« Ideas have consequences | Main | The sweet season »

January 13, 2011


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I was jogging through downtown Phoenix last night and there was a block party on Van Buren in front of The Arizona Republic Building. Obviously this had been planned before the memorial/pep rally. Still, there was President Obama on the jumbotron speaking to a cheering throng. The biggest applause lines concerned the nine-year old girl, a victim of an obscentity that went unmentioned: Arizona's - and America's - absurdly lax gun laws.

The quasi-debate we're having about political rhetoric is a diversion. You know in advance the David Gergens of this world will win: "both sides do it" and "we need more civility". Apparently we don't need to do what a truly civilized society does, which is protect the most vulnerable from random predators. I can half accept the idea that more people packing heat serves as a deterrent. What I can't accept is the fantasy that Granny will be able to outdraw an armed thug.

In this feel-good moment of "healing", we don't want to do what is minimally responsible. Let some Muslim try to blow up an airplane from his underwear, and we'll consent to being groped by unknown officials in one of hell's waiting room. Apparently, being blown up in a airplane is much worse than being shot through the head at close range. 30,000 Americans die each year from gunplay but at least they're not falling out of the sky.

When I got home, I found out that Obama "hit a home run" with his speech. Also, Sarah Palin had a bad day with her Facebook pity party. I went to bad happy knowing this. I thought that maybe Obama's anodyne notion that we're a family 300,000,000 strong might even resurrect the foundational idea of America, the social compact. But I know that's absurd, too. Even if Obama believes it, this country doesn't. We have these occasional reality-TV show moments where we "find closure" and ritualize our deeply-held feelings with group hugs. What we don't do is locate the places that nurture genuine community. We can't because they no longer exist. America, for better or worse, is the cocoon in front of your TV set.

Adult. Civilized.

I maintain that most people never attain those states. They merely learn to 'pass.' We (any 'we' you care to define) like to pretend that we are all similarly advanced, but only a few of the best of us ever really are.

When the best of us are in charge, we tend to act civilized. When others, who don't really understand or accept the principles, are in charge, we still use the same rhetoric but our actions don't match up. The fact that most people can't tell the difference speaks to my point. The saddest part is that there are people who don't believe in the highest principles but do see how to use them to control others for other purposes.

Once again, if this doesn't result in a national uprising, it is because things aren't enough yet- or we are not capable of another recovery.

P.S. Has anyone else noticed the parallels between this event and the assasination of the Pakistani Governor by one of his own bodyguards? It took place in a shopping center, to mention only one.

"it is women who ultimately civilize men and draw them to the better angels of their nature."

If that is your experience of women in this culture then you are a lucky man. Most women are not looking for a man. They're looking for a cash machine with male genitals.

For a moment, visualize yourself looking at "us" through a Google Maps view finder. Most of the time, on this blog, we are viewing things at the state, city and neighborhood level. At that magnification, you will find occurrences and happenings that span the range of the good, the bad and the ugly. Just depends on the day. Occasionally, I like to zoom out past the country level to the "Empire Level". At that magnification, the course of action is steady, unrelenting and pardon the pun "MARCHING FORWARD" with the unstoppable force of history. The reason I apologize for the pun concerning military terminology is because the last dozen or so empires that occupied a portion of this planet all met their demise for one of the following reasons:
1. The military used to create the empire eventually took over and destroyed the empire.
2. The military used to create the empire eventually cost too much for the empire to afford.
3. Both 1 and 2.

We are in the process of number 3.

As has been mentioned on this blog numerous times, the country no longer reads, no longer knows history, thus the country walks blindly into the path of history repeating itself.

As we mourn the loss of those innocents we lost in Tucson, just one look at the "leaders" who spoke at the rally, shows us that much sorrow is still heading our way.

Forgive me for disagreeing with these assessments of the Tucson rally/memorial. The ceremony and environment had an almost "Hispanic," for lack of a better description, feel to it.

The music, the speeches(spiritual, secular, mournful and cheerful) and the wide spectrum of age groups represented in the McKale Center gave it this feeling.

The superficial judgment of attire is rather weak and ill conceived as well. I understand that some of you grew up in a time when presentation was important and dressing up for all occasions an unwritten social rule. From what I gather, and have been told, this ritual was self-serving and superficial. "How will Betty Lou judge me if I do not wear my Sunday best?!?"

