Blogs > Cliopatria > The Giffords Attack & the Congressional Past

Jan 9, 2011 5:09 am


The Giffords Attack & the Congressional Past



Historians can help interpret the present by pointing to comparable events from the past, but I admit I don’t see any clear historical analogies for the attempted assassination of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The only member of Congress to be killed in the line of duty was California Democrat Leo Ryan, but Ryan’s death (in the Jonestown massacre) was sui generis, and not part of any broader political or policy disputes.

A better comparison, perhaps, is to the right-wing vitriol of the early 1960s, most prominently seen when Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson campaigned in Dallas in 1960. An anti-liberal mob—mobilized by the far-right Dallas congressman Bruce Alger, who claimed that LBJ had sold out to “Yankee socialists”—greeted the Johnsons, with one protester spitting at Lady Bird.

But there’s no 1960s equivalent for Sarah Palin’s infamous “bulls-eye” campaign poster targeting specific representatives; or for the threats against individual members of Congress after passage of the health care bill. (Giffords, as is now widely known, was targeted in both events.) When roll-call votes, much less the ins and outs of political maneuvering, were not widely reported or easily uncovered, it simply was too difficult to connect grassroots extremists to individual members of Congress. In the internet era, that is no longer the case.

There is one era of congressional history in which violence and threats of violence against Members was commonplace: the years before the start of the Civil War, best seen in the caning of Charles Sumner. Yet that historical analogy, too, seems a flawed one for the contemporary era.

Members of Congress have engaged in a lot of very intemperate rhetoric over the past couple of years. But there’s a sense—even from the most intemperate of the lot, representatives like Steve King or Louie Gohmert or Alan Grayson, or someone like Sharron Angle speaking of “second amendment solutions”—that it’s all a game, since in the 24-7 cable environment, extreme rhetoric is what gets people in Congress noticed. (How imbalanced listeners might interpret this rhetoric is another matter.) In the pre-Civil War era, on the other hand, extremists on both sides seemed to really believe what they said.

So if no clear historical analogies exist for the political environment that culminated in the Giffords attack, how can history provide some assistance? Probably the clearest area is in the realm of security. There’s no equivalent of Secret Service protection for Members of Congress—for good reason. Unlike the President, an effective member of the House or Senate must spend considerable time at home, in small meetings, with his or her constituents. But just as successful and attempted attacks on the President led to the round-the-clock security regime that now exists, so too does the attack on Giffords (coupled with the rise in threats over the past few years) suggest that law enforcement will have to do more to protect Members of Congress. How they will strike a balance between security and accessibility outside of Washington will be a major topic for Congress in coming years.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor has announced that the House will defer votes next week, and Speaker Boehner issued a strong statement denouncing the attempted assassination. Reaction from Tea Party representatives has been less conciliatory: take, for instance, the almost sneering response to the shootings from Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, who wrote, “Congressman Giffords was a liberal, but that does not matter now.” Giffords actually is a moderate, and she is, of course, a congresswoman, not a congressman. Phillips’ remarks focused, however, on criticizing “liberal websites” and the “far left,” and fantastically concluded, “While we need to take a moment to extend our sympathies to the families of those who died, we cannot allow the hard left to do what it tried to do in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing.”

Perhaps when the economy improves, political rhetoric will either cool on its own, or it will no longer serve its purposes. But until then, while the attack likely will lead to some short-term, cosmetic changes in political climate, there’s little reason to expect that the attack on Giffords will lead to any significant change in the nation’s political culture.


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Chris Bray - 2/22/2011

Bad link, sorry. This one will do it.


Chris Bray - 2/22/2011

Note well the image at 0:46 in this video.


Robert L Bush - 1/15/2011

Game's over boys. Dr. Luker just emailed me to concede that he was wrong, and that he should have known better than to bring a knife to a gun fight with non-leftists. He also apologized for exhibiting the tempermental maturity of one of his freshmen students.


Robert L Bush - 1/14/2011

Oh you're quite right about that era. In fact, both KC and Luker were taken to history school and relegated to the dunce-cap corner by none other than Sarah Palin when she pointed out politicians used to even settle disputes with duels - even among founding fathers like Hamilton. We're not exactly regressing in terms of civility of political discourse if you go back that far.

