Social Question

josie's avatar

What is wrong with a little anti-government rhetoric?

Asked by josie (22423 points ) January 11th, 2011

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded in an apparent assassination attempt. Nobody but the lunatic who shot her could feel good about that, and I hope she recovers.
But it is impossible to miss the fact that many folks are blaming this, not on the shooter, but on anti-government rhetoric.
And while I would not say that everybody who is whining about anti-government rhetoric are those who sit on the left side of the aisle, it seems that most of them are.
So, let’s pretend that we all stop our anti-government rhetoric.
What remains?
Pro-government rhetoric, sometimes called propaganda.
Or no rhetoric at all, which is what most governments want if they can’t have propaganda.
I don’t like the sound of either. So why are so many on the left advocating for it?
I am sticking with anti-government rhetoric, since they are, after all, nothing but grubby politicians.

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51 Answers

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

I have honestly not heard anyone not blaming the shooter – what I’ve heard is more like saying that Palin’s crosshairs may have given him the final push to do it; the thumbs-up that it was ok. Totally different.

CaptainHarley's avatar


And totally wrong. If you’ve not heard anyone blaming the right, then you’re not listening!

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Nothing wrong with it.

tranquilsea's avatar

I think the problem isn’t a “little anti-government rhetoric” but a LOT of it.

Things like this do not happen in a vacuum.

People naturally want to to try to figure out what went on so it can be fixed and it doesn’t happen again. Rightly or wrongly.

Qingu's avatar

@josie, I don’t think people are opposed to antigovernment rhetoric in general. People are opposed to violent political rhetoric. Numerous tea party statements involved threats of violent revolution.

This should not be acceptable in our discourse.

Now, I don’t think you can draw a direct line from Palin’s poster or a tea party statement to Loughner’s assassination; like many assassins, he was clearly mentally ill and his ideology’s Venn diagram doesn’t overlap evenly with the recognizable Venn diagrams of popular political movements.

Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s an accident or random that political assassinations tend to happen more often during times of especially fierce partisanship, and tend more often than not to be directed at Democratic candidates. Just because you can’t draw a direct line doesn’t mean violent political rhetoric is blameless; it’s responsible for creating a violent political climate that may well have factored into this madman’s neurons firing.

kevbo's avatar

… trees of liberty nonwithstanding.

josie's avatar

Where were these same voices when Reagan got shot? I was pretty young then, but all anybody said was that the shooter was crazy. Period.
In our time, it is the usually the left that questions the limits of the first amendment. Orwellian notions like “hate speech” and the premise that anybody who disagrees with a black politician must be racist have their origins in the left. So when politicians start implying that we should all be cooperative and learn to either say something nice, or don’t say anything at all, I get a little suspicious of their true motives.

Qingu's avatar

@kevbo, Just because a founding father says something doesn’t mean it’s right. America is not a cult that must venerate its founders like Muslims venerate Muhammad. Our founders were smart guys for their time. They were also largely okay with slavery and dueling to the death to settle scores.

@josie, Reagan was one of two (Wallace being the other) Repubs targeted that I can think of; most targets have been Democrats.

And please cite where anyone questioned the limits of the first amendment. “Hate speech” is not an orwellian notion, mis-labeling someone as a racist has nothing to do with the first amendment, and you are yet another example of a conservative whining about the first amendment when a liberal is merely criticizing speech, not censoring it. Guess what? Criticism of free speech is also free speech.

josie's avatar

I don’t like the conservatives either. Nice attempt to insult me.

Cruiser's avatar

Since you brought this up I would like to state my opinion on this matter. IMO it is not the rhetoric per se that is the issue…finger pointing and hand waving has been going on since the stone age. What I have seen become an issue….an overbearing influence on politics is the 24/7 news cycle that has blossomed over the last 2 decades specifically the last 8 years or so. Media has begun to choose sides just like corporate America has over the years and now even International influence is playing a part in the messages being portrayed as something relevant and meaningful in our political environment and our Government itself. (All often play both sides)

When you take a sound bite and twist in one way or another to further a party or hurt the otherside….the true message is quickly lost or wasn’t even there in the first place. It is no longer the politician or policy talking it is the media outlet or corporation furthering their own self interest in order to make a buck or insure re-election. Think about 99% of what you see and hear and ask the question…“Is this really relevant” to the issue at hand?”