Obama's speech left much to be desired but I also felt like this was not the time for him to assign blame and pinpoint causes. His State of the Union address, yes...

Our nation's declining literacy rate is concerning but not worthy of concluding that the country will end in disaster. If anything this trend can be reversed and we are not at a point where our nation has been least literate historically.

The list of America's most literate cities reveals a dichotomy. Many of the most literate cities are also many of the nation's most violent, poor, and diverse: D.C., St. Louis, Baltimore, Atlanta with a few cities like Seattle being an exception in terms of violence. To me, this list is more hopeful than not especially if literacy rates are increasing for those poor, minority populations within these cities.

AZrebel, you have little to worry about in terms of the military taking over government; however, if our World peace keeping "adventures" are not curtailed and military spending drastically reduced it will cost our nation enormous wealth (more than it already has). We could be investing some of this money on much needed infrastructure and research (education and health care innovation for instance).

I thought it was a profound speech. Powerful, practical, almost divine. It actually made a deep cynic like me see things differently for a while. As someone who lives in Tucson, I thank him and that. So too, I thought the UofA showed great poise, pride and even charm...

Regarding the whoops:

Get over it Jon. The culture has changed. And there was tears enough by and by in the gym.

Regarding Ronald Reagan:

Nothing this man ever said moved me to anything but scorn. I have no idea what others heard when he open his maw. Guess I saw him for what he was. An actor with dyed hair mouthing simple white lies written by Kristol. By the way, there is a reason why southern-righty keeps trying to get St. Ron's portrait on the $50. Which is all to say: They want Grant off. As Heston would say: Over my dead body...

Regarding "man-up" and extended adolescence:

Those are some interesting ideas Jon. I love to see you flesh them out into a full post. One thing to consider, the human race's adolescence has been growing longer as the species has aged. For example: college these days, gives the equivalent of a 50s high school degree. And more woman give birth in their late 30s and 40s than ever...

Final thoughts:

Gabby opened her eyes!
Holy smokes...
She really is much loved here.
And it does feel like a Tucson miracle come to life.
Lilies in the Field...
And all that.

Rebel and koreyl pretty much echo my sentiments. I'm reminded of the AZ Republic's former music critic, Dimitry, was known for writing rather sour reviews of the Phoenix symphony's performances . . until his editor asked him to ALSO reflect how the audience liked it. Big difference!
To me, the Obama speech set the right tone and I'd bet that it resonated with much of the national audience. In observing that we are more united by our similarities than divided by our differences, his comments may serve to dampen down some of the national dyspepsia. So let's not be so hard-nosed and hard-hearted and cynical and full of all that bilious stuff!

Jon, I love your writing and enjoy your columns; however, I truly thought that the memorial last night although was starting as somber turned more into a celbration of life. I did notice the looks on Kyle and McCain's face with how well Napolitano was recieved. I was touched by what she said and truly miss her here in Arizona.
Obama did very well, focusing on the victims, families and friends. Trying to comfort them as well as the city, state and country. It was uplifting to me and raised my spirits. I came to Tucson 19 years ago, I've read and learned about our state and it's history, I love where I live and hope to see it return to the city I orginally knew and I know it's still amuch more friendlier city than many others in the U.S.

Arizona's ever-expanding list of "C's":

(...so far, so good...)
Confidence games

Tom Foreman at CNN is defending Arizona:

His 'brilliant' conclusion: "Blaming Arizona is easy. But almost 7 million Americans live there, and all we know for certain is that one of them did something terribly wrong."

The central theme of our times: vacuous prose in search of apology.

Yep, it's Krugman again and it's necessary reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/14/opinion/14krugman.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

If there are seemingly irreconcilable differences between two visions of our nation, most Americans agree with the Democrats. They want the rich to pay more taxes, and for everyone to have health care and a basic safety net. All the incendiary rhetoric that benefits Republicans doesn't change this. What it means is that Republicans excel in sound and fury that signifies something other than the crazy ideology puffing it up.

