Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

When the Real World Crashes Your Party

Posted: Updated:

I don't know the truth about what happened in the Arizona shootings. I have no idea what the murderer's politics or motives were. It's much too early. That's why I had no intention of jumping in to write about it yet.

Life is not static, however, and two things changed my mind.

The first was seeing conservative Republicans doing what many do so well. Twisting reality. Blaming the victim. Taking your opponent's strength and criticizing them for it. It's page one of the GOP playbook. When he was Majority Leader, the now-convicted Tom DeLay (R-TX) advised Republicans to blame Democrats for Republican ethics problems, by claiming they politicized the issue. Conservatives today blame the Democratic base for the economic crisis -- poor people first and then unions -- rather than the actual Wall Street malefactors.

And more.

And so, operating as they do, Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips writes with no shame, and less evidence, "The shooter was a liberal lunatic."

When Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik expressed that hatred and bigotry in America "is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital," a right-wing radio host at KQTH-FM blamed the sheriff, calling for his resignation.

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) piled on the sheriff, "It was speculation. I don't think we should rush to speculate," yet immediately speculated -- "I think [Gabrielle Giffords) would be the first to say don't rush to judgment here."

(Hey, I think she'd say, "I agree with Sheriff Dupnik." But I don't know, it's just speculation.)

One Republican senator actually agreed with the sheriff, telling Politico that this is "a cautionary tale for Republicans." It is revealing that because of the culture in today's Republican Party he -- or she -- refused to give his name.

Of course, given how many conservatives prefer blaming the messenger, his concern for hiding his face is understandable. For all we know, Sarah Palin would put a bullseye on it.

Ah, the controversial bullseye.

Sarah Palin's SarahPAC is backpedaling faster than Wile E. Coyote off a cliff. "It never occurred to us that anybody would consider it violent," spokesperson Rebecca Mansour jig-joggled. Ignoring that after it appeared there was an outcry that it was violent -- yet SarahPAC kept the website active. Active, until after the shooting, when it was removed. So, clearly, someone there did recognize it could be considered violent. And ignoring, too, that Ms. Palin herself tweeted that they were "bullseyes," not "surveyor's symbols" like SarahPac is trying to snooker.

It is not fair to blame Sarah Palin. But it's important to put understanding, leadership and social responsibility in perspective.

Keith Olbermann has long been outspoken and often angry on MSNBC. He has never advocated even allusions to violence, however. Yet even he recognized the culture we are in, in his nine-minute Special Comment after the tragedy: "I apologize for and repudiate any act or any thing in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence."

And how did Sarah Palin respond to the tragedy?

She made a posting on Facebook.

"My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona.

"On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice."

Honestly, she could have saved herself the effort and just picked up a Hallmark greeting card. For all we know, she did. Sorry, that's speculation.

When Candy Crowley asked Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on CNN about the bullseyes, the Republican senator of course blamed the messenger:

"Well, Candy, I think you're -- I think you're responsible, by bringing this up, of doing the very thing you're trying to condemn."

Republican Playbook 101. By simply raising a question, one is at fault. Blame your accuser for accusing you of what you did.

As I said, we don't know yet what prompted the shooter in Arizona. It may have just been a totally crazed, private mad man. But to blame liberals, to blame Democrats, to blame those simply questioning -- that is not acceptable and must be stopped in its tracks.

Yet that's only the first of the two reasons why I felt it was appropriate to comment now, and not be seen as jumping into the fray early.

The second reason is because I realized I'm not jumping into the fray early. I wrote about this very thing almost 1-1/2 years ago, on August 25, 2009 -- "The Republican Death Panel."

"Death Panels," I explained, "seem to be at the very core of the far right Republican philosophy.":

"I would be for an exemplary hanging or two. Have it in Times Square...If that's what it takes to maintain popular support, let's do it."
- Charles Krauthammer, on killing AIG executives

"I was going to recommend boiling in oil in Times Square,"
- Mort Kondracke, on killing AIG executives

"I'd use American snipers on some of these guys - what do you call them? - coyotes."
- Pat Buchanan, on how he'd handle Mexican border security by killing, if he was U.S. Ambassador.

"I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back.
- Rep. Michele Bachman (R-MN), on killing those who support reducing carbon emissions.

