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Posted at 8:25 AM ET, 01/11/2011

Policing your own side

By Jennifer Rubin

I've argued over last few days that there are separate issues that shouldn't be confused. On one hand, we have the sorry state of political rhetoric, which is actually well illustrated by the unhinged voices blaming conservatives for a mass murder. On the other hand, we have a deranged assassin whose mental instability is apparent now, and maybe in hindsight should have been to family, teachers and administrators.

I'll deal here with the first. It is a discussion that many have been anxious to have. The question remains: what to do about it? The solution is not, as one Democratic congressman suggested, to start carving up the Bill of Rights. (Note to liberals: this is one example that highlights why the Constitution should be read, understood, and, yes, revered.) Also ineffective, I think is one side calling out the other. Conservatives hollered when Obama called Republicans "enemies" or when MoveOn.org types called President Bush "Hitler." The left returns fire when Sarah Palin goes beyond the pale or when Glenn Beck says something outlandish. But the only result is for each side to claim the other is worse.

So here's my idea: each side police their own. What was reassuring in the last few days was to see liberal pundits (e.g., Howard Fineman, Jonathan Chait, Steve Kornacki) try to counter the exteme left's blame-conservatives rhetoric. It is effective because the criticism can't be construed as political opportunism.

For example, it would be best if No Labels apologized for linking to the uncivil departure speech of former Sen. Arlen Specter (D.-R.-D.-Pa.). It would be best if those clear-headed liberals called out the mother ship of liberal media, the New York Times for in essence promoting the hateful speech its editors decry. ("It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman's act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats. They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people.") Really, why is the Times permitting Paul Krugman to throw invectives? And it is important for conservatives to call out Michael Steele and others on the right when they call the Afghanistan War "Obama's war." Years ago I criticized Ann Coulter, but her prominence is not diminished in large part because conservatives still worship her and liberal enjoy showcasing her hot rhetoric.

And most of all, media outlets should question whether vitriol -- be it Keith Olbermann or Glenn Beck or Paul Krugman -- is really what they want to contribute to the national dialogue. Josh Kraushaar of National Journal put it well:

For all the blame placed on politicians for their aggressive political rhetoric, the media have been just as guilty in promoting crude political discourse and conflict. I'm not just talking about the Glenn Becks and Keith Olbermanns of the world, but news coverage that elevates conflict over substance and encourages contentious arguments over thoughtful discussion.

And in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, the media's worst tendencies were on display, from the onset of the crisis when several outlets inaccurately reported that Giffords had died, to the immediate, unwarranted assumption that the killer was associated with the tea party.

As bad as some hyper-partisans have been Josh makes a convincing case that the media has been just as bad:

Based on the available evidence, Loughner sounds like someone with untreated mental illness, whose grasp of reality grew ever more tenuous with time. He fits the profile of someone whose horrific shooting spree didn't have to be triggered by any provocative political rhetoric in the news.

But even with those facts out there, it didn't stop numerous media outlets from connecting his beliefs to politics -- and isn't stopping the continued rush to politicize this tragic event. The fervor to fit such craziness into a political matrix is regrettable, and, sadly, contributes to the overheated political environment that many in the media are condemning in the first place.

It is just this sort of tough criticism that would benefit the media.

This doesn't mean criticism, even harsh criticism, of political opponents is off limits. And, really, personal issues (e.g. adultery) are often very relevant for the public to size up elected officials. Also, it doesn't assume that partisans are going to voluntarily savage their own side. But once in awhile, absent a horrific event like the Tucson murders, it would be nice for each side to try. Just a little. Any takers on the left?

A final note: commenters are reminded of the Post's guidelines, which can be found here. In particular, "User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site." Comments must be civil and substantive.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 11, 2011; 8:25 AM ET
Categories:  Arizona shooting  
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Comments

As George Will notes in his recent column, it is a favorite rhetorical tactic of the left to indiscriminately, and without any substantiation, charge those who oppose their political agenda with racism, bigotry, and hate. Why is this tactic not seen as contributing to a "climate" that promotes violence? How long should those on the receiving end of such charges be expected to peacefully tolerate them? Especially those who might be a little unbalanced?

Ken
Woodbridge, VA

Posted by: kbash33 | January 11, 2011 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Jennifer-Could you pls give examples of links or comments from Glenn Beck that you mentioned? I don't really follow him but haven't had a problem with what he's said the 1 or 2 times I've seen him on Fox & Friends.

Thanks.

Posted by: cajunkate | January 11, 2011 9:32 AM | Report abuse

One man's vitriol is another man's insightful commentary.

But, of course, the only solution is to distinguish yourself from those you don't want to be associated with. And vice versa.

Other than that, it's best if everyone would say exactly what they think.

Problem solved.

Posted by: adam62 | January 11, 2011 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Sure. I highly recommend this piece by Pete Wehner who lists a bunch of them.

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/wehner/100152

Posted by: Jennifer Rubin | January 11, 2011 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I think we can survive opinionated blogging/commentary, even the heated kind. What is far more dangerous is non-history that a few people specialize in.

Glenn Beck is the most obvious examply of someone who regularly simply makes things up that are demonstrably untrue and sells them as fact on his program. Any network that employs him, should have a sitdown with him and make sure he knows where that line is. (no, I'm not holding my breath)

Ann Coulter is another one of these who simply says things that have no basis in fact to sell her books or appearances.

Yes, there are those who do the same on the left too, These are just the most egregious examples off the top of my head.