I also think Krugman gets it wrong in this way. Do Republicans really want to "starve the beast" so their corporate paymasters and millionaire class are no longer on the hook for even a minimally humane society? Not really. Because the Republican coalition isn't that strong in the first place. Their strongest demographic are elderly whites. As a demographic, these people have never had it so good thanks to social democracy. So why all the anger and hysteria?

Republicans (i.e., the smart ones like Karl Rove) know that the social welfare state is here to stay. They also know that a kind of simmering low-grade civil war helps Republicans by making working-class whites think they have more in common with the Koch brothers than the coastal liberals who worry about fairness. The entire purpose of the Culture War, a dazzling production of Pavlovian trigger points, is to enable this odd alliance. So, tribalism is a way of weaponizing social, racial, religious, and ethnic differences that benefit Republicans and, to a lesser extent, the ideological right.

We saw this play out before our very eyes last year: Republicans campaigning AGAINST any cuts in Medicare (!!!). Of course, they were playing to their base, but that also points out how there must be enough taxes collected and Big Government in place to keep the base happy. And their base is not simply the dyspeptic and disconnected elderly. There's the military/industrial complex, agribusiness, Big Oil, Wall Street, and the health-care/industrial complex. Some of these people may truly be idiots and think that they're Rugged Individualists. But most understand the necessity of government to their bottom lines.

So, back to Ground Zero: Arizona is a "taker" state (we get more back than we send to Washington in the form of taxes). http://www.taxfoundation.org/taxdata/show/266.html We lie to ourselves about this, of course, because we have to. Without extreme rhetoric and scapegoating, places like Arizona might have political conversations based on real issues. And that would hurt Republicans.

Republicans depend on people like David Brooks and David Gergen whitewashing their political strategy. In effect, their use of the False Equivalency makes this strategy possible in the first place. But even all the soothing balm of President Obama can't change the facts about this project. It's funding a civil war that's tearing this nation apart.

This Krugman column seems to wander and falls into the trap of just contrasting Republican and Democrat ideologies. If Independents comprise close to 1/3 of the electorate, why does he leave them out? Maybe for the same reason that other political writers fail to acknowledge that thinking individuals can be nuanced and not just mindless camp followers?

Footnote: the beauty of Obama's memorial address was that it seemed to reach across the divides, drawing praise even from Pat Robertson!

OK, Clint; I'll play...


Jim, there's a problem when we use rhetoric not to make distinctions but to simply hide them behind a scrim of niceness. As a nation, we're addicted to this maneuver. And paradoxically, it doesn't mean we're less angry but more confused - and ultimately - more angry. Words do matter, but if these words aren't conveying some basic perceptual reality, it hardly matters how well-meaning they are. What happened in Tucson was an outrage made worse by its predictability. We make guns absurdly easy to obtain by even the mentally ill. And we don't make much if any effort to help these mentally ill. Why? Because it might cost some money.

The problem isn't anger. The problem is phony anger ginned up by demogogues like Limbaugh and Beck used to convey lies and bigotry. That in itself should make us angry.

It's difficult to state what nominal independents are about if they insist on not being identified with the two basic streams of American political thought. That said, I suspect more choose Democrats on issues per se but choose, if ever so slightly, Republicans for their cultural arguments. In other words, the water is too muddy here to make declarative statements.

Soleri writes:

"I also think Krugman gets it wrong in this way. Do Republicans really want to "starve the beast" so their corporate paymasters and millionaire class are no longer on the hook for even a minimally humane society? Not really. Because the Republican coalition isn't that strong in the first place."

Ah no. They do want to starve the beast precisely because that is the only way they can get Americans to agree to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

You are right Soleri, most Americans don't want to see such cuts. But if they can injure our government's financial standing with massive debt (tax cuts without spending cuts) then they can justify the cuts by exhorting their necessity.

Their argument will go like this: Attention everyone! We are in deep financial straights, the very future of our country depends on all of us having to cut back. We all have to suffer some. And so we must cut these programs.

This is why Rep. Paul Ryan flipped from a deficit hawk to a "deficits don't matter" guy in wink. See this post by Ezra Klein:


Essentially what happened here is that the core leaders of the conservative moment (Kochs, Scaife, Bradley, Olin, Murdoch) took him aside and said: "You no longer are a deficit hawk. That path won't get us to where we want to go."

