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Paul Krugman: Climate of Hate

When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?

Put me in the latter category. I’ve had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach ever since the final stages of the 2008 campaign. I remembered the upsurge in political hatred after Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 — an upsurge that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. And you could see, just by watching the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, that it was ready to happen again. The Department of Homeland Security reached the same conclusion: in April 2009 an internal report warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise, with a growing potential for violence.

Conservatives denounced that report. But there has, in fact, been a rising tide of threats and vandalism aimed at elected officials, including both Judge John Roll, who was killed Saturday, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords. One of these days, someone was bound to take it to the next level. And now someone has.

It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

Last spring Politico.com reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness — but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.

And there’s not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.

It’s important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It’s not a general lack of “civility,” the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there’s a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren’t the same as incitement.

The point is that there’s room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.

And it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.

Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.

And there’s a huge contrast in the media. Listen to Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann, and you’ll hear a lot of caustic remarks and mockery aimed at Republicans. But you won’t hear jokes about shooting government officials or beheading a journalist at The Washington Post. Listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly, and you will.

Of course, the likes of Mr. Beck and Mr. O’Reilly are responding to popular demand. Citizens of other democracies may marvel at the American psyche, at the way efforts by mildly liberal presidents to expand health coverage are met with cries of tyranny and talk of armed resistance. Still, that’s what happens whenever a Democrat occupies the White House, and there’s a market for anyone willing to stoke that anger.

But even if hate is what many want to hear, that doesn’t excuse those who pander to that desire. They should be shunned by all decent people.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been happening: the purveyors of hate have been treated with respect, even deference, by the G.O.P. establishment. As David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, has put it, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.”

So will the Arizona massacre make our discourse less toxic? It’s really up to G.O.P. leaders. Will they accept the reality of what’s happening to America, and take a stand against eliminationist rhetoric? Or will they try to dismiss the massacre as the mere act of a deranged individual, and go on as before?

If Arizona promotes some real soul-searching, it could prove a turning point. If it doesn’t, Saturday’s atrocity will be just the beginning.

From The New York Times

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Posted by on January 10, 2011. Filed under Commentary,Political,Social Issues. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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C.H. McDermott
10 years ago

Kudos to Krugman. I am colossally sick of hearing that the rhetoric is just as bad on the left as it is the right. No it isn’t. The right and the words and metaphors they choose bespeak a savage mind–not decency within Democracy.

John Myste
Reply to  C.H. McDermott
10 years ago

I am a far left liberal. I snuggled up next to the philosophies’ left-most boundary and then tried to push through. I am an agnostic/atheist, advocate of all rights for all humans (and I daresay all things, carefully, lest I change the subject entirely), and about as close to a socialist as one can be while still supporting the rightness of the American Dream.

I believe I am also one of these mushy-minded folks Stimpson criticizes.

There are two quotes I read today at this site that forced me to open my mouth, rather than to keep my comfortable position as an assumed fool.

One is yours: “The right and the words and metaphors they choose bespeak a savage mind–not decency within Democracy”

The other is Stimpson’s: I also compared the mushy-minded “balance” that some are espousing to holding the schoolyard bully and his victim to account as if the victim asked to be beat up. In both the bully case and this “adult” political case, the guilty party must admit to wrongdoing, first and foremost.

Anecdotally speaking, of course, I have friends from the right. They seem nuts to me. I cannot imagine thinking the way they do. I genuinely believe that when they look at me, they see a naïve fool. I do not believe they are “savage-minded.” They visit conservative blogs that speak with the same bitter-filled overtones found in your words. They have not ever endorsed violence against anyone and would not. I freely admit that the right appears to me to be more violent-minded as a group than the left, and it looks to me like most cases seem to come from the right side, pun intended. Interestingly enough, I did read a blog the other day that contended the exact opposite, and had tons of links to back it up. I did not pay much attention to it, as I did not realize I would need to. I am very naïve, as I am sure you all can attest by now if you have read this far.

It seems like almost every case I hear of where someone was drinking and driving and then runs over a child ends up centering on some human driver. I do not, therefore, condemn humans as careless drunk child assassins.

I am not implying that anyone here really sees the majority on the right as an exceptionally hateful-minded group of people. I am sure all of these rants are directed toward the minority that gets the press and are not intended to indict the majority who are simply conservative in thought. I will assume that, until some of you respond and correct me, which I suspect will not take long.