Posted by: 54465446 | January 11, 2011 11:12 AM | Report abuse

It is disappointing to see Rubin accepting the premise that there is a cause and effect relationship between "the sorry state of political rhetoric" and violence. She has accepted the Democrat Sheriff of Pima County's argument. In his case he is fond of the term "vitriol." She might disagree with Dupnick's obvious political attack against Limbaugh, but she is debating on that premise. This is very dangerous. Once the premise is accepted it is just a matter of time before "remedies" are instituted, naturally directed at conservative alternative sources of information which we count on to correct the bias of the MSM. (Rubin's remedy is "self-censorhip"; Representative Clyburn's is the so-called Fairness Doctrine.)

Self-censorship is quite insidious. If we don't self-censor to the satisfaction of some authority, then laws will have to be passed to achieve the utopian end of "acceptable political rhetoric."

And I, too, would like some very specific examples and evidence of Beck, et. al., inciting violence by their talk.

Posted by: DocC1 | January 11, 2011 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Two sides screaming at each other don't do a lot of damage. Then someone makes it real easy for them to go get guns. Let's not lose sight of the real problem...guns. And who the #1 enabler of gun violence is...the NRA.

Posted by: danw1 | January 11, 2011 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Jennifer-read Mr. Wehner's article. Outlandish indeed-plus I watched a couple of clips from his show. I found his hectoring style to be very off putting too.

Posted by: cajunkate | January 11, 2011 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm much less impressed by Wehner's post on Beck. What falsehoods, exactly, is he pointing to? Beck just seems to be saying things Wehner doesn't think belong in the "mainstream." But for those of us who don't care about "policing" the mainstream, or, for that matter, think there is any such thing, or should be, anymore, it is enough to simply disagree where we disagree, identify what we think is false, ignore who and when we want and listen to whom we want, weighing their words on our own. If you want to point out something false Beck has said, I'll thank you and go check it out on my own. By now there are plenty of people watching the watchers, and watching those watching the watchers. In other words, there is only a "problem" here for self-appointed gatekeepers. I'm not against the gatekeepers--it's interesting to watch them as well--but I don't think there's any doubt that the world is slipping away from them. No one has to go through the gates they are keeping.

Posted by: adam62 | January 11, 2011 12:55 PM | Report abuse

The idea of "policing your own" may be less helpful than hoped.

The main problem is the lack of acknowledged gatekeepers.

Bill Buckley did it, but limited himself to the most critical issues (conspiracy, racist, anti-religious ranters). He was a definite believer in the "big tent", which is why he liked and supported Rush Limbaugh (who some modern conservatives would like to "police"). Buckley's big tent view was the key to his effectiveness.

If policing now is less effective, it may be because current would-be gatekeepers have drawn their net a little too tight.

Posted by: TD01 | January 11, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Let me ask a question.

If in the last 2 years of Pres. Bush's administration would it have suprised anyone if someone took a shot at him or VP Chenay? Some of that rhetoric was as vile as we see now so I tend to think not. Now, when someone shoots a democratic congress member many are not suprised. The surprise on the part of many on the right is disingenuous.

Isn't it time we all took a deep breath and tried to remind ourselves the people we're vilifying are also our neighbors and Americans. No matter how much we disagree we're all still americans. So the next time someone says Bush was evil or Obama is a socialist take a moment to respectfully disagree and remind those people they're talking about millions of their fellow americans.

Posted by: kchses1 | January 11, 2011 1:25 PM | Report abuse

"So the next time someone says Bush was evil or Obama is a socialist take a moment to respectfully disagree and remind those people they're talking about millions of their fellow americans."

The problem here, of course, is that the examples are not symmetrical. Calling Bush evil is sheer, almost literal, demonization; "socialist" names a well known, common, in many places still respectable political position. Considering Obama a socialist need not involve demonizing him--it would just mean that he has political goals at odds with the vast majority of Americans. It would also mean he has been concealing that, but that would be understandable (how else could those goals be pursued?). If you have examined Obama's history, utterances and decisions, going back, as Stanley Kurtz has, to the 80s, and have arrived at the conclusion that "socialist" best describes Obama's politics, on what grounds should you suppress that conclusion?

Posted by: adam62 | January 11, 2011 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Focusing blame on 'society' or political groups left and right is silly and counterproductive.

What needs to happen is to figure out how to better deal with people who are clearly disturbed, before they start shooting. I've read that the Sheriff said that they had dealt with this loon before. He was on their radar screen. But nothing much was done until it was too late. THAT is what needs to change. I'm not really blaming the Sheriff, although he is getting annoying by throwing gas on the fire with his rather odd and unprofessional opinions in the middle of a murder case.

Posted by: jmpickett | January 11, 2011 1:59 PM | Report abuse

adam62:

Well Beck's comments that we were "on the right track" with slavery before the Civil War are pretty bizarre for a starting point.

I don't think we can really put that down as a difference of opinion.

Posted by: 54465446 | January 11, 2011 4:08 PM | Report abuse

adam62:

"Well Beck's comments that we were "on the right track" with slavery before the Civil War are pretty bizarre for a starting point.

I don't think we can really put that down as a difference of opinion."

It may be bizarre, and I probably don't agree, but there's no "falsification" here--it's a historical judgment. And it's not one unique to Beck--I have seen libertarians and conservatives argue that the Civil War was unnecessary because slavery would have anyway been done away by industrialization. (According to Lincoln, the founders themselves made peace with slavery by accepting a version of this argument.) I've never agreed with that argument, but it doesn't mean I want to banish those who make it from "respectable" discourse, or that I think they are liars.

Posted by: adam62 | January 11, 2011 8:26 PM | Report abuse

If a deranged gunman shoots Sarah Palin, will the Left blame Paul Krugman? Or thank him?

Posted by: kbash33 | January 11, 2011 9:37 PM | Report abuse

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