Naw, There’s been no Right Wing Extreme Rhetoric

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other far right-wing demagogues have been quick to defend themselves from the charge of fostering a climate of poisonous political hatred in the United States, in the aftermath of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford and the killing of Federal Judge John Roll, along with the injuring or killing of 10 other victims.

Just so we are clear, Glenn Beck playfully spoke on his radio show of murdering Michael Moore with his own hands. Rush Limbaugh suggested that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were worse than Middle Eastern terrorists and that maybe our Pentagon has the wrong people in its sights. Ann Coulter expressed the wish that Timothy McVeigh had bombed the New York Times building rather than the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. These are major media personalities with millions of followers, who have been made multi-millionaires by corporations precisely because they routinely authorize the intimidation of workers, ordinary people, and thinkers who challenge the political status quo. So let us survey their hate speech, which in a civilized country would make responsible businesses ashamed to employ them and a conscientious public ashamed to listen to them.

Glenn Beck on the radio contemplates murdering Michael Moore (wait for it past the Ron Paul prologue):

Transcript here:

BECK: “Hang on, let me just tell you what I’m thinking. I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out — is this wrong? I stopped wearing my What Would Jesus — band — Do, and I’ve lost all sense of right and wrong now. I used to be able to say, “Yeah, I’d kill Michael Moore,” and then I’d see the little band: What Would Jesus Do? And then I’d realize, “Oh, you wouldn’t kill Michael Moore. Or at least you wouldn’t choke him to death.” And you know, well, I’m not sure.”

Rush Limbaugh calls Senator Harry Reid and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi “terrorists” and suggests that the Pentagon is “fighting the wrong enemy in the Middle East” (apparently he thinks San Francisco and Las Vegas are somewhere over there):

Transcript:

Limbaugh: “It could well be, ladies and gentlemen, that we’re fighting the wrong enemy in the Middle East. Maybe the real terrorists that we face are on Capitol Hill. I mean, really, who’s doing as good a job to undermine what this country stands for as the terrorists? ‘Dingy’ Harry, Nancy Pelosi. I mean, look, if they call us ‘hostage takers’ and ‘gangsters,’ then why can’t we call them what they are? They are terrorists. They certainly seem suicidal. Look at what they’re doing. Look at what they did. They knew they were going to get shellacked in this election and they did it! They knew they were gonna lose. And they want to take us with them.”

Ann Coulter, in an interview in The New York Observer:

‘ Then she said: “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.”

I told her to be careful.

“You’re right, after 9/11 I shouldn’t say that,” she said, spotting a cab and grabbing it.’

Coulter added in an interview with Right Wing News

“RE: McVeigh quote. Of course I regret it. I should have added, “after everyone had left the building except the editors and reporters.”

Limbaugh responded to his critics, saying “Do not kid yourself. What this is all about is shutting down conservative media. That’s what this is all about. Shutting down any and all political opposition.”

Limbaugh is admitting that the only way his version of the Republican Party can succeed politically is to engage in hate speech and whip up dangerous emotions, and he considers any pressure to back off these ugly techniques of demagoguery to be a “shutting down” of conservatism. That is, were he to have to fight fair, he would inevitably lose out to Democratic voices of reason.

No wonder the Right is pushing back so hard for its right to put people in the cross-hairs.

23 Responses

  1. Wikipedia has a nice section on logical fallacies that I think could provide a framework for review of the wing-nut speech (itself a misnomer).

    Their hate speech is firstly illogical, and because they have to force their sloppy thinking on their audience without allowing room for reflection, they must be forceful and unrepentant. It is easier to do so with hatred than it is with understanding.

    Hate speech and bad thinking form a partnership, but just as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and others have shown, it makes more sense to attack the right’s collective brain defect than it does to show talk about reasonable discourse.

    I just think we should be more explicit about the logical fallacies Beck, Hannity and that other guy put forth and I believe it does get to them as the talking (little) head segment between Beck and that other guy, where they criticized Obama for (paraphrase) talking down to them as though they were children. Well, logical fallacies and magical thinking are characteristic of childish minds, illogic and magical thinking are the products they peddle to the right wing audience, and it is effective, over time, for us to devalue their product.

    No wonder they defend their hate speech. Reasoned discourse destroys their hateful product.

