Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Final Thoughts on the Tragedy in Arizona

Doing all that paralegal work that I wrote about last time taught me a few things.

I learned how to make the world’s greatest paper airplane on one of those jobs, for example. There were four or five of us stuck way in the inside corner of an E-shaped building with not nearly enough to do, so we filled our time in other ways. We were about seven stories up, and by the time our bosses finally accepted the fact that they’d never have enough for us to do and let us all go we could get those planes past the building, over the roof of the neighboring church and down to the next block. I often wondered what the pedestrians thought of it all.

On a more practical note, the job also taught me a little about how defense attorneys work – particularly the hard truth behind the old strategy guide:

1. If the law is against you, argue the facts.

(Yes, your honor, murder is a crime, but my client didn’t do it.)

2. If the facts are against you, argue the law.

(Yes, your honor, he killed the guy. But it was self-defense and therefore not murder.)

3. And if both are against you, change the subject.

(Police brutality! Witness bias! Lab errors! Racial profiling! Political persecution!)

This is why I was always convinced that OJ Simpson actually did kill his wife. His attorneys did everything they could to put everything on trial except him, and they succeeded. I suppose I could have been wrong about it – I certainly didn’t waste many moments of my life paying much attention to that bizarre and shameful carnival act of a trial, so in theory there might have been exonerating evidence that escaped me. But the defense strategy seemed kind of obvious once you knew what to look for, and I was always a bit surprised that the prosecutors didn’t do more to counter it.

This is also why I am so disturbed by the bafflegab coming out of the American right-wing in the aftermath of the recent assassination attempt on a US Representative as they try to deflect attention from themselves and the incendiary, guns-and-machismo, surely-they’re-compensating-for-something political rhetoric that they have found so appealing for the last decade or two.

Just in the last two days I have read serious arguments made by such folk that this was the fault of liberals upset at “family values” politics. Or abortion rights. Or, in what I felt was the most appallingly subhuman rhetoric of the lot, the fault of the victims themselves, for – well, I don’t know what for. For doing their jobs. For having the temerity to be in a public place when there was already someone who wanted to exercise their Second Amendment rights in their direction. For trying to assault those poor, defenseless bullets with their bodies. For existing as standing rebuttals to the narrow-minded hatreds the right wing holds so dear. Who knows why – after a while you have to stop reading in disgust.

I’m not really sure how killing people fits with “family values” politics. But then I never did understand how letting poor children go hungry and sick, slashing education so they could never improve their lots in life, impeaching a President for adultery when most of the ringleaders of that action were guilty of the same tawdry offenses, destroying legal marriages in the name of bigotry, or melting down the Constitution for base metals fit with that rubric either.

Maybe it’s different on the extreme right, but my family doesn’t value such things.

I also don’t really understand how you get from arguing in favor of Big Government’s right to reach into a woman’s body and tell her what she can and cannot do with it, all in the name of "life," to shooting people, but then anti-abortion protesters have been making that connection for years. So you’d think I’d be used to it.

But I’m not.

I’m not even going to address the scum-sucking evil that it takes to blame the victim in this case, other than to say that it neither surprised nor shocked me to hear it and that’s a sad, sad commentary in itself.

Now, I will say for the record that I do not think that the any but the lunatic fringe of right-wingers intended for this to happen. I think they regard the whole crosshairs and ammo rhetorical strategy as a kind of game, in much the same way that football players throw around terms like “warriors,” without really thinking of the reality of what they’re talking about. I have no doubt that they were as appalled as I was at the senseless violence.

Nor will I allege that there is a kind of straight-line causality behind it all. You can’t draw a direct connection that says, “Because this right-wing radical said that phrase, therefore that guy went and shot those people.” It’s not that simple.

But their desperate attempts to change the subject away from their violent rhetoric and onto, well, anything else, speak volumes.

There is no remorse. There is no attempt to say, “Wow, that guy took it all wrong! We should stop providing inappropriate material for crazy people to act on!” There is none of that. There is only nonsense, misdirection and weasely attempts to focus attention elsewhere.

The best observation I saw on this whole thing came in the comment thread of someone else’s blog post that I cannot recall at the moment, but it said more or less – Hey, right-wingers! You may not be on the assassin’s side, but rest assured he is on yours.

When you create a climate where threats are normal, where violent language is an acceptable way to do business, where legitimately elected officials are declared “targets” because they disagree with you, where “Second Amendment solutions” to political issues are thrown around like rice at a wedding, and where crosshairs are a standard image, even if you think it’s just some kind of rhetorical game, even if you’re just playacting the warrior role, you shouldn’t be surprised when people start to take you up on what you say.

Words have meaning. And once they’re out there in the public sphere you have very little control over how they will be received. Responsible people therefore take a certain amount of care with what words they send out there.

Because not everyone will let you change the subject.

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