Abusive Language in Politics

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Do you think the Arizona shootings and the call to tone down political rhetoric will impact public commentary?

The unbalanced man who shot several people in Tucson was not directed toward that action nor encouraged in considering it by Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, or Fox News. It is a tragedy, but it was not created by right-wing rhetoric. They are angered and insulted by allegations that they somehow bear responsibility for what this man did, so they are not going to change their ways. They will continue to use abusive and derisive terminology for anyone who does not agree with them 100%. Nor should they change their ways because of a devastating attack by an unstable young man.

There was some sort of political motivation involved, although it is difficult to see exactly what it may have been The guy specifically went after a member of Congress, not a musician or a car dealer. He was angry and frustrated but we may never know his real motivation.

The attack was made with a gun, so that gave an opening to those who want to severely restrict firearms. He used an extended clip, so those who want the ban on assault weapons reinstated raised that issue. And he shot a Democrat, so that provided an opportunity for those who are appalled at the hatred and venom coming from the right to try to link the rhetoric and the crime.

Even if a strong link could be established between the shootings in Tucson and political talk that involves violence, it is unlikely the people who regularly express hatred and speak in violent terms of those who disagree with them would change one iota of what they say. 

The right wing does not have a monopoly on the tendency to demonize the opposition, but the vitriol coming from those who call themselves conservative has been unrelenting, often vicious, and sometimes containing thinly veiled threats of violence. They are not likely to tone down their rhetoric, regardless of who asks them or why.

This enthusiasm for portraying those who disagree with you as not just mistaken and misinformed but as actually evil arises from the absolute certainty the hard line right-wing pundits possess. Facts do not faze them. Factual evidence that contradicts their assertions is simply ignored. Often the attempt is made to abuse those who present uncomfortable facts. That is where the title for the movie An Inconvenient Truth came from. Global warming is denied by right-wing pundits, almost without exception. The truth is indeed inconvenient when it contradicts what you have been saying. Their conclusion is not to re-examine their thoughts on a particular subject, but to categorically reject the facts presented. There was a story of an Iowa farmer who went to the city for the first time. He went to the zoo, saw the giraffe, said “There ain’t no such animal”, and walked away.

It certainly is possible for people to have a civil discourse even when they have fundamental differences in their perspectives and beliefs. Are those who hold their political viewpoints to be absolute truth going to change their methods? It is not likely.


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