Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A New Movement: "No Labels" and the First Responsible Statements Regarding the AZ Massacre and Polarized Political Debate in America

Posted by: Noël Jones

I have intentionally been a little slow on the draw (uh oh, gun reference) in response to the recent tragedy in Arizona, where six people were killed and 14 injured in a shooting spree by a disturbed 22 year-old who fired into a crowd of innocent bystanders after an assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who remains in critical condition. In the deluge of ensuing media coverage, certain aspects of public response disturb me. Among these are the dangerously-close-to-vitriolic appeals made to limit vitriolic commentary, the suggestion that the use of metaphor should be censored in public debate, the assertions that the acts of a madman should limit gun rights for other Americans, and the seemingly tacit agreement in our government, our media and even much of our public, and a government officials tragedy somehow takes precedence over the tragedies of average Americans affected by this rampage. 

As all that is quite a lot to process, I have been hoping that I might be able to aggregate responsible commentary from others, but very little of what I have witnessed on TV, read in quotes in the papers, or received in emails from liberal organizations has even come close to satisfying my concerns--with two exceptions: comments from a guest named Rachel Sklar yesterday on MSNBC (whom I had never seen before) and the recent statement put out by a new political movement on the rise, No Labels, which strives to bring together members from the left and the right to promote responsible productive debate, rather than the polarizing rhetoric that has poisoned our public dialogue in the last two years.

Rachel Sklar, in debate with another pundit on the topic of Sarah Palin's rhetoric and its possible ties to the violence in Arizona, said this--when directly asked how she could defend Sarah Palin and say that she is not in some way responsible for the tragedy that occurred, after publishing a map with gunsight symbols posted over Democratic political targets:

"There is a big difference between saying that Sarah Palin is responsible for this, and saying that we would like Sarah Palin to behave more responsibly."

I couldn't agree more. Those of you who know me and know that I am also from Alaska, know that I am no fan of Sarah Palin. But I am also a poet and writer in general, and I have a big problem with the idea of censoring the use of metaphor, or blaming the use of metaphor for actual committed crimes. 

It is a very slippery slope to go down when we start suggesting that that metaphor is literal, for a couple of reasons: 1) we begin to limit freedom of expression, and 2) we heighten vitriol, rather than minimizing it, as there is no one I know that would not be offended to the core by the suggestion that they are somehow responsible for the murder of six innocent people, including a 9 year-old girl. It does not matter how diplomatically you try to package it, the accusation is implicit in most liberal responses I have witnessed with regard to this horrible tragedy, and it is hypocritical to assert that one is appealing for a reduction in vitriol while simultaneously suggesting that one’s opponents are responsible for the cold-blooded murder of innocent people, whether those opponents are merely political candidates, pundits in the media, or simply gun-rights advocates among our citizenry. This kind of behavior only widens the divide, deepens mistrust between sides, and heightens the polarization of a national debate that should be an earnest conversation focused on problem-solving and vision—the kind that I aim (uh oh—another gun metaphor) to promote on this blog.

So I have been waiting for someone to make what I consider to be a responsible public statement, and I have finally found one, from a new organization called No Labels that has sprung up recently among people of all parties and no parties at all, which is quickly gaining momentum across the country. Here’s what Nancy Jacobson (Democrat) & Mark McKinnon (Republican) 
Co-Founders of No Labels had to say:

“The horrific act of violence that occurred Saturday in Arizona has shocked us all to our core and spurred many Americans to ask some hard questions, both about this specific incident and the larger political forces that may have contributed to it. We at No Labels believe this kind of conversation, as painful as the circumstances surrounding it are, is in the best interests and traditions of our country. At times of crisis, when our fundamental democratic values are threatened, we come together as Americans and directly confront our challenges.

But for our country to move forward from this tragedy, we have to talk carefully as well as candidly. We do not yet know all the facts behind this senseless act, and it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to rush to judgment or point fingers of blame at the moment, as some sadly have already done. This is no time for self-aggrandizement or partisan point-scoring -- that's part of the problem, not the solution.

