The debate rages on, and thanks to media spin and constant false equivalencies, at least one poll has 57% of its respondents rejecting any possibility of inflammatory speech having any influence over Jared Lee Loughner's actions on Saturday morning. Welcome to the confluence of media echoes and denial.
It was predictable, this la-la-la response. Kneejerk, even. No one wants to believe that words can influence, because that would require individuals to own their own words. God forbid.
This is true in every context but politics, it seems. I believe there are some things one doesn't say to their spouse unless they really mean it. Words like "I want a divorce", "I hate you", "I want to be with someone else" are not things one says unless they're prepared to follow through with the appropriate actions. This is because once that barrier is broken, it cannot be rebuilt. The foundations of that marriage are forever weakened and possibly broken. Matt Taibbi takes that one step further.
Which makes sense. If we're being honest with ourselves, we in the media understand that our job descriptions do not entirely overlap with the requirements of good citizenship. If you're in a marriage, or are a parent or living with parents, or have brothers or sisters or close friends, when you argue over a difficult issue, you don't just take out all the weaponry in your arsenal and blast away. In the interests of preserving the relationship, and because you respect and love the other person as a human being, you argue as politely and respectfully as possible. And your goal in arguing is always to fix the actual problem -- there's no other, ulterior motive.
That's just not the case in either journalism (and I should know-- more on that momentarily) or politics. In politics, you don't need to treat everyone with decency and humanity, just 51% of the crowd. Actually, given that half or less than half of all people don't vote, the percentage of people who require basic decency and indulgence is probably even lower than that, maybe 20-25% of the population. There's plenty of power and money to be won by skillfully stimulating public anger against some or all of the rest, and there are few rewards for restraint.
This idea of "skillfully stimulating public anger" has been a long-held prong of the right-wing strategy. Call it "stochastic terrorism" or media manipulation. Whatever it is, Eric Heubeck spelled it out in a Free Congress Foundation essay in 2001.
"We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left. We will not give them a moment's rest. We will endeavor to prove that the Left does not deserve to hold sway over the heart and mind of a single American. We will offer constant reminders that there is an alternative, there is a better way. When people have had enough of the sickness and decay of today’s American culture, they will be embraced by and welcomed into the New Traditionalist movement. The rejection of the existing society by the people will thus be accomplished by pushing them and pulling them simultaneously."
The principles in this essay are foundational to the teachings of Morton Blackwell's Leadership Institute which churns out young conservative soldiers at an alarming rate, and it is clearly framed in violent, warlike terms, even summarizing their "movement" as one which "serve[s] as a force of social intimidation in its intermediate stage..
We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime. We will take advantage of every available opportunity to spread the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing state of affairs. For example, we could have every member of the movement put a bumper sticker on his car that says something to the effect of "Public Education is Rotten; Homeschool Your Kids." This will change nobody's mind immediately; no one will choose to stop sending his children to public schools immediately after seeing such a bumper sticker; but it will raise awareness and consciousness that there is a problem. Most of all, it will contribute to a vague sense of uneasiness and dissatisfaction with existing society. We need this if we hope to start picking people off and bringing them over to our side. We need to break down before we can build up. We must first clear away the flotsam of a decayed culture.
This is a structure carefully built on the shoulders of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. It is intended to create a culture of distrust and instability -- a culture which can and does contribute to the views of people like Jared Lee Loughner.
This is why they seize on issues like illegal immigration, allow birthers to continue with their ridiculous nonsense, and view the success of the health care bill as the rise of the antiChrist. Especially the health care bill, because in their eyes, it represents victory of a "leftist" view over the traditional right-wing view; that is, the idea that people have a right to access health care. This is why it's so important to them that a repeal/de-funding effort be undertaken right away, and it's why they continue to be so vile in their attacks on it. It's not about health care. It's about the victory of a perceived left-wing idea over right-wing philosophies.
Erick Erickson at RedState says he's "tired of talking about Arizona", because it isn't about left or right wing politics. It's only about the fact that Loughner was delusional to him. He goes on to evangelize for the cause of Christ (this, from a guy who had no compunction or remorse about calling a sitting Supreme Court justice a "goat-f*cker), claiming there's a "great chasm in this world between the saved and the damned."
Erickson is spouting the language of the Palin/Bachmann/O'Donnell Dominionists who believe beyond all else that they are entitled to inhabit the halls of government because they were chosen. It is a dangerous kind of cult-religion, the C Street kind of religion that harbors a true belief in their entitlement, and anger that it has been wrenched away from them from a mixed-race guy who might not even be a Christian. His goal is to pivot the discussion away from facts and toward some ephemeral faith-based acceptance of the mayhem wrought by the right-wing chaos tactics and one young man's disturbed thought life.
Just another diversion to pivot attention away from the truth, which is this: Inflammatory, eliminationist rhetoric surely carries an impact. A mental health professional speaking to Greg Sargent had this opinion:
"We know the manifestation of mental illness is affected by cultural factors," Dr. Swartz said. "One's cultural context does effect people's thinking and particularly their delusions. It gives some content and shape to their delusions. While we don know whether there was a specific relationship between the political climate that he was exposed to and his thinking, it's a reasonable line of inquiry to explore."
Asked whether Loughner's mental illness invalidated questions as to whether his behavior might have been partly caused by the political climate or by violent rhetoric and imagery, Dr. Swartz said it shouldn't.
"Studying the cultural influences on people's delusions or persecutory thinking, and looking at different aspects of culture and how they effect people's behavior, is a legitmate area of inquiry," Dr. Swartz said.
The crux, lost in the national din. It's not a direct cause-effect, despite the best efforts of many to say so. Palin's graphic probably didn't trigger Loughner's outrage, but she and her advisors understood its intent, which is why they were so quick to scrub it. The daily "barrage of criticism" does pack a punch, as does intentionally creating a culture of "news-speak" where people are led on a daily basis to believe "something is wrong."
Our corporate media is a handmaiden of the right's strategy, and it's not just Fox News. It runs the gamut, from the Sunday talk shows to Chuck Todd's idiotic commentary on MSNBC. They begin with a presumption of truth from conservatives, and work from there to deflect or just outright lie about liberals' claims. It enables chaos and hate on a daily basis, whether for power or for money, or for both. But most importantly, it's part of a larger and more destructive strategy to destroy liberals.
Bonus: Media Matters' David Brock on the coming storm. Bottom line: We ain't seen nothing yet.
Bonus #2: Today a man named Charles Turner Habermann was arrested for making threats against
California WA Rep. Jim McDermott. Habermann is a constituent of Mary Bono Mack (R-CA). The FBI affidavit is here (PDF). Read the affidavit for a flavor of how ingrained these right-wing talking points are.