When she's not talking about God, Sarah Palin's talking about guns. Practically all her rhetoric is blood-soaked, and proficiency with firearms is a key element of her persona. Her cult can claim her stupid map wasn't supposed to show rifle sights aimed at vulnerable Democratic districts, but anyone who's ever seen a violent movie — which is to say, Americans of all ages — knows what cross hairs look like. "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD" isn't one unfortunate incident of over-the-top language, it's her mantra. "Going Rogue" begins with that line, attributed to her father."There will be a couple of people who don't see the wink."
Everyone uses battle-related language in politics, of course. "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun," candidate Barack Obama said in 2008. Rahm Emanuel's comically exaggerated speech is the stuff of (probably embellished) legend. It's perfectly legitimate, if also often counterproductive and stupid, to pretend politics is blood sport.
I'd also say that while you can argue the wisdom of either, there's a difference between using the imagery of politics as street fight and employing revolutionary rhetoric. And when you combine standard-issue violent political language with the idea — stated and reiterated by nearly every prominent right-wing politician and media figure since Obama took office — that the opponent is not simply wrong, but has illegitimately seized power, and is illegally exercising that power, the inevitable question raised is, "What do we do to stop them?" The correct answer is supposed to be "vote Republican and keep watching Fox," of course, but a good midterm for the GOP hasn't dethroned the socialist usurper-in-chief.
It's not strictly that language tinged with violent imagery is dangerous, or that heated denunciations of the motivations of your political opponents are out of line, or even that America's pervasive gun fetishization is to blame (though our gun culture is insane and bizarre to every single other developed nation in the world) for violent crimes. But when elites don't just condone but participate in the combination of that violent imagery with the idea that the government represents an existential threat — that representatives of the government are domestic enemies, that your liberty and even your physical safety are in danger — the idea of political violence is normalized. Terrorizing Congress members at town halls and "we surround you" and head-stomping and death threats and all the other bad craziness just becomes "the way we do politics in America."
The crazies are listening to the same media that the rest of us are. Charles Alan Wilson, the man arrested last year for threatening the life of Sen. Patty Murray, used the same language as Glenn Beck in his insane voice mails to Murray's office and borrowed Sarah Palin's death panels meme. (He also had a concealed weapons permit and carried a loaded .38 special.) When everyone's hoisting guns and shouting "tyranny" and playing at being a revolutionary, there will be a couple of people who don't see the wink.
That's it exactly. But, I'll say that it isn't just a couple of people: but millions of right wing fanatics who are convinced (just not motivated enough probably due to a sense of self preservation) that revolution — violent overthrow of the government — is necessary now and would support it wholeheartedly if it were to come about tomorrow.
It's the same thing I said 3 years ago.
Using phrases like "take 'em out" or "I want his head" or "drop a bomb" or saying "reload" instead of "try again", or using any of the thousand other violence-speckled aphorisms common in political posturing is generally harmless. Nobody is convinced to grab a rope when some pundit says, "Hang 'em high," and nobody thinks about murder when a person is accused of "throwing somebody under the bus." But, when you have an entire political establishment putting together detailed "facts" that the President is not an American... when you have people calling a politician a traitor or a domestic terrorist instead of arguing that their policies are misguided or just plain wrong... when you try to convince people that the things they hold most important, like their civil rights, or their family values, or their property, or even their very lives are under direct, immediate, and measurable threat from the government... when you tell them that armed revolution is a viable, possible, sensible option if balloting and election fails to get the results they want: People are inclined to believe that stuff, and what they are thinking about isn't just "voting Republican and keep watching Fox", but things much worse than that.
Talking Points Memo has a dozen examples of politicians (all Republican) speaking about guns, gun violence or armed revolusion in connection with their campaign, political opponent, or the government in general in the most recent election.
- "We have a constitutional remedy here and the Framers says if that don't work, revolution. If the government is not producing the results or has become destructive to the ends of our liberties, we have a right to get rid of that government and to get rid of it by any means necessary. Our nation was founded on violence.
- "We can get new faces in. Whether it's my face or not, I pray to God that I see new faces. And if we don't see new faces, I'm cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show. And I'm serious about that, and I bet you are, too."
- "People are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around? I'll tell you, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out."
- "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax, because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us having a revolution every now and then is a good thing. And the people — we the people — are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country."
- "We hunt liberal, tree-hugging Democrats, although it does seem like a waste of good ammunition."
- "I am convinced that the most important thing the Founding Fathers did to ensure me my First Amendment rights was they gave a Second Amendment, and if ballots don't work, bullets will."