But now we not only have the politicians themselves on the 6 o’clock news, we then have Fox, Rush and Wolf inflaming the issue purely for ratings and now even have Comedy Central whose own ratings now depends on making a joke out of every mis-step our politicians make. No wonder there are such warped POV’s out there in our society as the majority of us are incapable or too lazy to see the truth of the matter and now thanks to the bloggosphere there will be thousands of very loud voices to take side with the flame bait route of pretending to promote some half truth. The whole news/media political process now-a-days just plain sucks and IMO it is time to finally say enough is enough with this BS parade.

josie's avatar

In his terrific historical work Dawn to Decadence:500 Years of Western Civilization Jaques Barzun notes that a decrease in civility, and an increase in the “volume” of normal conversation is a one symptom of the end of one phase of civilization (decadence) and the beginning (dawn) of another.
The transition between the two is usually dangerous.
He describes Europe at the dawn of the Reformation which he pegs as the start of modern Western Civilization.
If he is correct, I wonder what is coming?

crisw's avatar

Rhetoric isn’t the issue.

Actual or implied violence in the rhetoric is the issue.

Cruiser's avatar

@josie I think we could take a chapter out of Gibbons theory on the Fall of the Roman Empire to answer your question there….

“the Roman Empire succumbed to barbarian invasions in large part due to the gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizens.[4] They had become weak, outsourcing their duties to defend their Empire to barbarian mercenaries, who then became so numerous and ingrained that they were able to take over the Empire. Romans, he believed, had become effeminate, unwilling to live a tougher, “manly” military lifestyle.”

Austinlad's avatar

Nothing, except when it’s acted out with weapons—which do nothing but maim and kill.

wundayatta's avatar

It is one thing to be against what the current government is doing. It is quite another to engage in acts of violence.

It is true that a lot of right wing commentators and their pals sound like rabid dogs, barking everywhere but up their asses. They’d do that, too, but they think yoga is a big part of the new world order.

It is true that people spew a lot of hatred, and that right wingers seem to be less afraid to spew their hatred. They seem to care much less about being nice. Left-wingers tend to care more about social relations, which means niceness is important. Right wingers tend to laugh at the very idea, unless it’s people in their family or community, so long as those people know their place.

Still, there’s a difference between spitting venom and hatred and taking a glock 9mm and killing 6 people and injuring a bunch of others. That takes a kind of warped thinking that I doubt if even gun-happy conservatives have.

Was it Arizona that wanted to pass a law requiring everyone to own a gun? Or was that some town out there in the Southwest somewhere? Conservatives say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But that’s not the issue really.

The issue is the frame of mind and motivation of the killer. Is he influenced by political rhetoric? It’s hard to see how he wouldn’t be. But there are a gazillion people out there who hear the same rhetoric and don’t run around trying to kill a Congress Critter. So, all-in-all, I can’t imagine that the rhetoric affected him any more than it affects the rest of us.

There have to be other, much more significant factors that influenced his thinking and choices. Maybe it has to do with who he hung out with—either in person or online. Maybe it has to do with his research. Maybe his brain chemistry is off in some way. Maybe, maybe, maybe. We won’t know until he’s been examined and the FBI has been up his ass with an electron microscope. Even then, who knows?

The main fact is that he has done something that probably all of us find unimaginable. And since that’s the case, we cast around looking for ways to explain. And with a complete lack of evidence, some people land on vitriolic rhetoric. Just think about it. Are you able to stay sane in the face of such rhetoric? You might get really angry, but that doesn’t make you take violent action, does it? That’s probably true for everyone in the US. Possibly one or two jackasses every decade might be influenced, if that. It’s hard to hold vitriol responsible. Unless you’re trying to make political points. And who isn’t?

CaptainHarley's avatar


Amazing. I kinda, sorta agree with you… especially that last paragraph.

Jaxk's avatar

It is not the debate that caused this tragedy. Nor the use of metaphors or idioms that caused this. Some are trying to use this for political gain others merely trying to rationalize an irrational event. I find it eerie that this guy was obsessed with the notion that government was trying to control us through our grammar. And now we find ourselves trying to control the use of metaphors. A little too close for comfort.

A CBS poll shows there is little support for the notion that political Rhetoric played any part in this tragedy. 57% believe there is no connection between the rhetoric and the event. Even the Democrats (49–42) aren’t buying that argument.

Metaphors will continue to play a role in political discourse just as they do every other part of our lives. You can’t eliminate violence by controlling speech. We will continue to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (forgive the metaphor).