"Totally ironically, Zeke Emanuel is on my death list. Hold the applause. I'm going to be on the death panel."
- Ann Coulter, on killing the senior health care advisor to President Obama

"You gonna drink your wine?...Drink it. Drink it. Drink it...By the way, I put poison in your....(laughs) Nooo."
- Glenn Beck joking about poisoning Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

"We have the chance to fight this battle at the ballot box before we have to resort to the bullet box."
-Catherine Crabill, Republican nominee for Virginia's House of Delegates, on killing people who are against the Tea Party movement

"[I'd] feel a little bit better towards them if they'd follow the Japanese model and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, 'I'm sorry,' and then either do one of two things -- resign, or go commit suicide."
- Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), on suggesting AIG executives kill themselves

"John Murtha. The reason soldiers invented fragging."
- Ann Coulter, on killing Rep. John Murtha (D-PA)

"...if you gave any U.S. soldier a gun with two bullets in it, and he found himself in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Osama bin Laden, there's a good chance that Nancy Pelosi would get shot twice, and Harry Reid and bin Laden would be strangled to death.
- David Feherty, CBS golf commentator, on killing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)

"Different people from Washington, DC, have come back to their districts and have town hall meetings, and they almost got lynched." (Then makes a choking gesture that provokes further laughter.)
- Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) joking with a laughing crowd, on killing Democrats in Congress

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens's creme brulee. That's just a joke, for you in the media."
- Ann Coulter, joking about killing Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens


I'm not jumping into the fray "early" because I also wrote about this yet again, nine months ago -- "Malice in Wonderland. " After death threats and vandalism against Democratic officials, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) had expressed that violence towards members of Congress is "unacceptable."

It was a reprehensible comment, I wrote at the time:

"You see, lots of things are "unacceptable." Putting a salad fork on the right side of a formal dinner plate is unacceptable. What the Republican Minority Leader conveniently left out was that violence against members of Congress is a federal crime. It's an attack on the foundation of American society. When done by organized mobs, it's a terrorist act. People fomenting violence against members of Congress should be put in jail. Not told they should 'go volunteer on a political campaign.'"

Further, while addressing these death threats, Mr. Boehner pointed where such violence should be directed ("I know many Americans are angry," he said. "Washington Democrats just aren't listening"). And then, worse, Republican leadership made this a one-two Punch-and-Judy act.

"House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) then had the shameless gall to say with a straight face that all this stirred-up violence was the responsibility... of Democrats!!

"Mr. Cantor actually chastised Democratic leaders that it was they who were 'dangerously fanning the flames' for pointing out that they were being threatened and attacked."

Gee. Sound familiar? Conservative Republicans whipping up violence against Democrats, and then blaming Democrats for violence against themselves. From DeLay to Alexander to Cantor. And on and on it ever goes.

Indeed, what I wrote last March was that this only touches the surface of right-wing efforts to make violence seem a valid part of the political process.

"It doesn't include Republican politicians and punditry agitating the Republican base for the past year-and-a-half that Barack Obama is a socialist, Nazi, terrorist, communist, Muslim who wasn't born in America, wants to kill old people and is out to destroy this nation."

And more:

"It doesn't include John McCain and Ms. Palin whipping their campaign crowds into fearful frenzies that Mr. Obama might be un-American, to the extent that shouts of 'Kill him! were screaming out at their rallies. And no one ever told them to stop."

Incidentally, in their respected book, Game Change, about the 2008 election, authors John Heileman and Mark Haleprin wrote that during the election, Sarah Palin's famous, crass statement about Barack Obama "paling around with terrorists" actually came from John McCain himself, who suggested it to Ms. Palin.

It is a sad irony that Mr. McCain ("Build the damn fence") is a senator of Arizona - the state of the divisive "show us your papers" law. And the state of the tragic shooting.

To be very clear, this tragedy does not fall on John McCain. Nor on the Republican Party or conservatives. None of them pulled the trigger. A crazed, sick person did.

But to be equally clear, when you build your political base on hatred, anger, fear, and calls for violence, feeding crazed sick people is the unintended result that might come from that.

When pandering for votes, we can't ignore amidst such fear-mongering that Joseph Stack flew a plane into the Austin IRS, that James von Brunn shot up the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and that Timothy McVeigh blew up a Federal Building in Oklahoma City These tragedies were caused by those who did the acts, and none other. But they existed in a horrifying culture created that made them understandable - and which should never be ignored.

It is why words on a national platform require responsibility and leadership. That is true for liberals as it is for conservatives. But current history shows far too many calls for violence from conservatives to think the table is balanced. There is no equal litany from across the aisle.

For anyone who suggests otherwise, consider: When Sheriff Dupnik lamented violent hate in America, he named no party. But Republicans alone claimed he was politicizing the issue.

Conservatives might wish to avoid any responsibility for flaming hatred and fear that -- no matter how unintended -- has allowed that culture to thrive, but you can't spend decades blaming fictional violence on television for creating a violent society, yet suggest that real calls to real violence on those same TVs have no impact. Life doesn't work that way.

The tragic shooting in Arizona occurred for any number of reasons. Right now, we know none of them. It is not the fault of others. It is the fault of the murderer. We have lived in a violent society for decades.

But when you create a culture of hatred, anger, fear and violence in a violent society, you must understand that such things risk happening. And we expect leaders to express profound regret that ones' own words could have been twisted into such action.

Thus far, the defensive silence of any such regret from conservatives is deafening. And speaks volumes.

Register To Vote