It is clearly, though, a time for self-reflection, as Sheriff Dupnik eloquently put it. Based on the immediate and intuitive reactions of so many Americans, we know enough to say that something is deeply wrong with our political discourse -- and that with this incident, a dangerous line has been crossed. As we grieve for those who died and pray for the recovery of those who were injured, we hope this moment of mourning will lead us to engage each other with more civility and respect and see each other not as opponents or enemies but as Americans.”

I know that these are very emotional issues for debate, and anyone and everyone is welcome (in fact, encouraged) to disagree with me, so please post your thoughts and lets make a genuine effort to disagree civilly--to make strong points while remaining respectful of everyone's right to disagree--better yet, rather than clinging to our viewpoints as if we were in a battle of survival of our very identities, to actually be open to considering the points of view of others and even to concede points when persuaded. In this way, as we have all along, we set an example for fruitful discussions on the local level, rather than relying on the bad behavior of our government and our media to set an example. 

You will never be deleted for disagreeing with me or anyone else on this blog--in fact--this blog thrives on differing points of view. And you certainly will not be deleted for using gun metaphors--but anyone resorting to pointless vitriol and personal attacks will be deleted for promoting hate and failing to contribute productively to the conversation. I wish that the Express-Times on line would do the same, rather than allowing bigotry and vitriol to poison public discussion...maybe if they started getting letters from the public...(if you'd like to write a letter to the editor, please use the link on the right side bar of this home page).

Let's have an earnest discussion and debate about this. What do you think? Words are powerful, but are they responsible for crime committed by others? And what do readers think of this new No Labels organization? Gun control? Let's show them how constructive debate is done. Prepare your points and post your comments!


tunsie said...

I yuv noel...shes the bestest

noel jones said...

tunsie--what do you think of the massacre in AZ and the response from many in the media that Republicans and Tea Party members like Sarah Palin are responsible for this tragedy because they use gun metaphors all the time like, "target" and "aim" and "don't retreat--reload!" or "we may have to resort to 2nd Amendment remedies," or putting images of gun scope cross-hairs on a map over political opponents locations as targets?

and what do you think about those that say that this incident is proof that we need to tighten gun control for citizens?

i appreciate the "yuv" but would be really interested to know what you think about all this...

tunsie said...

honey it is not the guns.it is about getting the guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally challenged people.I dont think sarah palin or republicans told this very impressionable,disturbed young man to do what he did.we just have this underlying HATE in our society,we are not americans anymore,weare democrats or republicans.we need to solve our problems together.the selling and use of GUNS is really out of control.I am not saying outlaw but rathar a tighter control.The real issue is the MENTAL HEALTH system which is in shambles.how does somebody with this many problems slip thru..mentally challenged people who express anger will act on it..RED FLAGS were there but nobody did anything and now amongst others a 9 year old girl,a child,has lost her life....we R all responsible............I love U noel.....Tunsie

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

Tunsie - knock it off. Your sentiments about Noel are inane and tiresome. Noel - why don't you delete this/these Tunsie character(s), who clearly are trying to kill with kindness? They are worse then the blatently racist, bigoted posters, and clearly are using their "love" for you and the blog to derail productive conversation.

noel jones said...

yes, please, tunsie, no more "yuv"--but good comments on the gun rights issue and the need to address mental illness in our society.

julie--what is your take on the media coverage of the AZ shooting?

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

I think you were right on Noel when you said "Republicans and Tea Party members like Sarah Palin are responsible for this tragedy because they use gun metaphors all the time like, "target" and "aim" and "don't retreat--reload!" or "we may have to resort to 2nd Amendment remedies," or putting images of gun scope cross-hairs on a map over political opponents locations as targets."

