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American Political Rhetoric

January 13, 2011

Since the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and several others in Arizona last week there has been much focus on the political rhetoric in America.

As a British resident I have for a long time been concerned about the overtly negative language that is used, not only, by politicians in America, but by their supporters as well. The arguments over the recent healthcare reforms are a good example; many people were making concerned comments that their country was turning communist. Not only were these concerns unfounded, but they served to stir up anxiety and fear, after all, thanks to the McCarthy era, all true Americans know that communism is not only something to be feared but something that should be expunged from the nation at all costs. So to call something you don’t like ‘communist’ seems to be a default battle cry by some.

Views from across the Pond

As an outsider, it appears to me that the language of American politics is far too negative. A classic example of what I mean is when on a holiday to America a few years ago, I was watching TV in my hotel room and there was a political broadcast on behalf of a certain candidate. I can’t remember who it was for or which party, what I do remember is that the broadcast, instead of telling the viewers why this candidate was a good choice; focused exclusively on why the opposing candidate was a bad choice. I was left thinking “what a horrid man, I would vote for the other guy, if I could”.

The focus of this political broadcast on the perceived unsuitability of the opposing candidate left me very uncomfortable. Its petty and childish if all you can say to promote yourself is why the other guy is a worse choice than you. I was left with a very poor impression of American political rhetoric and very glad that British politics, no matter how imperfect, does not habitually do that.

The Palin Effect

In the aftermath of the Arizona shooting, there was much scorn heaped on Sarah Palin and her ‘reload’ twitter comment and ‘gunsight’ target image. While I am of the opinion that both these moments were in poor taste and contrary to how politicians should behave; I also think that to point the finger of blame at her, as many have done, shows not only poor thinking skills but reveals that the negative rhetoric of American politics exists not only in TV broadcasts like the one I saw but in the wider population, especially with those who have aligned themselves with a specific party. Any chance to pour scorn on the ‘other side’ is taken full advantage of. What an unhelpful way to run a country. All that will do is create a ‘them and us’ scenario and reduce any possibilities of working together for the common good; something which politicians should be doing all the time. Politicians are public servants and exist to serve and represent the wider public and the language they use should be more respectful.

While I believe its possible for comments like those used by Sarah Palin to be the final motivator for a mentally unstable person to carry out such an act. I don’t accept that she deserves the amount of bile that has been sent in her direction.

Its becoming increasingly clear that the shooter was already motivated against Mrs Giffords before Sarah Palin made her comments and my feeling is that regardless of the right or wrongs of what Sarah Palin said, this tragedy would likely have happened anyway. If not last week then maybe in the weeks to come or at the next public event that Mrs Giffords attended.

Missed Opportunity

I have read Sarah Palins response this morning and I think she missed a fantastic opportunity. Yesterday I was thinking (and nearly commented) that it would be great if she could use this opportunity to respond by admitting that her comments where ill advised and then make a call for greater restraint in political rhetoric. Instead she attacked back in a speech that was clearly written by a faceless advisor who never needs to worry about not being voted in and can always get a job with the next candidate to come along, where is the motivation to create a good political climate there?

Had she expressed more humility she may very well have got some additional respect, certainly from me and I already have the opinion that the best thing she could do for American politics would be to leave it. I suspect her advisors considered that too close to admitting fault and causing the shooting (that’s if they considered it at all). Sadly the response has come across as arrogant and no one has been appeased by her comments at all. Shame really.

At least it means there should now be no chance of her getting enough votes to enter the White House next year, its bad enough that America has her, I don’t want to contemplate her interfacing with the wider world.

Guns and Control

Predictably, much will be made of the gun control laws in the US and the lobby groups on either side will no doubt be very busy making their cases. The American obsession with guns is a bit puzzling to this British citizen. We don’t have anything like the freedom that Americans have when it comes to gun ownership and frankly I don’t see the need. Whatever the law is in America with regard to guns, I don’t see the point in having automatic and semi-automatic weapons so freely available. Pistols and rifles are one thing, but guns such as the one used to shoot Gabrielle Giffords and the others seem overly excessive. I fail to see how there can be a need or a reason to have them so easily bought with or without a license.

Of course the easy retort to that is, someone who intended to do this would have found a way. That’s true, but if that person was unable to buy an automatic weapon and forced into a single shot pistol instead, then the result would have been very different. Fewer people shot and killed for starters, because he would have been overpowered sooner.

Drugs and Mental Health

Oh this ones a biggie. As someone who has witnessed a friend suddenly and inexplicably descend into what I can only really describe as an alternate mental reality, I can confirm that very weird things get believed by people who are mentally unstable. In the specific example of my friend, it initially manifested itself in a religious way, Christian specifically, but not in a way that aligned with any Christian doctrine that I knew about. He was spouting all sorts of nonsense about the truth of the trinity and how he’d worked out the mind of God. It was both fascinating and scary. Scary because this was my friend, and fascinating because I was intrigued by what caused it and what his thought processes were, because I struggled to keep up with him in the several conversations we had during his recovery.

While I have no solid proof, I strongly suspected that my friend had been taking drugs in the months leading up to his mental freakout. The recovery took some time and it was great to see him out of care and working again, but I am not sure he was ever fully back to his old self.

The shooter of Mrs Giffords is reported to have been a drug taker and while the linking of certain drugs to mental problems is controversial, I certainly believe that with some people there is a greater chance of serious mental problems due to drugs than with others. Whether this is the case with Mr Loughner, we may never know. I think its possible, but possible is neither certainty nor proof.

Whatever the cause, the undeniable fact is that he fostered some odd beliefs and they festered in his mind for some time. Given what coming out about his on line comments it seems that he was obsessed about non existent conspiracies, not unlike my friend mentioned above and very likely found fellow believers who helped nurture his lunacy. The sad fact is, there are more like him.

Coincidence is not spelt C O N S P I R A C Y

It seems there are some people who, for reasons that escape logical thought, think that this was all part of some government conspiracy; afterall isn’t everything these days? Do a Google search for Giffords and “false flag” or conspiracy and there will be several hits with people raising several points to try and prove it. Chief among them is the 9 year old victim born on September 11th 2001. These conspiracy nuts seem incapable of accepting that her death only happened due to the random shooting of an unstable man. For her death to be part of the plan someone would have had to make sure she was there and that the shooter was aware of her location (as well as that of the others who died). All this while the main target, Gabrielle Giffords, has managed to survive her injuries. That’s some balls up there!

It’s a sad state of affairs when something as tragic as this can’t escape the loonies who insist on seeing conspiracy everywhere. In my mind, they are even more deranged and dangerous than the Mr Loughner because its very possible that it was his obsession with conspiracy, mind control and other non-existent fears that exist in abundance on the internet, that fuelled his delusions to the point that he did what he did.

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