Qingu's avatar

@Jaxk, and what if someone is so unhinged that they don’t understand the difference between a violent metaphor and a violent reality? You know, like the guy who shot those people?

I’m also not sure why you’re citing polls as if the opinions of Americans somehow count as evidence.

CaptainHarley's avatar


Because Americans as a whole are apparently a lot brighter than the liberals give them credit for being!

Jaxk's avatar


I suppose you’re right. But of course making claims with absolutely no evidence is much more valid. None of the facts support your argument. But is interesting that you would use the atheist argument above since that is one area where you and Loughner seem to agree. I wonder how that works into this discussion.

Qingu's avatar

What atheist argument?

What facts?

It is a fact that Loughner was obsessed with words and using them to create your own reality. That seems to tie into what you were saying about metaphors. I never claimed there was a direct link between any particular violent metaphor and this person’s actions; in fact I claimed the opposite.

Jaxk's avatar


I guess you’ve got me stumped. You make an argument: “and what if someone is so unhinged that they don’t understand the difference between a violent metaphor and a violent reality?” and then claim you argued just the opposite. It sure sounds like you think they were linked even though you had to make up a ‘what if’ argument.

Then you cite a link to religious views (the ‘Not’ reference) inferring that Americans are less intelligent for believing in god rather than evolution. I believe that’s an atheist argument.

So if I’ve got your argument wrong, I don’t know what you’re arguing.

marinelife's avatar

It is the tone of the rhetoric that people are complaining about not the fact of it.

augustlan's avatar

I have to agree with several others above… it’s not anti-government rhetoric that’s the problem, it’s the violent nature of some of it. Whether or not it had any influence on the shooter (and who can say, really?), this event may become a starting point to rethink our current level of discourse. I’m hopeful that it will tone down the use of violent language and imagery.

CaptainHarley's avatar

We don’t need less “anti-government rhetoric” ... we need MORE “anti-government rhetoric!” Government is NOT the solution, government is the problem!

etignotasanimum's avatar

IMO, there’s nothing wrong with a little anti-government rhetoric. If the system was completely devoid of this, nothing would be able to change, because no one would be able to complain about it and offer an alternative.

What I do find wrong is that this sort of rhetoric can get out of hand until all that the media focuses on is this hatred spewed out by an extreme few. This rhetoric is then parroted by others and so on until negativity seems to be all that anyone can discuss. Animosity between parties leads to nothing but stagnant politics where the only thing people debate about is whether or not the government is becoming socialist.

I’m not saying that anti-government rhetoric is what caused this man to commit such a terrible act. However, I do believe that an environment where toxic politics are acceptable may have contributed to the sentiments of this man, assuming that he tried to assassinate Giffords as some sort of political statement/act.

Qingu's avatar

@Jaxk, the two links were in response to Captain Harley’s assertion that Americans are intelligent, not to anything you said. Sorry.

Qingu's avatar

@CaptainHarley, yeah, that Ronald Reagan slogan sure is the unvarnished truth.

I’m sure private corps can do better than government when it comes to fire and police, armed forces, regulating utilities, building interstate highways, investing in research that led to satellites and the internet, taking care of the poor and disabled and of course, self-policing the financial industry and the health care industry. Oh wait.

anartist's avatar

Anti-government rhetoric is part of what makes our country strong, and this freedom of speech is guaranteed by the first amendment to our Constitution.

And a nut-job is still a nut-job.

ETpro's avatar

We can debate what government should and should not do in a respectful, thoughtful manner. There is no need for inflammatory rhetoric. Claiming the US has the least freedom of any nation, that our government is more oppressive that North Korea’s, that the administration is Communist or Socialist or Nazi or all of those in one—there is no place for that hate speech.

I saw a town hall before the Delaware Primary for the Republican Senator’s race. Mike Castle was there and a woman at the front of the crowd literally screamed at him with froth coming out of her mouth—“I want my country back!” Back from whom? A Kenyan born socialist communist black man stole it? There wasn’t an election that Obama legitimately won? The vitriol and hate is getting close to what we saw at the outbreak of the civil war. There is talk of nullification and the state’s rights to secede again.

Did all that hate speech help tilt Jared Lee Loughner to attack a Congresswoman? We may never know. Could it prompt a loose canon to start shooting. There is absolutely no question that it could, and that if continued it will.