This escalation of partisan politics began with Newt Gingrich, who made it his modus operandi, and has continued unabated up to Sarah Palin. The far right has to take responsibility for their reckless targeting and blacklisting reminiscent of McCarthy's "enemy" lists. Saying that the gunman was mentally ill and therefore this has nothing to do with politics simply does not pass the smell test.

noel jones said...

so what then about Obama's quote from the campaign trail that is being batted around the media now, when he said, "if they bring a knife to the fight, you'll bring a gun?"

are we just saying that the right is wrong because they use gun metaphors the most?

i think it's a slippery slope to go down--a lot of poetry and other writing would have to be censored if we decided that the use of shooting metaphors is responsible for violence. we use this kind of language all in the time in society, "aim to make partner in the next 5 years," "target audiences" for advertising, all kinds of violent metaphor in computer science code, i.e., "kill parent cells," etc. "i like him, he's quick on the draw," and on and on.

while i agree that overuse of these metaphors can add heat to vitriol, i think just about the most vitriolic divisive thing that anyone can say to anyone else is that they are somehow responsible for the deaths of six innocent people. i think the left in the media are being really disingenuous here about wanting to build bridges and that we are focusing on metaphor in language, rather than the INTENT behind language.

i sincerely do not believe that any of these politicians, Sarah Palin included--no matter how much i don't like them--really wanted this guy, or anyone else to go out shooting people to death. and i sincerely do believe that many on the left are ACCUSING these politicians of doing just that, which is not building bridges and "toning down the rhetoric" but doing just the opposite.

Eve L. said...

Obama's comment was regrettable.* However, he did not specify a target or offer up names of real persons. In that sense he stayed in the realm of metaphor. Associating real persons names or job descriptions within the context of a violent metaphor is a distinction that you could make (Noel.)

* I bet he regrets it and would most willingly apologize if asked. Unlike the Palins, Rushes & Becks & Rileys and others who say that requests that they reflect on the consequences of speech are "obscene" and "vicious". In the Bible this is how demons act when you shine a light on them, they shriek and howl. They are empolyees of corporations. Corporations have no body, no self. Whereas Jesus Christ had a body. When a country is run by the instruments of corporations it cannot be a Christian country.

Some have said that the shooter was just insane and politics had nothing to do with it. A letter writer in todays NYT pointed out this could be true had the shooter gone to any number of places and chosen any number of targets. He chose a political gathering. His target was a person known to him via politics, as a democrat and very definitely as a woman. His act will have political consequences. Politics definitely had something to do with it. And he is insane.

Watching Gabrielle Gifford in a recent Fox TV interview, one saw she was over and over again invited to identify herself as a Democrat or not a Democrat due to her unique centrist positions. She kept smiling and shook her head slightly refusing to accept the label. Perhaps she is a No Labeler. In that case, she is a threat to that which shrieks and howls and that which makes money on the chaos and division of people.

At the end of the year the Express Times said they do their best to fact check their letters to the editor. The day after the shooting they publish a letter by a women talking about "death panels." How hard could that be to fact check? The Express Times needs to be challenged on their own responsibility for repeatedly publishing letters that under the guise of "opinion" are attempts to spread easily checkable divisive falsehoods. These letters conflate concepts about socialism, communism and faschism and are a dangerous influence to low info voters and the metally ill.

CES said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
noel jones said...

Eve L.--thanks for posting--not sure why your comment came up twice with a different name but maybe you thought the first one got deleted. i am deleting the second one to avoid confusion...

You make good points about the specificity of the gun sights targets--I am not a religious person, but I understand what you are saying. And I think that Sarah Palin's insistence that they are NOT cross hairs on the map is ridiculous and disingenuous. This is not about defending Sarah Palin. I can't stand her. I just genuinely do not believe that she wanted people--even political opponents--to get shot. I think she is merely playing politics and trying to be popular with the gun-loving crowd, and it has worked.

I still think she has a right to say "don't retreat, reload!" if she wants to, even though I think it is in poor taste, in the same way that I think "drill baby, drill!" is in poor taste.

My point is not these comments are not in poor taste, it is that liberals in the media who are simultaneously claiming to want to tone down the rhetoric to create a forum for productive debate, while accusing the right of being responsible for the murder of innocent people, is hypocritical.

You're not doing anything to building bridges and work together when you're insisting that someone is a murderer.

I think this shooting is much more of a mental health issue than an issue of political rhetoric.

But you make good points, and thanks for posting!

tachitup said...

