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Opinion: Yes, the Tea Party and Palin Do Deserve Criticism

Jan 10, 2011 – 7:30 AM
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Michael Arceneaux

Michael Arceneaux Contributor

I'm sure Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., meant well when he told CNN's Candy Crowley that when it comes to correlating the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and nearly 20 others with the recent violent rhetoric of certain political factions and figures, "I don't think you can ever make the direct connection."

We have done so before, though. In the 1990s, it was commonplace for politicians of both parties to chastise rappers like Ice-T and rockers like Marilyn Manson for the violent imagery and lyrical content that politicians felt they promoted and link them to the violent acts of others.

Why not now?

Perhaps Durbin's reluctance to finger-point stems from his own past political gaffes, but the rest of us needn't be coy about which political group has been invoking most of the violent imagery and language lately.

While we still don't know the motivations of 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, Giffords' 75-year-old father was quite clear about where the allegiances of a sizable share of his daughter's enemies lie.

"Yeah, the whole tea party," a tearful Spencer Giffords said bluntly.

Sure, unnecessary rhetoric in politics applies to people of every political persuasion, but the most vitriolic and the most incendiary comes from the tea party.

It could very well be coincidental that Giffords just happened to be one of the 20 House Democrats Sarah Palin placed on her "target list." But by using crosshair images to show each targeted politician's district and telling her supporters via Twitter, "Don't Retreat, Instead -- RELOAD!," she unnecessarily employed imagery and expressions that indirectly glorified violence.

A Palin aid called it "obscene" and "appalling" to blame the ex-Alaskan governor for the shooting. That doesn't change the fact that it was sophomoric and flat-out irresponsible of her to play around with the words and images she used. No wonder Palin has since removed the map from her website.

Palin apologists argue that military terminology has been used for ages. Repetition does not make something acceptable, nor does it make it any less connected.

The shooter may have been mentally ill, as is suggested, but the likes of Loughner do not draw their obsessions with violence out of thin air. They draw their vocabulary and imagery from culture, and in the current political culture, Palin and her tea party brethren are the ones dangerously fanning the flames.

It is House tea party caucus leader Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., asking supporters to rally against the "gangster government."

It is Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, saying, "Thomas Jefferson said the tree of liberty will be fed by the blood of tyrants and patriots. You are the modern-day patriots."

It is Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, declaring, "Let's beat that other side to a pulp. Let's take them out, let's chase them down."

It is Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., telling a self-identified "right-wing terrorist," "Amen. God bless you. There's a great American."

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It is former tea party Senate hopeful Sharron Angle discussing "Second Amendment remedies" to settle differences between her ilk and Congress.

We cannot allow them to hide behind hyperbole and metaphor. They must be compelled to stand behind their words.

If there is proved to be no relation between the tea party and Loughner, fine. But there is nevertheless a growing danger in this country. A danger former President Bill Clinton warned about last year when noting the increased threats against President Barack Obama and members of Congress.

If politicians' words incite hatred, glorify violence and pander to the weak-minded, then they are a part of the problem -- and they need to be held accountable.
Filed under: Opinion
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