"Bush=Hitler" was just an milder example (relatively speaking) to get me started.


Robert L Bush - 1/14/2011

Imagine KC saying this:

Reaction from lacrosse player representatives has been less conciliatory: take, for instance, the almost sneering response to the rape allegations from Lacrosse Player Reade Seligmann, who wrote, “The hiring of strippers for the party was a bad choice, but that does not matter now.” Crystal Gail Mangum actually is only a part time stripper, and she is, of course, a "female escort," not a stripper. Sealigman’s remarks focused, however, on criticizing “dishonest media” and the “District Attorney,” and fantastically concluded, “While we need to take a moment to extend our sympathies to absolutely no one, as there was no victim, we cannot allow the dishonest media to do what it tried to do in 1987 after the Tawana Brawley fraud."

How dare he defend himself against preposterous, career-threatening slander of heinous crimes? What a smug bastard!

Come on KC.


Chris Bray - 1/14/2011

...or cf. John Wilkes and the North Briton, for example.


Chris Bray - 1/14/2011

There is a very clear irony in the statement that we have to get back to civility and respectful political dialog -- unlike those fucking asshole right-wingers who got Gabby Giffords shot!

Wildly intemperate speech wrapped inside a message about civil dialog. It's revealing, yes.


Chris Bray - 1/14/2011

You're not wrong about the "Bush=Hitler" stuff, but I think it deserves some historical context.

I really wish everyone in the U.S. would just spend one day in their lives reading American newspapers from, say, the late-18th and early-19th centuries. If I wrote a high school history curriculum, I'd make it a requirement. Federalist newspapers just absolutely routinely referred to Republicans as the VILE NEST OF FOUL JACOBIN SERPENTS THAT NEST LIKE A CANCER IN THE VERY HEART OF THE REPUBLIC, and Republican newspapers just very calmly and routinely talked about the Federalist BOOT-LICKING MONSTERS OF THE DARK COMBINATION FOR A RESTORATION OF ROYAL PRIVILEGE yadda yadda yadda. I'm sure they yawned as they set this stuff in print. Another edition, another hammer-and-tongs attack on the vile nest of Jacobin vipers.

The Federalist paper in Newport would take notice of an article in the Republican paper across town with an essay that began with something like, "Recently, a black stain of vile calumny spread its stench across our town from the precincts of a miserable publication that shall not be named where the words can fall upon the eyes of our cherished readers."

"Bush=Hitler" is just, you know, people saying stuff. Somehow they managed to not panic about it. Say what you think. Argue. Life!


Robert L Bush - 1/14/2011

Hey alright, look where the t-shirt slogan from the massacre memorial pep rally came from! Organizing for America! Yay massacre campaigning!

http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/post/johnberry_iv/C94H


Robert L Bush - 1/14/2011

First of all, the left wing almost completely redefined the acceptable boundaries of political rhetoric during the Bush era.

"Bush=Hitler"
"Bush lied, people died"
"HE BETRAYED THIS COUNTRY!" - Al Gore
"YEEEEEAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!" - Howard Dean

Do I really need to continue? On the Bill Maher show, John Kerry even suggested that he should go to DC and kill President Bush.

You're going to tell me, Luker, that a pretty darn harmless map - more harmless than the two maps I showed you (which you deleted) published by the DLC and DCCC in 2004 and 2009 respectively, was worse than, for example, what Kerry said?

What about the movie CNN promoted, "The assassination of George Bush?"

I mean you can't possibly be dense enough to suggest that Palin's map represents some uniquely historical moment in political history for any reason other than the Democratic and their media stooges say so.

Go ahead, try and respond to that with reason. You failed before, your silence will only confirm you're complete inadequacy.


Robert L Bush - 1/14/2011

"Giffords actually is a moderate, and she is, of course, a congresswoman, not a congressman. Phillips’ remarks focused, however, on criticizing “liberal websites” and the “far left,” and fantastically concluded, “'While we need to take a moment to extend our sympathies to the families of those who died, we cannot allow the hard left to do what it tried to do in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing.'"

Addressing this sneering and bizarrely indignant characterization from KC, how would you respond if you were being accused of being an accessory to murder? Are you sure it's really appropriate to find that kind of a reaction "fantastical?"

You can't possibly mean that...