Meanwhile the infrastructure the we built after WWII, from the Interstate Highway System President Eisenhower initiated to Dams and power girds are slowly decaying. We can’t even muster the national will to repair the decaying infrastructure of 50 years ago, much less build the infrastructure for tomorrow. We invented solar panels in Bell Laboratories 50 years ago, and today China owns 60% of the world market share in Solar energy. They are the world’s leaders in wind energy, selling it to us. If we keep demonizing one another for stupid partisan gain, the rest of the world is going to march on past us into the 21st century and beyond while we sink into a mire of past dreams and a fantasy that American exceptionalism is our birthright and requires no investment or work to maintain.

CaptainHarley's avatar

You see, that’s a major cause of the problems between the liberals and everyone else: they simply do NOT trust the people! Get a frakkin’ CLUE! This is a representative democracy. Give the people a decent education and let them VOTE. Even if you don’t like the way they usually vote, let them VOTE and let them agitate and demonstrate. To do less is to set yourself up as some sort of higher power that knows oh SO much better than the rest of us how our lives should be run and how our money should be spent!

ETpro's avatar

@CaptainHarley Liberals don’t want people to vote? Since when. It isn’t liberals screaming “Gimme my country back.” We diode vote, and now the people who are unhappy with the outcome are the ones pushing for this “2nd Amendment Remedies” Sharon Angle alluded to—not liberals. A little truth in advertising, please.

Qingu's avatar

I’ll ask again:

Which liberals are saying antigovernment people shouldn’t have free speech?

Which liberals are saying people shouldn’t have the right to vote?

This is getting delusional at this point.

CaptainHarley's avatar

I jsut happened to be talking about liberals at the time, but pretty much the same thing now applies to conservatives, dems and reps… I wouldn’t give you two cents for the lot of them!

CaptainHarley's avatar


It isn’t that liberals don’t want the RIGHT people to vote, they just want to make sure that the people know it’s liberals who are those destined to guide the Country, since they know so much better than we how our lives should be run, and how our money should be spent.

ETpro's avatar

@CaptainHarley I imagine that most people who become active in politics think they have the right stuff to help lead the country. There is nothing wrong with that. But whil right wingers carry on about vote rigging something terrible, the evidence of actual tinkering has been pinned almost exclusively on the right, not the left. ACORN was completely shut down before it finally came out that the video tape was faked. It was edited to make it look like ACORN employees were abetting crime when the truth is that the young right-winger faked the whole thing in the editing room and the ACORN personell actually called the police to report him.

Karl Rove got his name, Turd Blossom for a scheme to rig votes and scare liberal voters away from polling places. He didn’t quit rigging elections after that, he just got a whole lot more sophisticated. Much better to have Republican operatives in charge of the companies that make the voting machines.

Qingu's avatar

@CaptainHarley, I don’t think liberals believe we’re “destined” to run the country. It’s just that we prefer people who run the country to know what the fuck they’re doing. You know, that they should have a good education, that they should look for pragmatic solutions, that their ideological views should be based on reality and not fairy tales.

Shocking, I know.

incendiary_dan's avatar

All my government talk is anti-government talk. ;)

incendiary_dan's avatar

Also, I love the idea that one of my favorite authors put at the beginning of one of his books: “All writers are propagandists”.

He elaborates further that the difference between propaganda, if there can be any, is the propaganda hides its premises and tries to slip them past you, so you take them as assumptions. Good writing, therefore, would lay the authors premises out in the open as much as possible.

CaptainHarley's avatar


All of which is Newspeak for, “We are SO much more intelligent and SO better trained than you to determine what course your life should take!”

I have two undergraduate degrees and a master’s, so I’d match my education level against that of most liberals any day. I have worked in the US Army, two of the largest corporations in the world, and my own business, so I daresay I have more experience than virtually any liberal you care to name. As a former soldier, I am a base-lime pragmatist. But does any of that incline liberals favorably to me? Not on your tintype! So what’s going on then? I submit that people like me are disliked by liberals simply because we don’t subscribe to their political ideology, which you revealingly lable as “reality.”

augustlan's avatar

Let’s be careful not to let this thread devolve into the type of violent rhetoric we’re talking about, guys.

Qingu's avatar

@CaptainHarley, no, it’s not Newspeak. No, liberals don’t want to control people’s lives. That is a paranoid delusion on your part. Liberals believe that people should have the power to control their own lives and determine their own destiny. But whereas conservatives believe that only the “government” could possibly be an impediment to this, liberals also worry about private corporations and poverty cycles unfairly taking people’s freedom and self-determination away.