  2. Will there be a change in our political climate as a result of this tragedy?

    I don’t think so.

    The outstanding book by the political philosopher, Sheldon Wolin, about 90 years old now, published in 2008, predicted the outcomes of the 2010 election in 2007.

    This is in the last chapter. He wrote it in 2007. He noted that even though the democrats won the 2006 election, their half way measures showed that even if the democrats won both houses and the presidency in 2008, for the first time since Jimmy Carter, the power of the corporations, media and military industrial complex were too powerful to overcome by half way measures. Hence 2010 with the added money from the Supreme Court decision, by a corporatist court, and the off the wall right wing won the election.

    Does anyone think that the Republicans who have been successful for 30 years with this kind of rhetoric, and the power of the Fox news and the commentators, will they change? Since they are only interested in power anyway, they won’t make any change that will redice their power.

    Wolin’s book is Democracy Inc. Look it up to see the subtitle.

    He points out that the closely divided electorate, about 50 to 50 percent allows the parties to continue to be factions. He doesn’t say it exactly this way but that is what he means.

  3. Going back to “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came” the question is why do so many people watch (and at least verbally) copy these guys?

    My old friend Tom Stine’s answer was “American’s love a cheap dog fight” which sounds on the mark yet doesn’t answer the question why do so many people love a cheap dog fight?

    My current thought is one step deeper: There are a lot of frustrated people in America which, once again, begs the question: why are there so many frustrated people?

    Going one step deeper than that is one possibility: many people believe everybody can become rich, that is, have relatively more money, goods, and services than others. Yet rich is relative, not absolute, so basically while some people can become richer than others, not everybody can become rich. The collision of these two incompatible ideas results in frustration.

    I suspect there is at least one step deeper, but that’s enough for now.

    • The question is, why does a society in crisis choose to embrace fascism rather than social democracy? Why 1933 Germany instead of 1933 America?

      Certainly the social mythology about “natural” inequality – of races, nations, and classes – plays a big role in this crossroads. Germany were led to believe that their economic problems were due to too much equality, meaning of “good” Germans versus “inferior” Germans under democracy. Americans had been fed a torrent of ideology for years before the ’29 crash justifying vast and growing inequality of all types on the hypothesis that it would produce prosperity for all, which obviously was discredited.

      Why didn’t Germans come to the same conclusion about who their enemy was as Americans, and why can’t Americans now see what their forefathers saw?

  4. I believe that you are right to draw attention to the incendiary language that is used against some domestic opponents. It would also be good to provide some examples of blood-curdling remarks by some politicians against their foreign foes, and how easily they state that war should be declared on one country or another.

    However, at least as far as the domestic scene is concerned, those inflammatory statements would not lead to the murder of politicians and innocent bystanders were it not for the ready availability of firearms. It is sad that after a short-lived period of handwringing after every gun-related outrage the issue is once again forgotten and everything goes back to normal, as was the case after the massacre at the Virginia Tech in 2007 that claimed 33 lives, or the Columbine school massacre in 1999 that claimed 15 lives, etc.

    May be most Americans do not realize the extent of the disparity between the level of violence in that country compared to the rest of the world. According to federal data, the number of deaths in the US from firearms has gone up from 28,874 in 1999, to 31,224 in 2007. These are not figures for a normal country living in a state of peace. This is warfare. Out of the top ten worst cities for murder in the the United States and Europe, eight of them are American cities. In Japan there are 0.0049 murders for 1,000 people. In Switzerland it is 0.0092, in Norway 0.0106, in Denmark 0.0106, in Germany 0.0116, in the UK 0.0140, even in Indonesia it is 0.0091. In the United States it is 0.0428 for 1,000 people. The number of homicides in the United States is proportionately 40 times that of most European countries.

    Compared to other countries in the industrialized world, these figures are not just high, but ridiculously so. More than 80 percent of all firearms deaths in 23 of the wealthiest nations in the world occur in the United States. Nearly 9 out of 10 women and children killed with firearms were killed here. And this has to be expected, as more than 5.4 million guns were produced in 2009 in the United States, to say nothing of trillions of dollars that the United States spends on waging war abroad, and tens of billions of dollars worth of deadly weapons that she exports to other countries, its most lucrative exports.