Robert L Bush - 1/14/2011

But not without a rock-concert memorial that is entirely about Obama and his magical healing powers.


Robert L Bush - 1/14/2011

I was OldFriendofKC's, and given the insufferable dose of ad hominem I endured from Dr. Luker, I was probably correct to use a pseudonym in my first post on this blog.

I appreciate, Les Baitzer, your kind words about my previous posts. I will first point out that I was never actually warned by Dr. Luker that my comments would be deleted or that he even had the ability. He merely challenged me to do so on the grounds that my manhood was at stake.

I can only assume that both Dr. Luker's removal of those posts and his complete unwillingness to address those of Les Baitzer, thoroughly cloaked in smugness, are a complete acknowledgement of his inability to counter. Perhaps I have never seen such an inadequate historian.

I trust that you will now restore my posts, Dr. Luker, as you now have my name.

I know that KC is an exceedingly proud individual, so I will take his lack of response as an evidence that he is aware he erred.

What we have here is a narrative that won't die, regardless of the facts. Now all the media and Obama diehards want to do is MoveOn.massacre. It's not about the truth. Apparently that movement includes KC now, as well as Luker.


Les Baitzer - 1/14/2011

"I don't see a contradiction. It says that pseudonyms are not acceptable except under certain circumstances."

Well, there's certainly no contradiction in those two statements . I think you're under-reading "contradiction."


Jonathan Dresner - 1/14/2011

I don't see a contradiction. It says that pseudonyms are not acceptable except under certain circumstances. It doesn't say that we have the capacity to pre-screen comments or user registrations. You're over-reading "may" and "required" as constraints of the system rather than community injunctions.


Les Baitzer - 1/13/2011

You're killing me here, Ralph. I now have to crawl up on a Roosevelt dime just to see the floor.

I hate to reveal this, but I didn't post my comment(s) with the expectation that Dr. Johnson and Mr. Bray would reply. I noticed that "KC" hasn't responded to "Chris" either. I wonder if "Chris" feels as depressed as I. ;-) I made my points and they're big boys; they can reply if they wish. I've done quite well on this planet without their, or your approval, thanks.

Frankly, I respect their silence far more than the ad hominem pabulum that has characterized most of your replies on this thread, both to me and to the pseudonymous poster.


Ralph E. Luker - 1/13/2011

Have you noticed that neither Chris nor KC have bothered to respond to your comments? I'm going to follow their example. Post all you want in your own name.


Les Baitzer - 1/13/2011

Easy one Ralph ... thanks for the softball!

I've never, ever made a comment at this blog under any name other than my own in my life.

You're outrageously presumptuous, and a terrible spook, Ralph. Try looking at IP addresses, hint, hint! wink wink ;-) ;-)


Les Baitzer - 1/13/2011

I made no such "claim" and you know it, Ralph.

Here's what I wrote. "I recognize that tenor of those comments might violate the “group think” of this blog, but why were those comments deleted?"

Look up "might" Ralph. And while you're at it, if you cannot recognize a tongue-in-cheek comment when it is made, you're beyond help, but I'll add some "wink" emoticons next time, just for you.


Ralph E. Luker - 1/13/2011

mmm ... when did you get prior permission to comment pseudonymously at HNN, Les?


Les Baitzer - 1/13/2011

Thank you Jonathan.

How does your reply square with this statement in your comment policy?

"Pseudonyms may be used but only with prior permission from HNN." and

"Readers of course are always expected to follow HNN's rules of civility whether they register or not. And they are required to provide their real name unless permission is given in advance to use a pseudonym. "

http://hnn.us/articles/1885.html


Ralph E. Luker - 1/13/2011

Think it through, Les. At the same time that you praised Chris Bray's post and comments, you claimed there was "group think" going on at Cliopatria. Both KC and Chris are members of Cliopatria, so where's the "group think"? *Get it*? My impression is that real group think is fine with you so long as opinions stated are in accord with yours. That's *real* group think. Read opinions you don't agree with and you start screaming "group think"!
Whatever rules HNN may have about pseudonymity, they are not necessarily Cliopatria's rules. I told you to post in your own name. You have. Your comments in your own name -- however ill considered -- will not be deleted.


