Violence and Politics (and recursion)

Friday, July 20th, 2012 Politics

Of all the elements of American Conservatism that I dislike and/or disrespect (and it’s a long list), the worst might be Conservatives’ self-bestowed role as arbiters of who can and who cannot “politicize” tragedy. It’s not just the proscriptive, arch condescension of trying to do that—trying to police everyone else’s rhetoric in the public sphere—it’s that they shamelessly exploit the public’s sensitivity in order to pursue what they always see as a clear run at the end zone. Every time something bad happens, Conservatives race to take rhetorical advantage of it, and simultaneously race to condemn, insult and scold Liberals and Progressives who do the same thing. They are allowed to politicize events; we are not.

Today’s shooting in Colorado is the newest and one of the starkest examples. Those of us who immediately bring up gun control laws (not advance an argument but simply bring up the topic) are scolded in the harshest, most outraged tone (hitting the same notes of towering contempt as Joseph Welch) for having the temerity to “exploit” the grief and emotional vulnerability of the American public. I’ve seen this in comment sections all over the web in just the last few hours. But the ideology that allows Conservatives to take such umbrage (in such appalled, disgusted tones) at those of us making what any reasonable person would conclude is a short leap of logic to the topic of gun control, allows them to race to the microphones in every media outlet in order to denounce “Godlessness,” “permissive liberal Media culture” (the people who make the violent movies, because of course what happened in Colorado is about the movie itself, not the fact that the shooter was looking for a packed auditorium) and, not least, “Dark, Trekkie-like person[s]” (since nerds and geeks are, of course, a wellspring of violent discontent, and it’s always worth taking a shot at the unabashed, utopian liberalism of Star Trek.)* Here’s Republican congressman Louie Gohmert blaming the Aurora shooting on “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.” (He also wonders why “nobody else” in the theater had a gun, which is a window into a very dark and infantile way of thinking.)

Six years ago the same thing happened in reaction to the rhetoric at Coretta Scott King’s funeral, which many media figures condemned as inappropriate politicization, totally ignoring what had happened at Ronald Reagan’s service. And remember how Bill Clinton was the only person at Richard Nixon’s funeral who said anything at all about Nixon’s crimes (ironically, since he knows something about impeachment), in the most oblique possible way, and yet somehow in so doing he had crossed the Rubicon into the worst sort of opportunism.

If they’re allowed to politicize last night’s shootings, then so is everyone else, and so am I (which includes this post, which is why I said “recursion” in my title). If it’s too soon (and it probably is), then it’s too soon…which means that it’s too soon for those who would blame “Godlessness” as much as for those who would blame the gun lobby.

[*I’m aware that Star Trek has as many crypto-fascistic, expansionist, Heinlein-esque traits as it does utopian liberal ones. It just seems like MSNBC is crossing a very wide street to connect a lone gunman to Star Trek.]

UPDATE: Here’s Gopnik in The New Yorker making a similar point.