Volume 80, Number 35 | January 27 - February 2, 2011
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Talking Point

Scared by political violence? Stop violent politics

By Ted Rall

The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 11 other people is tragic. But it is not shocking. It isn’t even surprising.

What is surprising — weird, even — is the response of the corporate-owned political and media establishment. They’re coming out against violent rhetoric. Not real violence. They want to stop talk about violence.

Liberals accuse right wingers of creating an atmosphere of hatred that fuels incidents like the Arizona shootings.

“We need to put the gun metaphors away, and permanently,” urged Keith Olberman on MSNBC. If he gets his way, a lot of people in Hollywood are going to be out of work. “Violent rhetoric causes actual violence” is a liberal meme.

“Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin,” tweeted Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos after the Tucson shootings. Moulitsas noted that the Web site for Palin’s PAC featured an image of Rep. Giffords’s district with crosshairs over it. There is, however, no evidence that the accused gunman ever saw Palin’s Web site.

Righties counter that the really inflammatory rhetoric comes from the left. From, for example, the likes of me: “Left-wing cartoonist Ted Rall’s most recent book calls for a violent response from the left against the right,” Erick Erickson of RedState whined after Giffods was shot. “The point of all of this is not to blame Ted Rall,” he then backtracked. Like hell.

The cognitive disconnect between reality and self-perception in American society and politics is bizarre and frightening. Whenever there’s a school or workplace shooting spree, Americans act shocked! shocked! shocked! To hear media commentators, you’d think this was a peace-loving nation of Dalai Lamas rather than a bunch of brawlin’, trash-talkin’, gun-totin’, foreigner-bombin’ yahoos who drive around Iraq shooting people while listening to death metal.

“Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our democracy,” said Keith Olberman. Does he live in America? Americans worship violence. Kicking ass is our national religion. “Violence and threats of violence” are part of our daily lives. As a kid, I got beaten up by bullies. As an adult, I collect death threats in response to my cartoons. When I ride my bike, motorists try to run me off the road. Most of my female friends have been raped.

When I served jury duty in New York prospective jurors were asked whether they or someone close to them had ever been the victim of a violent crime. Down the line they went, 50 at a time. They went through 150 people. Every New Yorker there had suffered the effects of a brutal assault or the murder of a loved one.

The first time I felt any self-respect was when I sent a high school bully to the hospital.

Sorry, Keith. Violence has plenty of place in our lame excuse for a democracy. Remember how Bush became president in 2000? He hired goons to assault Florida election workers and had a representative threaten a coup on national television.

“Such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society,” chimed in President Obama — who was either coming from or en route to a meeting with Pentagon generals to discuss America’s wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, or perhaps the occupation of Haiti, or expanding the new concentration camp at Bagram. How many assassination orders have you signed so far, Barry? How many extraordinary renditions? How many torture memos?

As I recently explained to an interviewer: “The reason I oppose this particular regime is because it is so aggressively violent.”

And I’m not talking about gun violence.

I’m talking about the wholesale over-the-top violence of neocolonialism abroad, fueled by a cult of militarism here at home. U.S. forces are currently engaged in combat operations and propping up puppet regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and many other countries. They are hated and reviled there. Here every other car’s bumper urges us to “Support Our Troops.”

We kill so many civilians we can’t be bothered to count them; not even America’s wimpy phony left opposes the killing of “enemy” uniformed soldiers who die defending their homelands. Military action is America’s default response to every major news story. The 9/11 attacks? Kill them all — even if we’re not sure who “they” are. Hurricane Katrina? Send in the troops — not help. Indian Ocean tsunami, earthquakes in Pakistan or Haiti — anything and everything is an opportunity to invade, corrupt, pillage and murder.

The young man accused of shooting Rep. Giffords is portrayed as sick, deranged and fond of oddball conspiracy theories. In these things, he is a typical American. “Typical” Americans, after all, believe in angels and creationism and that Bush found the W.M.D.’s in Iraq and trickle-down economics. Typical liberal Americans think it’s perfectly fine to give trillions to bankers while millions lose their jobs and get no help whatsoever.

The Tucson gunman is accused of an act of “senseless violence.” Here, too, he is just another face in the crowd. We all pay our taxes. None of us loses a minute of sleep as those taxes are used to make bombs and hire men and women to drop them on innocent people, who then blow into bits of flesh and bone.

Then there is the covert violence all around us: the tens of thousands of Americans who die annually because they can’t afford to pay for a doctor’s visit; the millions of children who go to bed hungry every night; the millions evicted from foreclosed homes (tell them it’s not an act of violence); the hundreds of thousands who sleep outside, and the millions who couch-surf with friends and relatives because shelter is too expensive. We don’t even think about getting serious about solving these problems.

Like terrorism, political violence is a relatively minor issue. And as guys named Lincoln and Garfield and Charles Sumner — who was nearly beaten to death by a fellow member on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1856 — could attest, it is not a new one.

The brutality being carried out by the political system and its corporate sponsors is responsible for the equivalent of tens of thousands of Tucson-level shooting sprees each year in the U.S. alone. For example, a peer-reviewed scientific study published in 2005 found that the death toll directly attributable to income inequality is “comparable to the combined loss of life from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, H.I.V. infections, suicides and homicides.”

But the ruling classes don’t want us to think about reality. They want to make us shut up. Thus their calls to ramp down high-octane political speech.

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