Jonathan Dresner - 1/13/2011

Comment moderation at HNN is after-the-fact, not prior; account creation is automatic unless there's some problem with the provided email address. It's entirely possible for someone to post, even extensively, under a pseudonym before it's detected, and not uncommon for pseudonymous posters to be given an opportunity to alter their accounts to reflect their proper names before the account is blocked and comments removed.

Jonathan Dresner
HNN Assistant Editor


Les Baitzer - 1/13/2011

And, further... where did I state or even imply in my comment that Mr. Bray was not a member of Cliopatria? I have corresponded privately with Mr. Bray numerous times and am fully aware of his membership here. Where did I ever say so to the contrary?


Les Baitzer - 1/13/2011

Wait a minute, Ralph.

I think Ralph Luker needs to pay attention and re-read HNN's policies. Do those policies require prior approval to comment under any name other than a commentator's own name or not? I believe those policies are pretty clear. Why did those comments even appear in the first place? Who approved the posting of those comments?

Read your own policies, Ralph, and maybe that will help you grow up and avoid nursery school admonitions directed at others here.


Ralph E. Luker - 1/13/2011

Les, your remarks are completely wrong in several respects: OFoKC was repeatedly told to comment in his or her own name, as everyone else here does. OFoKC's comments and my warnings him were both removed because OFoKC repeatedly ignored my warning to him. If Les Baitzer were paying attention, he'd know that Chris Bray is a member of Cliopatria. So much for "group think". Grow up and pay attention, Les.


Les Baitzer - 1/13/2011

Dr. Johnson's essay is so incredibly off target that it is astonishing.

Johnson has frequently and justifiably fired shots at the "Gang of 88" Duke University professors for their rush to judgment without consideration of evidence in the Duke lacrosse "fake rape" case. Johnson has often argued that the ideology and pedagogy of these 88 professors trumped what he has described as the academy's traditional fealty to the dispassionate consideration of facts and evidence. Yet in this piece, Johnson has cocked a round into the chamber of discourse and fired off a thinly veiled discussion of 'historical analogies' only to quickly segue into an indictment of "right wing vitriol" and various Republican politicians in some sort of imagined nexus to the shooter in the tragic incident in Tucson, absent a scintilla of evidence!

So much for the academy's traditional fealty to the dispassionate consideration of facts and evidence.

Mr. Bray's witty, satirical and astute comments and his subsequent posting are right on target. There is no evidence of any such connection between the shooter and the imagined demons on the right that Johnson and many of his ideological soul mates on the left (including no doubt, the “Gang of 88”) have manufactured absent any evidence.

And a recent CBS poll shows that Americans, by a significant margin, agree with Mr. Bray's view.

And while I'm at it, allow me to fire a volley in Cliopatria's moderator, Ralph Luker's, direction. What happened to the comments of “Old Friend of KC's”? Those comments and Luker's own replies seem to have disappeared without any explanation I could find. I had thought that commenting under a pseudonym required "prior approval" and had assumed this commentator had received same.

What happened to those very astute comments? I recognize that tenor of those comments might violate the “group think” of this blog, but why were those comments deleted? Perhaps those comments fall under this HNN "catch-all rule," to wit: "NOTE: Posts to HNN's blogs may be deleted if the bloggers find the posts irritating, offensive, or distracting, whether the posts violate HNN's rules of civility or not."

In closing, allow me to ask readers forgiveness for my many "gun" metaphors. I believe that in the wake of this most horrible event the only "short term, cosmetic changes in political climate" as Johnson predicts will be that such references will find their way to the dustbin of politically incorrect metaphors.

Hopefully, my comment will be the last shot heard round the world ...


Chris Bray - 1/12/2011

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2011/0112/As-portrait-of-Jared-Loughner-sharpens-vitriol-blame-fades

Facts: still good things to use.


Chris Bray - 1/12/2011

The Wall Street Journal has found 131 highly personal comments that Jared Loughner made on websites using a pseudonym. They buried the lede:

"In the forum posts, Mr. Loughner never mentions any political views explicitly, nor does he name any political figures."


Ralph E. Luker - 1/12/2011

You were repeatedly warned. You are welcome to post in your own name. Comments by OFoKC are being deleted. Everyone else here posts and comments in their own name. There's no reason why you should expect special treatment.


Old Friend of KC - 1/12/2011

odd...