Thanks for being a voice of reason, Noël, for not letting one-sided comments go unchallenged. I've come to expect someone of your caliber to be able to hit the bulls-eye when issues like this arise.
In today's E-T, Jack Spadoni wrote a letter that is worth reading. I recall hearing numerous calls from the leftist whackos for assassination of Bush and others. Where was the outrage then? No, it was 1st amendment rights.
I disagree that crosshairs are always meant as gunsights. Sure enough, my 35mm Canon SLR has crosshairs to show me that the pic is on target before I pull the trigger.
Now, I'll sit back and wait for Julie and Eve to reload.

noel jones said...

tachitup--let me be clear--i think that the use of such metaphors in politics is in bad taste, not productive in the least, and promotes division rather than cooperation. i just don't believe that it makes someone responsible for the murder committed by a madman, and that asserting as much is every bit as divisive as using the metaphors in the first place. i also think that it's a slippery slope to begin suggesting the censoring of metaphor.

sarah palin's 8-minute statement today started off ok, and then ended up in the land of the inane and the inflammatory, where it usually does--ratcheting up the vitriol by playing the victim and comparing being accused off inciting violence to the "blood libel" of the 1200s when Jews were accused of killing Christian children and cooking with their blood. good grief, that woman is a hot mess. but she's also talented in a way that Madonna was in her hay day--in always knowing what buttons to push with the public to draw more attention to herself. i can't stand her--but she's not a murderer. and it doesn't promote the kind of cooperation between the left and the right that we need to solve our nation's problems to suggest that she is--and that is very much what is being suggested in the media--that her language caused this heinous crime.

noel jones said...

to get an idea how disturbed this young man was, you can watch his youtube video:


no mention of politics, but an obsession with currency. he needed mental health treatment, and didn't get it. if we want to blame anyone, we should blame ourselves as a nation for not making treating people who suffer from mental health issues a greater priority.

David Caines said...

While I agree with the overall sentiment. I must add that the true extreme right (Aryan Nations, Klans ANP, WAR ) have moved into a strategy called "OMAR", one man armed resistance, in an effort to avoid the civil persecution they suffered in the 80's and 90's. This is an offshoot of the old soviet "Phantom Cell" concept in which individuals or small groups guided by vocal political activists pick and act against targets that have been marked by the political leadership, yet leaving no paper trail to their higher ups. We have seen this most effectively used here in the states by the 9/11 terrorists . And others of Arab descent, but the idea is the basis of modern Racist (Black, White- though not Hispanic oddly) strategy. It has been used by the Aryan nations in Oklahoma City and several incidences linked to the Nation of Islam.
I find it impossible that our republican party leaders can be unaware of this and as such, I do feel that the woman was targeted by the GOP and the tea partiers. To be fair, the stratagem allows the political wing no direct control over who will be acted against or when. But groups like the tea party who have direct links to the Klans and others simply cannot be unaware of the strategy. In essence it allows such groups to terrorize large groups of opponents while keeping their hands utterly clean.
While I do not believe that the GOP was active in the attack,it is impossible that they did not know that the political targeting of this woman could lead to an OMAR seeking her death.
I agree this is a slippery slope, we differ on the question of where we might be sliding.

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

I agree with Eve. There is a difference between using a gun metaphor while making a verbal comparison and creating a list of "targets" identifying people by name in the sight of crosshairs.

Speak up more Eve! This community conversation needs you voice.

David Caines said...

I agree, There is a difference. Had the gunsight thing been done by say the Aryan Nations , we'd be in court already. Their practices have become common knowledge of a sort, and they and other extreme groups have been held legally responsible civilly at least for just this type of rhetoric that ends in death or violence.The problem of course is that this is the standard for extreme groups only, as they have fewer rights and options under law. Still, I'd like to see the GOP and particularly the Tea Party held to what is already a legal standard. They have shown a complete willingness to put their own agenda's ahead of the good of the American people, and since they seem to have no issue with using political terrorism to get their way, it isn't that great a step for me to think that they would be willing to use physical terrorism as well.
In either case, criminal and civil charges have been successfully brought against racist groups for just this sort of rhetoric , unless we are willing to accept that the GOP is above the law, I don't see why they should not be held to the same standard under the law.