    If these figures do not shock the Americans to re-examine their love affair with guns and their obsession with violence both at home and abroad, then nothing will. The Second Amendment was passed at a time when US standing army and police were weak and people were allowed to bear arms to protect themselves. Gun ownership has no place in a country which is the sole remaining super-power and which domestically wishes to live by the rule of law. It is time that the United States brought the easy access to firearms under some proper control and drastically cut its military spending, and turned more to diplomacy than war in her foreign policy.

  5. The media’s attempts to “balance” this discussion by showing liberal as well as conservative “poisonous” rhetoric is way off the mark. I don’t recall any liberals–and certainly not any office holders or candidates–calling for their opponents to be killed. Why won’t the so-called liberal media point out that the right wing is by far the worst offender?
    At the urging of one of my conservative friends, I once listened to Rush Limbaugh for five minutes. During that short period of time, he said, “We won’t kill all the liberals. We’ll keep a few of them alive in the zoo.”

  6. On an emotional level, the Right is disgusting. They are now all outraged that their “right to make jokes about violence” not be suppressed by the outcome – of violence.

    It’s like the drunk driver who after his third DUI manslaughter says, “I’m tired of you namby-pamby MADD people trying to control me.”

    It’s less a question of whether we want Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and that other guy to talk on the airwaves, and more a question of whether we want their crude, animal behavior in our society. I believe their behavior fits the definition of ‘anti-social.’

  7. F Jahanpour – Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Often these posts are filled with more attack speech in defense of the writer’s particular point of view. The American love affair with guns and violence is as strong at it has ever been, the statistics you cited are staggering. The drumbeat to war in 2002/2003 would not have been possible if the majority of Americans weren’t willing to accept violence as an easy “solution” to a problem.

    There will be many calling for the shooter in Arizona to be put to death, adopting his methods as the solution to the problem of his violence. Violence doesn’t solve problems on a personal level, nor on a national or international level.

    When will it stop?

    • Well, the war against the Native Americans solved the problem of putting white people in ownership of the land now called the United States. And that’s America’s origin myth. Complete with private citizen-settlers provoking the other side with their private weapons and trusting the US government to do its duty to defend them against the retaliation. Guess we know what’s coming when the Right begins its final campaign to “restore” America.

  8. However, at least as far as the domestic scene is concerned, those inflammatory statements would not lead to the murder of politicians and innocent bystanders were it not for the ready availability of firearms.

    This reality really struck home when I read this NYT article citing this Gabrielle Giffords quote: “I have a Glock 9 millimeter, and I’m a pretty good shot.” It made me wonder about the kind of subculture where even the more liberal are apt to be well aware of what is meant by the term “Glock 9 millimeter.” Not being aware myself, I turned to the Glock Wikipedia, where I found the plastic (i.e. cheap) body to be the distinguishing feature explaining the popularity of the Glock. Further searching revealed that the ready availability of the Glock has lead to the creation of a blog called Glock Talk. Given all of this, I find unsurprising that that Loughner chose to purchase a Glock. Perhaps we’ll never know whether his mental state was impacted by the rantings of Beck and Limbaugh, but it surely couldn’t have helped.

    • Just a little nitpick: Glocks are not a cheap gun nor are they inexpensive. Being made of a very high quality polymer (yes, a plastic), has simply allowed for higher quality at a lower cost. Saturday nite specials were called that because because they might get used one time before blowing up in the user’s face.

      Owning that gun, of course, did Giffords no good. I suspect it never gets out of the closet except for election year photo-ops. That’s just the way they swing in Tucson, being right down the road fr the OK Corral.

    • Perhaps the high numbers for the U.S. is due to (only) to the availability of guns, but I feel that it’s way too simple and explanation. Do guns create vitriol? Do guns create frustration? It seems that there would be some relation, but I doubt that any one of them is the cause as the real world is more complex than that.

      • Of course the difference lies in the ubiquity of guns! It is actually pretty hard to kill people with knives or bare hands. They fight back, bite, run away. The poor British murderers are mostly reduced to such indignities. In the US, about 16,000 people a year are murdered. The US is five times as large as the United Kingdom. So you’d expect 3,200 people to be murdered there every year if the rate was the same as the US. Actual number? About 1200, only about 1/3 the US rate. The difference? Easy availability of firearms. About 2/3s of US murders are committed using firearms, mostly hand guns. In the UK, you know how many of those 1200 murders was committed with a gun? 50-100. The difference is breathtaking.