Ralph E. Luker - 1/12/2011

I've told you repeatedly to comment here in your own name. I am asking HNN's editors to delete all of your comments as OFoKC and all of my responses. You are welcome to comment in your own name.


Old Friend of KC - 1/12/2011

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/11/AR2011011106068.html


Old Friend of KC - 1/12/2011

Have you seen a gun sight before? There are significant differences between gun sights and surveyor symbols:

http://bigjournalism.com/dloesch/2011/01/09/the-difference-between-purveyor-symbols-and-crosshairs/

Have a look.


Ralph E. Luker - 1/12/2011

Dear OFoKC, Your distinction between "cross-hairs" and "gun sights" strikes me as unique, unprecedented, and outrageous. Gather up your courage and identify yourself as all the grownups do in this conversation.


Old Friend of KC - 1/12/2011

It suffices as an example of outrageous, extremist and demonizing rhetoric.

Keep in mind Palin's map was not a "targeting" of individuals. It was a "targeting" of their congressional districts. I believe KC mistakenly referred to it as a "'bulls-eye' campaign poster." The map did use "cross-hairs," but they were not "gun sights," they weren't aimed at people and were only used to mark locations of districts, and there is nothing about the map that could suggest Palin was advocating any form of violence whatsoever. To suggest otherwise is a wildly overwrought argument. The DLC and DCCC maps that I linked to elsewhere could much more aptly be described as "bulls-eye" campaign posters. It simply is not a remotely uncommon thing in political discourse.

Elevating SarahPAC's map to some sort of unique, unprecedented historical status doesn't seem remotely overwrought to you?


Ralph E. Luker - 1/12/2011

You both know better. There was no targeting of any individual.


Old Friend of KC - 1/12/2011

Seconded.


John Hindman - 1/12/2011

Re: "But there’s no 1960s equivalent for Sarah Palin’s infamous “bulls-eye” campaign poster targeting specific representatives"
How about the most memorable political commercial of the 60's, LBJ's countdown to a nuclear explosion with the implication that every American is a target of a Goldwater presidency?


Old Friend of KC - 1/11/2011

I'm rather astonished that two people (KC and Luker) who have admirably stood for free speech time and again are so hasty to suggest this massacre committed by a paranoid schizophrenic (as all evidence and expert opinion seems to suggest) was a result of a general "tone" of free political discourse. Dr. Luker hasn't yet outlined where he stands on this, though you seem to stand with the thrust of KC's post.

You don't think that's worth reexamining? I hope you will both contemplate this controversy while paying attention to how this will be used by those who seek to govern "hate speech," whether through government control or merely through the media influence and intimidation.


Ralph E. Luker - 1/11/2011

As if *you* have?!


Old Friend of KC - 1/11/2011

Why don't you contemplate making an intellectual contribution?


Ralph E. Luker - 1/11/2011

Dear OFoKC, You've certainly got your own right-wing rhetorical marching orders down pat. Why not gather up all your winger courage and post these opinions gathered from the usual sources in your own name?


Old Friend of KC - 1/11/2011

Or perhaps you're prepared to defend KC's attempt - on the same day of the shootings - to attribute Jared Loughner's motives to political rhetoric (specifically conservative rhetoric and Palin's over-hyped, innocuous map, which I demonstrated was not remotely uncommon in politics) before anything was known about his motives whatsoever.

I'm simply astonished that KC would rush to judgment so quickly on this, and I'm curious if he has rethought his rush to judgment. Surely he doesn't think Palin or any other conservatives should be guilty "until proven innocent."

If you want a better historical context for what is going on, look for one that involves those in power exploiting a crisis to blame it on political opposition. You should especially look for a context where that crisis was shamelessly exploited to silence opposition by blaming them for the crisis, no matter how preposterous the allegations, and suppress free speech.


Old Friend of KC - 1/11/2011

Apologies, Dr. Luker.


Old Friend of KC - 1/11/2011

"radical liberal" is not name calling, that is what one of Loughner's closest friends from high school - herself a liberal - called him.

I am not suggesting there is "horror" about being a radical liberal, I'm only rebutting the notion that he was a radical "right wing[er]" (the horror of it all).

