. (Her father says that “the whole Tea Party” was her enemy.) And yes, she was on Sarah Palin’s infamous “crosshairs” list.
Krugman left out only the Grassy Knoll. How cunning was the gunman’s plan (or “plot” as the Times headlined it even after conspiracy was ruled out) to pick off, Machiavelli-like, the one politician who could scupper the Tea Party’s plan for world domination? As Charles Krauthammer wondered in the Washington Post, “The origins of Loughner’s delusions are clear: mental illness. What are the origins of Krugman’s?”
Some on the Left have nurtured an assassination fetish – first for Bush and then, like some kind of political epileptic aura, that Obama would be martyred because he was black and liberal and their eccentric characterisations of conservatives and America would be justified. Profound cynicism and narcissistic naïveté can make comfortable bedfellows.
Alas, according to Krugman, they appear to have a useful enough martyr – even if she is white and is as conservative as Obama is liberal – and can now channel Dallas to quell political opponents and dissent. Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter put it most clearly, “[Giffords] will prove a powerful referee of the boundaries of public discourse – more influential, perhaps, than the president himself.”
The difficulty the left has had in exploiting the Arizona shootings, as it did with JFK’s assassination nearly a half-century ago, is that the facts don’t fit the script. Kennedy was senselessly murdered by a troubled loner with communist sympathies, not a rightwing cabal egged on by a climate of hate, as Robert Kennedy, Jr., suggested in a piece on The Huffington Post, irritatingly titled, “Tucson: Time for Another Examination of Conscience”.
But that hasn’t stopped Obama from giving it the old college try. Rising above it all in Tucson, Obama did one of his now typical self-levitation Kumbaya exercises in which he places a bet each way. Pointing his fingers at whom we know not, he inveighed against finger-pointing (as if the right was equally to blame for the exploitation of the massacre) then lectured us to expand our “moral imaginations” and “align our values with our actions”.
The problem with the president’s teleprompter sermon is that no-one beyond the alleged murderer (or those who perhaps ought to have responded responsibly to his disturbing behaviour beforehand) has done anything wrong. It was a senseless act by a mentally ill young man. Whose moral imagination needs expanding? Whose values are misaligned? At least we can be thankful Obama didn’t invite the Reverend Jeremiah Wright to preside.
Not wanting to let a good crisis go to waste, Attorney General Eric Holder has said “Without question, threats against public officials – whatever form they take – continue to be cause for concern and vigilance. But I do not believe that these threats are as strong as the forces working for tolerance and peace.”
And in Abu Dhabi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has jumped the shark and labelled Loughner an “extremist” in the vein of an Osama bin Laden or a Fox television commentator – same, same. But then President Obama did say in a Rolling Stone “Fighting Back” interview, in the lead-up to last year’s mid-term elections, that Fox News was “destructive” to America. Hillary is just telling us how much.
Krugman’s neo-Dallas “Climate of Hate”, narrative was also quickly adopted as fact by European and Australian leftist media.
Writing in The Guardian – the same newspaper in which appeared “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley, Jr. – where are you now that we need you?” when it was clear George Bush would be re-elected – Michael Tomasky saw the right’s fingers on the trigger: The alleged assailant “went to considerable expense and trouble to shoot a high-profile Democrat, at point-blank range right through the brain. What else does one need to know?”
Oh I don’t know, how about: Did the voices in the shooter’s head tell him to wait for the alignment of Jupiter and Mars?
“Anger, hatred, bigotry” blasted The Age’s headline, which nevertheless in 2004 backed now angry house frau and Labor’s former chief political hatemiester Mark Latham.
Various ABC reporters and other leftwing commentators shook off the summer slumber to speculate on how the wanton murder of innocents, including a nine-year-old girl, by a mentally ill loner, obsessed with conspiracies about government grammar control was really suffering a form of Murdoch media madness. Murder sounds like Murdoch. Don’t you see the connection? There is a pattern. Surely you see it?
(I must admit, on reflection, I had some sympathy for Loughman’s grammar conspiracy after recalling Bill Clinton’s language parsing and his dissertations on the meaning of the word “is”. And I kept hearing this voice inside my own head every time Clinton tried it on: “he’s full of it”.)
Every democratic tradition has its own political etiquette about what’s okay to say and what’s not. Until I got used to it, the boisterousness of Canberra’s parliamentary question time stuck me as uncivil compared to the US, where Congressional debate is generally more restrained and gosh-darn boring.
The US and Westminster systems are by design adversarial to test ideas through often rugged, take-no-prisoners debate. We have election campaigns that target candidates with attacks in pitched battles in wars of attrition. That is the martial lexicon of politics as in sport. Would-be political leaders, such as Obama, Rudd or Gillard, who fail to live up to big promises can and should expect commensurately harsh criticism. The stakes are simply too high.
And that is why the calls for a “new paradigm” by Independent MP Rob Oakeshott were facile and did not reflect the best traditions of robust Australian political debate. Julia’s Gillard’s new paradigm endorsement for more and bigger hugs was not only an act of desperate political survival; it was transparently an attempt to quell criticism of Labor’s disastrous and incompetent government.
The intolerant Left in America, Australia and Europe is not worried particularly about limb-dwelling, rightwing extremists and skinheads, who after all provide an ideal ideological foil. It is mainstream political debates – e.g. about citizenship, immigration, control of the economy and culture – which challenges the left-liberal orthodoxy of the last 30-40 years that the bien-pensant so much fears.
This is core business. Making those debates as painful and difficult to have as possible, principally by ad hominem smears and guilt by association is in the Left’s view its last best hope to stop those debates. What better way than martyrdom even if the facts don’t fit?
Alan R. M. Jones was an adviser in the government of John Howard.