Free speech is one thing, condoning violence another |

Free speech is one thing, condoning violence another

Our nation is at a disturbing crossroads. This past week we witnessed a tragic shooting in Arizona inspired by political outrage and dissent. While these were the actions of a lone, deranged gunman affiliated with no particular political party or organization, they also represent the horrifying manifestation of a mounting political vitriol that threatens the very core of our democracy.

Listen, Rush Limbaugh never sent Jared Lee Loughner a text, and who knows if Loughner ever saw Palin’s map with gun crosshairs over Giffords’s district. It is categorically unfair to point out any particular comment or suggestion and pin the behavior of a deeply disturbed individual on that and that alone.

What we can suggest, however, is that a political climate has been established as of late, particularly associated with the extreme right, that deems it acceptable to pass the line of firm and impassioned debate to an inflammatory condoning of violence. When Limbaugh compares Obama to Hitler, this is not an open political debate; it is a call to arms, and given his Second Amendment-loving audience, they’re packing. As much as Bush was criticized by the left, no commentator joked about his assassination as Mark Davis, filling in for Rush Limbaugh, and Glen Beck have done regarding former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In doing research for this article, I came across example after example of outrageous political hate speech from right-wing politicians and commentators. I have yet to come across – but would welcome evidence of – incidents where left-wing extremists used direct or even veiled suggestions of violence as a solution for political discourse. The right can spin this any way they want to defray their own accountability, but please feel free to write a guest commentary informing the rest of us when the hate speech of a liberal commentator or politician has led to a violent attack on a prominent right winger. If those on the right cannot do so, it is time they take some accountability for allowing some in their party to veer the national discourse in a contentious and dangerous direction.

Now the proponents of this reckless and negligent hate speech will defend it as being clearly understood metaphor. OK, I teach English, I get it. The problem is that too many in your audience do not, and yes, you are responsible for that. Mike Rosen may deem his flippant comments that we should hijack Iranian airliners and fly them into the potential mosque at ground zero “satirical,” but that type of violent rhetoric eventually transforms into a distorted suggestion that validates violence towards Muslims in the minds of some of his audience. Sarah Palin has scrubbed her website of the disturbing and inappropriate crosshairs marking targeted districts – an implicit acknowledgement of their complicity in a culture of violence – yet refuses to demonstrate the character and decency to apologize for the gesture. Those given the public pulpit must have the self-restraint and social awareness to conceive of how their speech may reasonably influence others. If not, we in the community should take that pulpit from them by voting them out of office or refusing to watch or listen to their show.

After all, this is the thinking person’s solution to the bully at the playground. In placing leftist ideology and its proponents directly in their “crosshairs,” those on the extreme right hope to silence others by fear. I had recently penned a column opposing Second Amendment rights, but my wife, fearing for our family’s safety from some gun nut, asked that I not submit it. In deference to her, I did not, but it sickens me that this should be a concern in a democratic society.

If you want to disagree, so be it. Write a letter, vote accordingly, hold a rally, write a column, but leave the personal attacks out of it. This recent wave of violent rhetoric has suggested an intimidation that undermines the independent thinking that supports a free society . We cannot ask people to speak their minds when they fear for their life in doing so. No democracy can survive that.

Steven is a Silverthorne resident, educator, husband and father of two, and president of the Summit County Library Board. He can be reached at:

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