And so Ryan flipped. Just like that. Of course he is guaranteed a sinecure for life. Probably even his children will be taken care of. And so, deficits don't matter again. Tax cuts do. The way to cut the social net is to follow the path of Norquist. Pile up the debt and then: Drown baby drown.

Ryan is a kept man...
He is onboard.

koreyel, Paul Ryan was wannabe engineer to Grover Norquist's ideas. And you may well be right that Republicans will find a way to get Americans thinking so ill of one another that no one wants to fund anybody else's retirement and health care. That said, there's no real majority for social Darwinism and Karl Rove knows it. The current Republican majority gets its votes from people who enjoy mortgage-interest deductibility, Medicare, farm subsidies, SS, military stimulus spending, and other transfer payments. Arizona is now a deep Red state and it's on the "take". Most Red states are, by the way.

If you take Norquist seriously (and his implicit idea, anarcho-capitalism), you also have to find a way to produce a result that doesn't piss off a majority of voters. Republicans have done this so far with time-honored hypocrisy, double-dealing, diversionary rhetoric (aka, the Culture War), and, quite conveniently, lots of government money going to its supporters. Norquist has not evolved any idea, however, how to end the Republican culture of dependency. Simply blaming liberals and Democrats cannot work forever here. You actually have to show how Ayn Rand's fantasy construct will keep people warm in the winter.

This is why I don't take Republicans at their word here. Their actions are much more persuasive. They are the party of white America that wants its Medicare and SS fully funded, that wants its imperial spending programs protected, that wants its private-prison industry and voucherized education mills funded. You need a lot of Big Government to do that.

Of course, you don't care if lunatics go on shooting sprees, or if young black males get 10 year prison sentences for dealing weed, or if the nation's infrastructure begins to come apart. You've already decided what the point of government is, and it's not to help "those people".

Maybe this civil war is "cold" in that few shots are being fired. Still, this is why we need to pay careful attention to the rhetoric even if it's upsetting and hateful. It points out the battle lines and the ultimate goals. This is about power and who gets what. There are real winners and losers here. But unless corporatists stage a coup, Americans are unlikely to vote for their own starvation. Rugged Individualism, to paraphrase Bacon, makes for a good breakfast but a bad supper.

I find it absolutely amazing that the Arizona Republic continues to deny the facts in the name of partisan loyalty. Just today, Robert Robb had another column published in which he claimed that there was "absolutely no evidence" that the shooting was political.

Well, let's see: The last month of the shooter's life was spent posting anti-government screeds on the Internet, in which he angrily railed against "treasonous, unconstitutional" laws.

In addition to many comments at various websites, he routinely posted Facebook and Youtube rants which included imagery such as a handgun juxtaposed with an American history text or with the U.S. Constitution.

He was a "hard currency", anti-Federal Reserve gun nut who wanted the nation to return to a bimetallic (gold and silver) standard, who once claimed that his community college tuition was "illegal" under the constitution because it was paid for in federal reserve notes (i.e., paper money) instead of gold and silver.

No evidence?

Desperate conservatives in denial have quoted friends and acquaintances of the shooter *from high school* stating variously that he was "neither on the right nor the left" and that he was "a liberal pothead"; some saying also that he didn't watch television or listen to the radio.

This is utterly irrelevant: a lot can change at that time of life, in the years between high-school and age 22. We know that more recently he had become violently, politically conservative, and that he had been spending most of his time by himself: nobody is in a position to say what he listened to or watched, except we do know that he used the Internet as a platform for anti-government tirades.

The observations of his high-school mates from years before, while perhaps of value in reconstructing his development, are not relevant to his current belief system in the period leading up to the shooting.

Similarly, claims attempting to paint him as an "anarchist" are laughable. Anarchists don't use the term "treasonous" as a criticism of their political enemies, because the U.S. constitution, laws, and founding fathers' traditions in a republic, is not a point of reference for them in determining political validity.

Only radical conservatives use the term "treasonous" -- lightly and routinely -- to describe their political enemies.

If he had committed this act in the 1960s during the rhetorical heyday of the SDS or Abbie Hoffman, spouting rhetoric about "power to the people" instead of "treasonous unconstitutionality", conservatives would be up in arms and his mental stability would be of secondary consideration.