If you're going to adopt as smug a tone as you have, you might want to properly use the term "guilt by association." In no way am I suggesting that KC is associated with Chafe, let alone guilty because of such an association. I'm just comparing what I believe is his very hasty rush to judgement to that of Chafe's, which KC, myself, and hopefully everyone else can agree was wrong. If you are familiar with KC's extraordinary work on the Duke Lacrosse case, you will understand this.

Mr. Luker, it seems you have considerable growing up of your own to do. Your entire post was a cop out from addressing anything substantive, and on top of that, you can't get your terminology straight. Grow up.

If KC wants me to reveal my name, perhaps I will publicly, or perhaps only to him.


Andrew D. Todd - 1/11/2011

Here's something that might interest you, though it involves a newspaperman, rather than a politician. In Waco, Texas, about 1900, Baylor University had a sex scandal, involving a female Brazilian exchange student who may or may not have been raped. At any rate, a local newspaperman, William Cowper Brann, got on the story, and ran with it. At any rate, a Baylor partisan attacked Brann on the street, and Brann took out his own gun, and it ended in a "mutual kill." You can find a detailed discussion int Richard Maxwell Brown's _American Violence_.


Ralph E. Luker - 1/11/2011

Dear OFoKC, Your guilt by association (KC with Chafe) and name calling ("radical liberal" -- Good Lord, the horror of it all) are puerile enough, but posted under a chicken-hearted pseudonym are too childish to be taken seriously. When you have the courage to comment in your own name and have something to say that historians would take seriously, come back here to talk with the grownups.


Old Friend of KC - 1/11/2011

well then you're a complete fool. Trying to suggest the right is responsible for anti-state violence might satisfy your political bent, but it isn't factual. Cling to the myth all you want that Timothy McVeigh was somehow a rabid conservative or Republican, but there's no more evidence he was conservative than that he was liberal.


Chris Bray - 1/10/2011

"1905 - Rep. John McPherson Pinckney (D-Texas) - Shot in the back at a public meeting in Hempstead, Texas by 'passionate and misguided men' who opposed his support for (mandatory) temperance."


Chris Bray - 1/10/2011

For readers with ProQuest access, see

"FIND MORE BOMBS SENT IN THE MAILS; ONE TO OVERMAN," New York Times. May 2, 1919. pg. 1.


Chris Bray - 1/10/2011

Sent to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy -- forgot that one, thanks.


Chris Bray - 1/10/2011

Other mail bombs discovered in the days around the explosion at Hardwick's home were addressed to U.S. Senators Lee Overman of North Carolina and William King of Utah, who served on Overman's committee to investigate pro-German and Bolshevik activities in the United States.


Jonathan Dresner - 1/10/2011

Anthrax, 2001


Chris Bray - 1/10/2011

April 19, 1919, a letter bomb exploded in the home of Thomas Hardwick, a U.S. Senator from Georgia. The more I look, the more I find.


Chris Bray - 1/10/2011

My god, the Tea Party even made Jared Loughner act up in algebra class! When will they STOP?

Historians do better work when they use evidence.


Jeff Vanke - 1/10/2011

Part of the meta-context for Oklahoma City, Ruby Ridge, etc., is that anti-state violence in the U.S. for 40 years has pretty much not included left-wing terrorism. Anarchist bombs on Wall Street and Weathermen attacks are not running in parallel with right-wing attacks and threats. I only mean to make this observation and ask why, not to provide an answer, which I don't have. (In talking about extremists, it's important, I think, not to get too confident as some have in thinking that only the right is capable of such things.)

This comment is meant to complement KC's post and the past two day's commentary everywhere, not to criticize it.


Chris Bray - 1/10/2011

Congress.org has a list of members of Congress who have died violent deaths, including these two in addition to Huey Long:

"* Rep. James Hinds (R-Ark.) was assassinated on Oct. 22, 1868.
* Rep. John McPherson Pinckney (D-Texas) was assaulted and killed on April 24, 1905."

Though I don't know the circumstances of their deaths.

Also, this story notes that five Representatives were shot on the floor of the House in an attack in 1954. The Tea Party movement caused this with their rhetoric, retroactively. When will they stop?

About this: "I'm not sure too many people would classify the representative from Arizona's 8th congressional district with any of the people above, each of whom were national political figures."

Look from the other direction, then: George Moscone and Harvey Milk spring immediately to mind. This article says that "eight governors...eleven mayors, 17 state legislators, and eleven judges have been violently attacked" in the United States," though it doesn't name them. But surely there has been substantial violence against local and state politicians throughout the history of the country.