C.H. McDermott
Reply to  John Myste
10 years ago

Your assumption is correct, at least as far as I am concerned. I know plenty of folks that are “conservatives” but haven’t abandoned all reason. I call those sort of people moderate-Republicans. Most Republicans around here call them RINO’s.

John Myste
Reply to  C.H. McDermott
10 years ago

I will let that stand. I actually think being a moderate conservative is not the needed criteria for conservative intelligence. You can reject most social programs, advocate tax programs that are closer to a flat tax, even embrace Bush’s war. None of those things make you intelligent. They mean you have a different perspective than I do, and probably than you do, that’s all. I would love to see an exercise where people who debate online are given positions to advocate and MUST support them to the best of their ability. I think if they were true to this goal, it would soften everyone up a bit.

You point is taken, though.

Stimpson
Stimpson
Reply to  John Myste
10 years ago

John, your drunk-driving analogy doesn’t apply to anything I wrote. I never said everyone on the right is guilty of anything. I said the violent rhetoric has been coming from the right, which is quite different from saying everyone on the right is guilty.

I stand by my words on the mushy-mindedness of thinking both sides, left and right, are equally guilty of spouting eliminationist rhetoric and making U.S politics more toxic and dangerous. For that I offer no apology.

John Myste
Reply to  Stimpson
10 years ago

As for the drunk-driving analogy, it is a generic reference to a general mentality, not a direct response to you. I see these same types of arguments on conservative blogs, only there, liberals like me are the demons. It is difficult to recognize the narrow-minded bigotry of others without becoming bigoted ourselves. Actually, I think it is probably impossible. I know I am a bigot, and I acknowledge that maybe I judge everyone else thus as a defense mechanism. I suspect we are all bigots and the real question is one of degrees. I think some of what everyone here is saying is true. I do not suggest my argument is the right answer, and I, in fact doubt that it is. The truth undoubtedly lies somewhere in the middle, between your stated position and mine. If you acknowledge that, I will concede that it could well be much closer to you than it is to me.

As for you standing by your mushy-mindedness of both sides proclamation, I suppose I misread the original post and took it to mean the mushy-mindedness of liberals or conservatives who would defend the conservative bully with equal vehemence as he defends the liberal victim in the false interest of remaining fair, thus balanced. If your position is that one should always defend the victim and condemn the aggressor, and should not defend them equally in the name of balance, then I cannot quarrel with you on this issue, as your reasoning is impeccable. Either way, the term “mushy-minded” is an intriguing literary expression, so I definitely would never denounce it, even if I believed it was not an appropriate description of the players in question. As for the apology that you do not offer, I graciously accept.

Stimpson
Stimpson
Reply to  John Myste
10 years ago

I’m not going to apologize for your misinterpretation and whatever hurt feelings you have from that.

Brevity, by the way, is your friend.

John Myste
Reply to  Stimpson
10 years ago

Re: The introduction of your second apology. I neither seek it, nor desire it, but I welcome it in the spirit of good will.

Re: My feelings: They have been restored to their original condition.

Re: My friend. Please send him my regards.

lazersedge
lazersedge
10 years ago

As I pointed out in Dusty’s post we need to keep the pressure going until these idiots admit their mistakes, apologize, and commit to never doing it again. We will be able to believe them because it will be the day after hell has frozen over.

Dusty Taylor
10 years ago

I personally believe that Palin and other rightwing pundits can not intelligently discuss an issue. That is why they resort to violent rhetoric with double meanings and code words.

Stimpson
Stimpson
10 years ago

I’d say Krugman is spot-on in saying the problem is problem comes from the Republican/Right side, and I’m getting sick of the bullshit “balance” of pretending it’s not.

As I stated in another MMA thread,the Right is far more guilty of violent rhetoric, bringing guns to rallies, touting “Second Amendment remedies” etc.

In the same comment, I also compared the mushy-minded “balance” that some are espousing to holding the schoolyard bully and his victim to account as if the victim asked to be beat up. In both the bully case and this “adult” political case, the guilty party must admit to wrongdoing, first and foremost. Let’s hear Palin admit that she’s gone too far. In fact, Americans should be demanding that Palin admit to it.

Stimpson
Stimpson
Reply to  Michael John Scott
10 years ago

Yeah, I noticed. They’re saying those weren’t crosshairs, they were survey marks. Ridiculous.