On September 12th, part time census worker Bill Sparkman was found
hanging in the woods of rural Kentucky with the word "fed" written on
his chest. His death has prompted speculation that the incident is
If it is revealed that his death was
indeed a homicide (as an unnamed official has alleged) and not a
suicide, then the media and the public have a very important challenge
ahead. Since polarizing political turmoil often leads to the level of
crisis before the parties involved decide to moderate, the question is
whether our nation can change course in time to avoid more bloodshed.
country is being polarized by conscious forces down the road to
extremity -- the corollary of which has historically been violence.
Those who are stoking the irrational fears which most of us chuckle at
every day (I needn't really name them all), tend to be well educated
and successful individuals. As such, they are undoubtedly aware of how
venomous ideas are capable of manifesting themselves: violently. Yet
Republican lawmakers, cable hosts, and radio personalities are riling
up fears that a Manchurian-Kenyan-socialist and his secretly
anti-American comrades are planning to turn this country into the
Fourth Reich. They lend credibility to the idea that the
Democrats want to kill your grandmother, and that the 2010 census will lay the groundwork for FEMA's secret concentration camps.
When an individual
comes to believe these malignant distortions, it then becomes rational
for them to kill in defense of country; just as when one comes to
believe that exploding themselves amongst a group of civilian infidels
is a righteous act commanded by God, that person can then justify
acting. Beliefs are powerful catalysts.
When House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi recently warned of the consequences of hateful rhetoric,
she was promptly lambasted by the right. Similarly, Janet Napolitano
was bullied by the right, until she apologized, for a D.H.S report that
warned of rising right-wing extremism in response to the election of
Barack Obama. Conservative voices are always heard feigning outrage
when such cautionary statements are made... "How dare you imply these
things! I could not foresee that calling a man 'Tiller the baby-killer'
on prime-time could lead to his demise!"
We don't have all
the facts regarding Bill Sparkman's death. Yet if this tragedy turns
out to be unrelated to politics, that would be beside the point. The
fact that, upon hearing of this incident, politically minded people
wonder whether the death was a result of right wing invective is
telling. I can't recall a single murder over the last eight years that
immediately led us to ask whether left-wing extremists, riled-up by the
Democrats in Congress or the main-stream-media, were responsible. Yet
we have seen multiple such incidents this year on the other side: the
shooting at the Holocaust Museum, Dr. Tiller, etc.
We must be
careful not to blame these acts of violence on Congressional
Republicans or Conservative commentators. We can, however, make them
share the responsibility of creating and fueling the malformed beliefs
that rationalize acts of violence. With adequate will, the public can
force Fox News to own responsibility for continuing to actively distort
and manipulate the truth, propagating dangerous beliefs. A large
enough movement might force advertisers to go elsewhere. And the other
news networks could conceivably challenge and correct conservative (and
liberal) politicians who intentionally distort the facts. Is this
wishful thinking? I don't know.
Do not misinterpret this as a call for censorship. Political
speech, even hate speech, is protected under the first amendment. Free
speech, however, does not exempt you from public ridicule. The
mocking, teasing, and ostracizing of those who spread hateful or
dishonest beliefs is not childish or immoral, it is effective. Those
who act cynically and childishly do not deserve public "respect" (to
our servile media, "respect" means exemption from being challenged).
Glenn Beck muses of poisoning Nancy Pelosi, he and his network should
be forced to own his distaste. When lawmakers lie about a bill's
content, their trespasses should be more visibly outed. Presently,
those who engage in this behavior know they can get away with it.
when Imus was fired for making a racial slur? That seems so
insignificant today... At least relative to calling our black president
a racist Nazi (the irony is not lost on some of us).
We should all hear Speaker Pelosi's warning with unfiltered attention.
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