Now, however, instead of applying their own dictum that "words have consequences" to their own saturation of the AM radio airwaves -- an action that might entail self-censorship of the highly effective agit-prop they constantly spew -- they've gone on the offensive, using their same media domination to shout down and shame anyone who might dare challenge the childish delusion that the shooter was apolitical.

Sarah Palin is the author of countless rhetorical sallies of this sort, the best known of which is her exhortation to "don't retreat -- reload!". The sniper's crosshairs she used in targeting Giffords during her congressional race, were part and parcel of that incitement to hatred.

She is not alone in that. As one of the shooting victims, former Giffords campaigner Eric Fuller, recently noted:

"It looks like Palin, Beck, Sharron Angle and the rest got their first target. "Their wish for Second Amendment activism has been fulfilled."

(The "Second Amendment solution" rhetoric is attributable to Tea Party candidate Sharon Angle, but others have echoed it.)


The fact that the killer seems to have had serious psychological problems -- not unlike some other political assassins -- is being used to obscure the facts. The Arizona Republic has the audacity to refer to the shooter as "apolitical".

If he'd spent the past month posting random nonsense to the Internet, they'd have a point. But they don't because the shooter has spent the last month attacking government and its members as "treasonous" supporters of "unconstitutional" laws.

Whatever part madness played, it was fed and enflamed by vitriolic anti-government rhetoric.

Gabriel Giffords voted for the healthcare bill ("Obamacare") and despite the fact that she has been a U.S. rather than a state legislator for the past several years, her congressional campaign race was focused in large part, by the right, on her supposedly "liberal" and "treasonous" positions:

"Her district was littered with signs proclaiming, "Giffords Opposes SB1070," referring to her opposition to tough anti-immigration measures."


With regard to Palin's "blood libel" faux pas, I'm actually inclined to cut her a little slack.

First of all, it's obvious that the speech was written by someone else for her. Not one person in 500 has even heard the term, and I refuse to believe that Palin is a scholar of Jewish history. (Also, I happened to see the opening of her speech and it was clear after 30 seconds that the text was under-rehearsed and ghost-written.)

Second, the term, while originating in the 11th century and referring to slanderous (not libelous) imputations against jews after a boy died of natural causes, has since been adapted, in occasional usage, to refer to any scurrilous accusation of human sacrifice or similar crimes against any group or person. I was going to give some usage history examples, but it isn't even in the online OED (at least, not the free version).

"the two basic streams of American political thought." - soleri

Huh? What are these "two basic streams"? Please elaborate. In the complex Venn diagram of political and societal ideology, far more of the ellipses of your "two basic streams" fall into the domain of corporatism than into the ellipse of most Americans' ideals.

And since when has the phrase "American political thought" lost its gold status as an oxymoron?

I thought Sarah Palin's use of "blood libel" was interesting. I think her understanding of its use would be interpreted as not having "blood on her hands." Perhaps she thought it sounded very intelligent or perhaps even resembling real legal language.

Despite the right pushing back and defending her words I would wager that her political career is over. The Arizona Republic is also wrong in labeling Loughner as apolitical.

His political reality was slightly outside of our current political realm but his delusions and state of mind were likely aggregated by political commentary of the right.

Conrad, I'm using Krugman's formulation here. It's somewhat generic and misleading, but then we occasionally oversimplify things to make sense of overarching arguments. Dualisms may fracture complexity but they clarify the terrain of the debate.

Emil and Francisco, I'm not sure whether we can definitively typecast Loughner's politics as right or left. Even if they seem to venture into the delusional zone of currency fetishists, his views are so incoherent that they may as well be sui generis. What's interesting is that even sane Teabaggers and other radicals often sound crazy. "One world government", "Kenyan anti-colonialist", "death panels", "government takeover of health care", etc., are examples of unhinged rhetoric by putatively sane people. How are they different from Loughner? I think the difference is that those that use this rhetoric are simply spouting nonsense they heard from somewhere else. Loughner, it appears, actually came up with his mondo bizarro worldview by himself. Still, as distinctions go, it's not exculpatory of zealots. You believe crazy things? Well, it might be because you're bent in that direction.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

My Photo

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz