The Real Dangerous Rhetoric

Ever since the Tucson shooting, there has been some strange attempt to purge all firearm terminology from the language of politics. While I understand and agree that with this sentiment in the short term, it is a pointless idea over the long haul and stupid to criticize politicians for having made gun references in the past.  For better or worse, our language is full of metaphors that originate from guns and war. We talk about pulling the trigger on decisions, head hunting for new personnel, killing the other team, gunning for that big promotion, and discussing how an embattled public figure is under fire or siege (I didn’t even notice that embattled was one on my first pass through).  These phrases are ubiquitous in our language, and provide a rhetorical flourish when discussing conflict.

Some have argued that we need to be worried about the mentally imbalanced hearing these things, but anyone who would interpret a call to violence in Michelle Bachmann’s call to be “armed and dangerous on this issue” would probably take the same thing from an episode of 24 or a rabid sport teams fan site. My worry about the possibility of violence doesn’t come from a deranged individual misinterpreting some phrase by a politician or pundit, but from said individual taking what they say without a proverbial grain of salt.

Since Obama was elected, the tenor of the rhetoric has gotten more than a little extreme.  Sarah Palin, for example, tweeted an article by Thomas Sowell a few months ago that suggested Obama was a totalitarian despot similar to the Nazi’s, promoted the idea of death panels, and has suggested on many occasions that the Democrats are destroying America (such as suggesting that they are trying to silence her and the other right wing talk show during her interview on Hannity this week).  Rhetoric like this trickles down such as the posters that portray Obama as Hitler that are commonplace at Tea Party events.

This language is not exclusive to the right.  During the two long terms of the Bush administration I heard a lot of people on the left accuse Bush of being Hitler.  Allen Grayson famously said that Republicans wanted sick Americans to die quickly, and as recently as last night, Tennessee congressman Steve Cohen compared the Republican lies on health care to those of Goebbels, the man who’s lies paved the way for the Holocaust.

Now, imagine for a second that you believed this rhetoric.  I mean seriously believed this rhetoric.  I don’t know about you, but if I thought that the president was actually the next Hitler, death camps and all, I would head for the hills to fight the good fight.  But I don’t.  I never have, and I pray that I never will.  But when you have elected officials and nationally televised pundits bellowing out this hyperbole, doesn’t it seem likely that someone out there will be crazy enough to actually believe what they are saying?

So next time you think Michelle Bachmann is inciting violence when she says citizens should be “armed and dangerous” take a deep breath, count to ten, and then relax and forget about it.  Then accuse her of inciting violence for suggesting that members of congress should be investigate for being anti American or that Washington DC is behind enemy lines (said just before her armed and dangerous line).

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