People sometimes shoot politicians. It doesn't portend a new era, or uniquely reflect the rhetoric of this very moment.


Old Friend of KC - 1/10/2011

"Reaction from Tea Party representatives has been less conciliatory: take, for instance, the almost sneering response to the shootings from Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, who wrote, “Congressman Giffords was a liberal, but that does not matter now.” Giffords actually is a moderate, and she is, of course, a congresswoman, not a congressman."

Let's put aside your rather clear cut sneering in the last sentence (even if you classify her as a moderate liberal, she's still a liberal, and that's an opinion regardless...let's also put aside your subsequent insistence on political correctness).

What in the world is wrong with Phillips saying that we should put politics aside in a moment like this?

Phillips’ remarks focused, however, on criticizing “liberal websites” and the “far left,” and fantastically concluded, “While we need to take a moment to extend our sympathies to the families of those who died, we cannot allow the hard left to do what it tried to do in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing.”

What is "fantastical" about that?


Old Friend of KC - 1/10/2011

"Members of Congress have engaged in a lot of very intemperate rhetoric over the past couple of years."

Where were you during the Bush years?

-Old Friend


Old Friend of KC - 1/10/2011

KC,
Forgive me for saying so, but you sound a hell of a lot like William Chafe, whom you so denounced, trying to put the lacrosse case into the context of the lynching of Emmett Till. You don't even know half the story yet, but you've already concluded that Sarah Palin's (actually SarahPAC's) "infamous" map is a part of this story, and right wing political rhetoric is responsible?

By the way, let me help you here:

"But there’s no 1960s equivalent for Sarah Palin’s infamous 'bulls-eye' campaign poster targeting specific representatives"

I wouldn't be surprised if there is, but let me provide you with a 2000s equivalent for it, or several:

DCCC:
http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/palin-target-graphic-in-perspective/dccc-target-map/

DLC:
http://www.dlc.org/ndol_ci.cfm?contentid=253055&;;kaid=127&subid=171
http://gatewaypundit.rightnetwork.com/2010/03/figures-dnc-has-its-own-target-map-like-sarah-palins/

For you to insinuate that Palin's "poster" is some sort of unprecedented transgression of political rhetoric is absurd, as is your effort to tie her or conservatives into the Giffords shooting.

I'm disheartened to see you participate in this kind of smearing and character assassination. What happened?

-Old Friend


Old Friend of KC - 1/10/2011

KC,
Forgive me for saying so, but you sound a hell of a lot like William Chafe, whom you so denounced, trying to put the lacrosse case into the context of the lynching of Emmett Till. You don't even know half the story yet, but you've already concluded that Sarah Palin's (actually SarahPAC's) "infamous" map is a part of this story, and right wing political rhetoric is responsible?

By the way, let me help you here:

"But there’s no 1960s equivalent for Sarah Palin’s infamous 'bulls-eye' campaign poster targeting specific representatives"

I wouldn't be surprised if there is, but let me provide you with a 2000s equivalent for it, or several:

DCCC:
http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/palin-target-graphic-in-perspective/dccc-target-map/

DLC:
http://www.dlc.org/ndol_ci.cfm?contentid=253055&;kaid=127&subid=171
http://gatewaypundit.rightnetwork.com/2010/03/figures-dnc-has-its-own-target-map-like-sarah-palins/

For you to insinuate that Palin's "poster" is some sort of unprecedented transgression of political rhetoric is absurd, as is your effort to tie her or conservatives into the Giffords shooting.

I'm disheartened to see you participate in this kind of smearing and character assassination. What happened?

-Old Friend


Robert KC Johnson - 1/9/2011

I should have noted the Huey Long shooting, absolutely--although, somewhat like the Ryan shooting, a case could be made that the Long shooting was sui generis simply because of the character of Long.

The other examples basically prove my point--that, apart from the pre-Civil War era, we never have seen a period in US history in which members of Congress regularly were threatened, and in which extremist rhetoric had become commonplace in legislative discourse. (There's a reason that presidents and cabinet members long have had security details, while members of Congress, apart from the leaders of both chambers, have not.) it's quite true that "Ford, Teddy Roosevelt, Reagan -- shot. Add Huey Long, RFK, MLK, George Wallace, and I'm sure we can think of others if we try." I'm not sure too many people would classify the representative from Arizona's 8th congressional district with any of the people above, each of whom were national political figures.

