The bullet and the ballot

10/01/2011 § Leave a comment

Most of the time, it’s easy to poke fun at right wing America. Today isn’t one of those days. Sample headlines from today’s papers:

In Shooting, Many on Left Quick to Lay Blame
Let’s Not Make This Something It Isn’t
The Arizona Tragedy and the Politics of Blood Libel

Where’s the Caution From the Media?
In Defense of Inflamed Rhetoric
Don’t Blame Palin

The Unseemly Rush to Blame Palin & Tea Party

Let’s leave aside the motives of the assassin – we’ll learn plenty about these in the weeks to come. Let’s look instead at the media vibe. The victim of the assassination attempt is lying under the knife and papers hit the streets proclaiming the injured innocence of the tea partiers.

Traditionally, you might give it a day’s respectful silence. You might also try to increase the distance between you and the murderer. After the Kennedy Assassination, even the John Birch Society, who thought American presidents Republican and Democrat were KGB agents, had the sense to keep its mouth shut.

The internet has no word for silence. Especially after events with such a feeling of fate fulfilled. Internal or external, centre or left, there was such a dramatic logic to what you heard. The Chekov’s gun in the second amendment has gone off; and it’s hard to still the urge to offer your pre-stressed predictions. Plenty to the left have already said ‘I told you so.’ Different tellings, different yous, different sos – but a common sense that this is far from random.

After someone has been shot, you can expect an emotional reaction. What disappoints me is that to half the American commentariat, the important thing is not the shooting; it’s rebutting the claims made by those upset by the shooting. The work of the day is to win the argument, not mourn the dead. Traditionally, we’d associate that kind of behaviour with totalitarian regimes – the bullets were fired by wreckers and saboteurs intent on undermining the people’s revolution, and do not believe the lies of the bourgeois media!

Why so soon, why so sudden, why so fervent? This is the childish argumentativeness of the internet – where bullets fired are just ideas, and words are what truly matter. Having been there, having argued that way, I know how locked the mind gets in endless argument, denying the truth and preaching the true gospel. The press seems quite happy to surrender old standards to new media.

There’s a code to follow here. Like a hundred Arizona westerns, let the winds blow and the men stand still a moment.

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