Thursday, January 13, 2011

An America hurting itself

ST Editorial
Jan 13, 2011

ONCE again, an act of political violence has sent America into a paroxysm of self-examination. Less uplifting is that this is being accompanied by recriminations and invective across the spectrum. The outside world looking in on the shooting rampage which left a Democratic congressman critically wounded may have a clearer sense of the questions Americans should be confronting.

Was the assault on Ms Gabrielle Giffords a disavowal by sections of the Republican conservative core of the Democrats' legitimacy to govern? How and why has a whiff of vigilantism crept into the nation's political life? Might the stimulus have been the election of the first non-white person as President? It was a liberating, epochal event for many Americans when it happened. Two years on, the political mood has turned mean-spirited, with the admirable Mr Barack Obama made an object of calumny by his detractors despite a reasonably good showing tending to domestic concerns and regaining some respect for the United States abroad.

How do Americans square their political maturation with the sight of demagogues commanding as much credence as those who demonstrably can do the country good? How could gun metaphors and imagery in public contests be tolerated when gun violence has set back political and civic progress enough times in the past? Has extremism become respectable?

It is proper at this early stage of a judicial process to not presume that the young man who shot the legislator and several others at a political event in Arizona was motivated by ideology. Behaviour suggests he is a troubled person, but investigators and the court charges say Ms Giffords had been his intended victim. It is however patently false to protest, as the far-right political constituency now does, that the dangerous baiting it adopted during the debate on health-care reform had not poisoned the political atmosphere.

Powerful grassroots forces are being deployed against Mr Obama and the Democrats to deny them an extended stay in office, because large swathes of the population are convinced the leadership has betrayed American values and made light of their concerns. Their putative leaders will resort to all means to prevail, including incitement to violence. The political culture is permissive, and it had at least something to do with what had happened in Arizona.

The shooting of a legislator said to be destined for bigger things is a warning to pull back. A fair question the campaigners could ask of themselves is whether the venerated American ideals of fairness and the triumph of ideas are not better served by engaging in an honourable contest.

[Americans and American Media are quick to denounce hate speech that are based on racism, sexism, ageism, or any other kind of -ism. It's time that they recognise that promoting violence is also wrong, even if it is intended as hyperbole.]

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