This comic has attracted more irate email than usual, with a longtime conservative reader referring to it as done "with vitriol." I don't see it as a particularly angry cartoon -- if anything, it seems like my usual absurdist approach, showing how ridiculous militant right-wing rhetoric sounds coming from the mouths of famous progressives. (Aren't we usually accused of being wimps?) I planned to do this strip ever since a blog commenter (not here) hilariously referred to Paul Krugman as an example of incivility on the left equivalent to the insurrectionist language on the right that has come under criticism since the Giffords shooting.
To answer those readers who are upset, let me first say yes, I am aware that Obama once used that quote from The Untouchables. And yes, there have been occasional instances of Democratic politicians saying bad things, like the guy in Florida who said his opponent for governor should be shot for his role as CEO of a health care company that defrauded Medicare. But here's the thing, people: you are forgetting to contextualize.
Only one side of the political spectrum has a broad, organized movement -- once fringe, now growing ever-more mainstream -- based on extreme paranoia of the government and the idea of resistance through armed revolution. This stuff forms the very raison d'etre of the Tea Party and various "patriot movement" subgroups. You have heard of the Oath Keepers, yes? If not, look 'em up. Much of the rhetoric I criticize in my cartoons comes from politicians stirring this particular pot -- they are pandering directly to their gun-nut base. They aren't just trying to use more action verbs.
Now, about Loughner: while the cheese may have fallen off of his cracker, he was clearly paranoid about the government and into currency conspiracy theories. Dude was down with the gold standard! That's classic far-right stuff. To quote my colleague Clay Jones, who drew a controversial Sarah Palin cartoon that cracked me up:
I do know the rhetoric is too much. I know it’s wrong to put crosshairs on human beings. I know it’s wrong to mask threats as political overtones. It seems conservatives would agree with that.
I ask that you ask yourself what I’ve asked myself. Did the right wing contribute to this?
I can’t say it did.
And you can’t say it didn’t.
And one last thing: I don't care about "scoring political points." Giffords feared for her own life, as I'm sure many politicians do today. Something is wrong when running for office -- especially as a liberal -- feels so dangerous. That's what really bothers me.
I love this. In my cartoon this week, I suggested an absurd way that Michelle Bachmann might explain her quote that voters should be "armed and dangerous" over the cap-and-trade bill. As I learned today via TPM, she actually did walk that quote back a month later, saying the following:
"I want my people in Minnesota to be the most educated people. I want them to be armed with knowledge, so they can be dangerous to the policies of the left."
Almost like my comic. Clearly I didn't go far enough.
Just found out my latest cartoon is on NPR right now. The comments section seems to have quite a few people trying to depoliticize the AZ shootings, blaming "both sides" for their partisanship. (Personally, I don't think questioning the violent, paranoid rhetoric of Palin, Angle, Bachmann, et al, makes one particularly partisan, but whatevs.)
Not that there's anything wrong with having strong political convictions. As reader AC wisely pointed out, people mistakenly believe "it is partisan politics generally, not any actual positions on either side, which is the problem."
I liked Amanda Marcotte's recent analogy:
Holding the right responsible for their paranoid, incendiary, violent rhetoric reminds me strongly of trying to put a cat in its carrier. You know it has to be done, but you really don’t want to do it. The cat is going to lash out. She’s going to hide under the bed. She’s going to hiss and scream. She’s going to grab the sides of the carrier as you push her in, in a pathetic final bid not to go the carrier. But you have the fight anyway, because you can’t just renege on your responsibilities the second they become a problem.
Matt Bors also has a good post:
And that’s where we are at. You can’t talk about the issues underneath this without being accused of “politicizing” it. The shooter is crazy and incoherent enough that we can all comfortably write him off as a “lone nut,” America’s favorite term to absolve us from looking at any of the societal problems that causes this type of behavior–or, god forbid, the tools he used to kill so many so fast. Unless the shooter fits into the binary mold of a mainstream liberal or conservative, we are content to pretend his behavior took place in a vacuum. “A lone nut! you’ll get those.”
There are a number of cartoons about the Tucson shootings, ranging from "weepers," which serve the important purpose of informing people that death is sad, to those suggesting a direct, specific correlation between the rhetoric and the action, as if the right wing had purposefully delivered a detailed "to do" list into the hands of the shooter. I haven't seen many that managed to make a persuasive point, but I would count this as one...
As for countering her examples, feel free, but I want to see something more persuasive than the time Obama explained his planned debating style with a flippant reference to Sean Connery's advice to Kevin Costner in "The Untouchables," or a DNC map that used traditional archery-style bull's-eyes to show the areas in which they planned special efforts. Don't waste my time unless you have specific examples of times nationally-known progressives used rhetoric about "refreshing the tree of liberty" or "reloading" or encouraged people to bring firearms to political rallies.
Predictably, I've been accused by others of not looking at the oh-so-incendiary rhetoric of the left, but tell me: when is the last time you heard a "mainstream" progressive pundit talk about killing ATF agents?
What really drives me nuts in the wake of the Giffords shooting is the chorus of voices -- mostly on the right -- tut-tutting that "we can't jump to conclusions." As though they are the source of caution and reason and all things prudent and high-minded. Well, guess what: Your candidates are anything but. I don't really care whether Loughner is schizo, or what particular bits of tea party propaganda he swallowed or didn't. If you don't find the violent language of the right utterly repugnant, then it's a sign of how far we've drifted away from normalcy in this country.
As any anthropologist will tell you, human behavior doesn't happen in a vacuum; we live in a cultural stew, and by all accounts, that stew is a-bubblin'. Tom Tomorrow linked to a depressing timeline of armed insurrection in America just since 2008. Hint: it's long.