Packer Mentality On Jared Lee Loughner

Splendid reader Steve Stein writes:

John – I’d like to know your reaction to George Packer here:

“It’s undeniable that some Americans on the left never accepted the Bush Presidency as legitimate after the Florida recount. It’s also undeniable that the left’s rhetoric over the Iraq War was often hostile, simplistic, and unfair.

“But it won’t do to dig up stray comments by Obama, Allen Grayson, or any other Democrat who used metaphors of combat over the past few years, and then try to claim some balance of responsibility in the implied violence of current American politics. (Most of the Obama quotes that appear in the comments were lame attempts to reassure his base that he can get mad and fight back, i.e., signs that he’s practically incapable of personal aggression in politics.) In fact, there is no balance—none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous.”

So, Steve:

What Packer says might all be true, but it’s also tangential to the issue here, which is: Can you draw a straight (or even crooked) line from right-wing radio, knuckleheaded politicians, or the Tea Party to Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner?

The answer seems to be no.

What we have here are two parallel storylines that – at least right now – do not intersect.

Is there spiteful, hateful, hurtful public discourse currently in play?


Is Jared Lee Loughner (they always have three names, except Ted Kaczynski) spiteful, hateful, hurtful?


That doesn’t mean one is the consequence of the other.

It’s just Gabrielle Giffords’ bad luck that she intersected with Loughner.

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13 Responses to Packer Mentality On Jared Lee Loughner

  1. arafat kazi says:

    I gotta say sir, I appreciate the rationality of your argument. But you know, when there’s an environment of violent language, you never know how words affect the insane. I don’t know if there will be a direct relation drawn between Loughner and the far right’s propaganda. But this tragedy gives us a reason to really examine the kind of media atmosphere we’ve created or, by inaction, allowed to thrive.

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  3. Steve Stein says:

    Thank you, John. I agree the issue might be tangential to the Tucson massacre. One doesn’t seem to be a consequence of the other.

    I have a problem with talking about “drawing straight lines”, though. I doubt people like Loughner have many straight lines in their reasoning. It’s not reasonable people we’re talking about here, it’s the kooks. And I think a general tenor of threatening, violent rhetoric is liable to tip someone like that over the edge.

    Someone like Byron Williams is a better example of what an atmosphere of poisonous rhetoric can elicit.

  4. Bob Gardner says:

    The candidates for RNC Chairman were asked–“How many guns do you own?” My question would be “Is there a straight line, or even a crooked line between being armed and advancing the interests of the Republican party?”

  5. Curmudgeon says:

    I think, Steve, you are discounting that the behavioral circles of the extreme left and the extreme right intersect. Both are equally prone to the incitement of the demented, or the ideological apostle, to violence. History is very clear on that point.

    John’s analysis is one of the more reasoned I have read over the past few days. I applaud his caution on, and his warning against, making causal relationships when the data does not support.

    Let me ask this: Is the violence glorified by TV series, video games, movies, commercials, etc. also a factor in the violent response of individuals like Loughner? Someone who has become predisposed (or inured) to violence is more likely to be violent than someone who isn’t , wouldn’t you think?

    You have a much better chance of drawing the causal line that you wish to draw there than in this or in other matters regarding political speech.

    I do know one thing, though, I would much prefer someone like Rep. Giffords as my Representative, regardless of her politics, than any of the ones we have here in Massachusetts. SHE understands that it is The People’s business that she is doing and that the way one knows what The People’s interest are is by engaging with The People. Can’t really say that about our delegation.

    • Steve Stein says:

      Ok, Curmudgeon, please list for me the instances of comparable incitement by figures on the left who have major talk shows or who are running for national office. *Possibly* Michael Moore counts, though his audience is nowhere near that of Beck or Savage or Limbaugh, nor does he have a daily platform to preach his message.

      • Campaign Outsider says:

        Looks like you’re up, Steve. See Curmudgeon’s list.

      • Steve Stein says:

        That list doesn’t come close to answering the question I asked.

      • Curmudgeon says:

        OK let’s move up a level:

        The French Revolution.

        The Bolshevik Revolution

        The American Revolution

        Mao’s Communist Revolution

        The American Civil War

        Laos in the 1960s and 1970s

        Cambodia’s Killing Fields

        To one party in each that experienced violence in the above, the opposing view was ideologically liberal, and the violence was indisputable by all.

        This is not an assessment of a just cause or an unjust cause, but a recognition that there was a cause, and by-in-large, espoused by a one or more people of a certain political faith who were willing to go beyond civil discourse to achieve their ends.

        Sure there was no radio, but we cannot hold it against the past that the technology of radio did not exist.

        There were powerful equivalents appropriate to the times: The broadside, the pamphlet, the newsletter, the ideological or propaganda rally, the smear campaign the blog in the form of anonymous writings, the guarded whisper, the clandestine meeting. The talk radio of the day.

        I would suggest that the comparisons are fair and the conclusions drawn therefrom are reasonable.

  6. BP Myers says:

    Reading things like “It’s hard to draw a straight line” between hateful rhetoric and inevitable violence remind me of folks who find it “hard to draw a straight line” between the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and climate change.

    Seems to me in either case, just to be on the safe side, we should assume the worst and do what we can to stop it.

  7. Curmudgeon says:

    Weather Underground, 1960s
    Lee Harvey Oswald, Nov 1963
    Mine workers in in the 195os and ’60s.
    Red Brigade, 1970s
    Olympic Massacre, Sept 1992
    Sarajevo, June 1914
    Radovan Karadžić, 1992-95
    Truman assassination attempt, Nov. 1950
    Indira Ghandi Assassination, 1984
    Yitzak Rabin Assassination, Nov.1995
    Anwar Sadat Assassination, Oct 1981

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