Time to tone down the political rhetoric

Following the attack in Arizona, political figures in the US need to tone down their violent rhetoric, as we need to stop it coming here, writes Chris Tarquini.

President Obama led the US in a silent tribute today to the six people killed in a shooting in Saturday’s shooting in Arizona which left Congresswoman Giffords fighting for her life; Left Foot Forward’s Chris Tarquini looks at whether the vitriol of the hard right may have┬ácaused the tragedy

As the motives surrounding the Tucson shootings in Arizona on Saturday come under scrutiny, it has reopened the debate over the rhetoric used by figures in the political media. A previous article on Left Foot Forward has discussed the language used by Fox News and in particular Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin to hammer away at the Obama administration. Whilst militant language is nothing new in America politics, is this not the wake up call needed to tone it down?

Whilst it is popular on the left to jump to conclusions about the motives behind this particular shooting the full details are yet to emerge. Murderer Jared Loughner’s YouTube video posted before his attack drops hints as to the motives around the assassination attempt that killed many innocent civilians including a nine-year-old girl, a girl born on 9/11, another tragedy in US history.

The final lines in the video are:

“No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by Gold and Silver. No! I won’t trust in God.”

The preoccupation with gold as a currency is a key focus of the right wing in America and much of the other ramblings in the video also focus on this.

It is too early to jump to conclusions as to what provoked these mad actions, however the last 12 months have seen a surge in political violence on the right, including a man who was caught on his way to murder people at the Tides Foundation, a progressive non-profit organisation that has been a constant focus of Glenn Beck’s vitriol.

Giffords herself was a relatively conservative Democrat and a staunch advocat for gun owners’ rights, however her vote in favour of healthcare led to violence against her office back in March of last year. She claimed on MSNBC that same month that her and her colleagues in congress had “never seen it like this” regarding the violence and urged peaceful solutions. This moderate politician did not seem like a likely target for a killer.

Political pundits do not want violence. However they realise a race to the top in aggressive political rhetoric brings ratings, as the viewer numbers of Beck and the conservative support of Palin shows. Below is an example from progressive media watchdog Media Matters showing overblown rhetoric that could provoke violence in some less balanced television viewers.

Even with the division in British politicians, one would struggle to find language like this:

Giffords’ occupation and the YouTube rants of Loughner certainly suggest a political motive. For those who argue hypocrisy from the left, plenty of political commentators on liberal stations like Keith Olbermann have gone on angry rants against their opponents. Whilst Olbermann does not discuss such bizarre conspiracies or use such aggressive rhetoric as Glenn Beck, there is an element of angry shouting from both sides of the debate.

Beck, however, is particularly dangerous as he exploits a paranoia that is already there on the fringe of American society, the idea that the government is coming to get them.

For those who argue that this is a uniquely American phenomenon they are ignoring the facts. The murder of Lib Dem county councillor Andrew Pennington and the stabbing of Labour MP Stephen Timms show that there are politically motivated attacks in Britain too. The idea of importing American-style biased opinion news as advocated by BBC Director General Mark Thompson and FOX news owner Rupert Murdoch may entertain, but it can also provoke.

If this attack does turn out to be a young man influenced by right-wing media it should cause those in opinion news to take a step back from ratings and money. Criticism is a good thing, however overblown rhetoric may seem like harmless entertainment (as the self described ‘clown’ Glenn Beck calls it) but for some it is serious. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be the cause, the attempt to attack the Tides Foundation shows Beck-created political violence amongst a small minority of his supporters is already a danger.

It seems likely that over the next few days Loughner will have his true motives revealed. Whether it is the likes of Glenn Beck who have helped send him into a rage or not does not change the important issue. Violent rhetoric even when meant as a figure of speech does influence how people behave. Influential figures in the media need to engage in some immediate soul-searching, before this happens again.

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