What I had in mind was largely the comparison between liberal and conservative presidential candidates, and how constituents take to them. Look at Bush, who faked a homey Texas accent and made a point of being “just a regular guy” and not an elite, like Gore or Kerry, both of whom didn’t hide their education levels. Look at Obama, and how his Harvard education was painted as a liability, whereas Palin—with her six colleges or whatever and stunning ignorance—was praised for being “one of us.”

I was also thinking about how conservatives tend to attack science, while being completely ignorant of what science says and why. Conservatives tend not to believe in evolution, or global warming. Conservatives also have trouble with economic science, believing in nice-sounding “free market” ideology with idealized rational actors that completely breaks down in practical reality when you consider how stupid and ill-informed economic actors tend to be.

So what exactly do you think of your fellow conservatives in this respect, and your party’s presidential candidates? If you’re as educated and pragmatic as you claim, I imagine you’d be ashamed and horrified.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Can you say, “Straw man,” boys and girls? Go ahead and attack the Republicans and conservatives, my man. More power to you. Being a Libertarian, I tend to agree with all of it.

cazzie's avatar

Oh… there you go, @CaptainHarley… you do identify with a group. (and I could have guessed it with your vocabulary)

cazzie's avatar

@wundayatta said… ‘The main fact is that he has done something that probably all of us find unimaginable. And since that’s the case, we cast around looking for ways to explain. And with a complete lack of evidence, some people land on vitriolic rhetoric. Just think about it. Are you able to stay sane in the face of such rhetoric? You might get really angry, but that doesn’t make you take violent action, does it? That’s probably true for everyone in the US. Possibly one or two jackasses every decade might be influenced, if that. It’s hard to hold vitriol responsible. Unless you’re trying to make political points. And who isn’t?’

I just want to remind everyone what happens when a population and ‘armed forces’ have been feed enough rhetoric. We get Germany circ. 1927.

CaptainHarley's avatar

I found this interesting:

“Jared Loughner’s friend says suspect ‘Did not watch TV … disliked the news’
By Chris Ariens, TV newser

“This morning on “Good Morning America,” ABC’s Ashleigh Banfield sat down with Zach Osler, a high school friend of Jared Loughner, the suspect in the Tucson massacre.

“Osler says his friend wasn’t shooting at people, “he was shooting at the world.” Regarding the high-pitched talk radio and cable news political rhetoric, Osler says his friend didn’t even watch the news.

“He did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn’t listen to political radio. He didn’t take sides. He wasn’t on the left. He wasn’t on the right.”

cazzie's avatar

Oh…and what was his You Tube rantings then?

The kid was media literate. To say he ‘didn’t watch the news’ is like saying… he didn’t use a particular ‘brand’ of toilet paper, but he was wiping his ass with something, right?. Information was getting to him. He was unstable. It was neither left nor right. His rantings show dislike from leanings on either side. He was given a bible as a recruit, even though he marked ‘None’ as his beliefs. He seemed to take offence at that.
Trying to filter through the madness, he had issues with ownership and economics.

I’m not saying this is a right or left issue with this kid. There has been some nasty talk on both sides.. all I’m saying is that instead of channelling Che Guevara when one is politically upset.. how about channelling Gandhi instead. We love our neighbour, and we dislike it when he hurts us, but we will sacrifice ourselves to state our beliefs, but not ever make threats against him. After all, it is not him we dislike.

Reporter: ‘What do you think of Western Civilisation?’
Gandhi: ‘I think it would be a good idea.’

CaptainHarley's avatar

Just to clarify… I was in the military in one form or another for over 34 years. Not ONCE did I ever see or hear of recruits or prior service or veterans or anyone else in uniform being given a bible. So on at least this particular item, I call BS.

mattbrowne's avatar

A little is normal. It’s the getting out of hand which isn’t normal. Violent rhetoric is a form of violence. The American hate mongering shown by the ultra conservative movements is unethical and unacceptable. Europeans are very distraught about this. The American democracy has been a source of inspiration for more than 200 years. More and more political commentators in Europe are pointing out that we can no longer rely on this kind of inspiration. What a shame. Many ultra conservative Americans are bordering on fascism. And it’s getting worse.

I would have never thought that something like this were possible.

When will the decent Republicans take their party back?

cazzie's avatar

@mattbrowne Thanks for weighing in. Your point of view is unique and valuable on this topic, imho.

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