Political violence directed toward national leaders is, of course, a not uncommon pattern not just in US history, but also in Europe. But, as I pointed out in the post, only in the pre-Civil War era was violence common in the legislative arena, and, for reasons that I mentioned above, I don't see the pre-Civil War era as a very good historical analogy for our current environment.

As to the shooter's motives: the shooter's youtubes suggest he is mentally disturbed. The ramblings also contain references to hard-line anti-government rhetoric.

I should note that my prediction of a short-term cosmetic change in rhetoric appears to be wrong--based on this morning's talk-show appearances by Rand Paul and Lamar Alexander, we will see no significant shift in rhetoric.


Chris Bray - 1/9/2011

Okay, one more quote from the shooter's goodbye video before I go to bed:

"If I teach a mentally capable 8 year old for 20 consecutive minutes to replace an alphabet letter with a new letter and pronunciation then the mentally capable 8 year old writes and pronounces the new letter and pronunciation that’s replacing an alphabet letter in 20 consecutive minutes. I teach a mentally capable 8 year old for 20 consecutive minutes to replace an alphabet letter with a new letter and pronunciation. Thus, the mentally capable 8 year old writes and pronounces the new letter and pronunciation that replaces an alphabet letter in 20 consecutive minutes."

Clearly, this guy is influenced by the state of contemporary American political rhetoric.


Chris Bray - 1/9/2011

BTW, will be traveling all day Sunday, and unable to check or respond to comments here until evening.


Chris Bray - 1/9/2011

No member of Congress has been shot before, therefore, this is something new. But we've had four presidents killed, and others -- Ford, Teddy Roosevelt, Reagan -- shot. Add Huey Long, RFK, MLK, George Wallace, and I'm sure we can think of others if we try. (I just thought of the gunbattle that killed a policeman who was guarding Truman.)

Very casually, off the top of my head, I've named eleven American political figures who have been shot, and a twelfth who was targeted. There are your comparisons, right there. I see that you've talked about LBJ in 1960, but you've opened with the claim that you "don’t see any clear historical analogies" to the Giffords shooting because no other members of Congress have been shot in comparable circumstances. Why should Congress be walled off for separate analysis, apart from the rest of American political violence?

As for "the pre-Civil War era," when "extremists on both sides seemed to really believe what they said," the rhetoric on the floor of both houses in late-1814 positively seethed -- and the debate at the Hartford Convention reflected as much rage as most debates in our history. But members of Congress weren't gunned down in the street. The connection between florid rhetoric and murder evaporates, here.

Finally, a long direct quote from the shooter's goodbye video:

"If 987,123,478,961,876,341,234,671,234,098,601,978,618 is the year in B.C.E. then the previous year of 987,123,478,961,876,341,234,671,234,098,601,978,618 B.C.E. is 987,123,478,961,876,341,234,671,234,098,601,978,610 B.C.E.

987,123,478,961,876,341,234,671,234,098,601,978,618 is the year in B.C.E.

Therefore the previous year of 987,123,478,961,876,341,234,671,234,098,601,978,618 B.C.E. is 987,123,478,961,876,341,234,671,234,098,601,978,619 B.C.E.

If B.C.E. years are unable to start then A.D.E. years are unable to begin.

B.C.E. years are unable to start.

Thus, A.D.E. years are unable to begin.

If A.D.E. is endless in year then the years in A.D.E. don’t cease.

A.D.E. is endless in year.

Therefore, the years in A.D.E. don’t cease."

This is mental illness, not politics. The Son of Sam thought his neighbor's dog was Satan, and it barked to tell him who to kill. What does that tell us about American political culture?

Okay, one more thing: See Rick Perlstein's "Before the Storm," pp. 247-48. When JFK was shot, crowds descended on the offices of conservative organizations, shouting things like, "You killed him!" and "You'll get yours!" The National Draft Goldwater Committee did not, in fact, talk Lee Harvey Oswald into shooting the president. This argument -- My god, people say things in the political arena! Don't they know that causes MURDER!?!?" -- is a golden oldie.

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