        • Also, Juan, note that Britain used to be a lot more like America. In the 19th century London was a violent hellhole and gentlemen who could afford them carried guns. Perhaps mass production threatened to make guns too available to the poor and that’s what scared the elites into gun control, but conversely the threat of violent revolution from the left and right, and the world wars (which became civil wars in some countries), taught Europeans the hard way about the need to combine social justice with a prudent attitude about lethal force. The result is that handguns are restricted, but hunting rifles are available, and in Switzerland, etc, well-regulated military rifles are distributed, because none of those are expected to be used against one’s fellow citizens. That would be madness.

          None of this happened in immature America.

          I’d hate to think of the size of the catastrophe it will take to teach Americans that if they are buying guns primarily expecting to use them on their fellow countrymen, their entire society is badly in need of reform.

  9. BTW the Right Wing usually brags that they have a larger radio and TV audience than the Left Wing, but they deny that their inflammatory rhetoric has more influence on the public. So more people listen but they pay less attention?

  10. Well, hate to bring in first reports from the lines of American public opinion….but, CBS has just released a poll showing American people do not attribute the Tucson shooting to right wing incitement.

    link to cbsnews.com

    Maybe they’re right. And we could go round and round about reality and what the perceptions of the general US population are really worth, eventually concluding Reality really doesn’t matter. In fact, I think many us were thinking this sort of thing was bound to happen when the rhetoric finally connected just the right (wrong) way with one loose screw, and if it wasn’t this guy Saturday it’d have been another guy on Sunday with some other politician.

    As I’ve been thinking since events broke, what we should be looking at is reactions: the incident itself doesn’t so much matter. The question to ask is whether people in general sense there may be some causation, or that the political climate could be making a contribution. And to that answer, notice if Limbo etal respond with anything but bluster and belligerence. The answers we may be hearing are something we all need to take straight up, and act upon realistically. The first thing to get past is denial.

    • Question is, how many of us have been brainwashed into believing that “patriots” are incapable of evil? That no matter what horrible things they do, they must always mean well, because they are more authentic Americans than the rest of us.

  11. Excellent work, Professor Cole. I’d add on Glenn Beck’s sketch in which he poisons “Nancy Pelosi,” and Bill O’Reilly’s comment from his radio show, November 2005, “If Al-Qaeda blows up the Coit Tower [in San Francisco], we shouldn’t rebuild it.”

    And then, of course, there are the *actual* killings–Jim Davdi Adkisson’s Tennessee Fox News-inspired Unitarian murders in 2008, Richard Poplawski’s Glenn Beck rampage (murdering three cops in Pittsburgh because he falsely believed Obama “was gonna take away his guns”; Scott Roeder’s assassination of Dr. George Tiller in May of 2009 (worth noting that Bill O’Reilly called Tiller a babykiller 26 times), and Byron Williams’ would-be rampage against the Tides Foundation; Williams himself has an interview where he explains how much Glenn Beck led him there.

  12. The Right’s rhetoric is not about political freedom or conservative political values. It’s about stuff; getting stuff, keeping stuff, getting more stuff and preventing immigrants (a code word for people of color) from getting stuff.

    The people on the Right need stuff to be happy. If they don’t have enough stuff, they feel as though they are lesser people,like all the immigrants who do not have stuff. The Right fears that immigrants will take their stuff away and use it to pay for medical care or education. To the Right, immigrants (remember, it’s a code word) don’t need medical care because they are workers who breed rapidly (“baby mama” “jokes”)and are more productive when younger. Thus, if immigrants die early from preventable diseases, all the better because they will have many children who can work faster and better. This is good for the Right because it helps them get more stuff.

    The right opposes education for immigrants because they might learn that they, too, can acquire stuff. The problem is not so much that there isn’t enough stuff to go around, but more that if immigrants get stuff, then the Right has to get even more stuff to stay superior. It could turn into a never ending stuff acquisition contest.

    Murdoch has a lot of stuff, but he wants more stuff. He is willing to give up some of his stuff so that Beck, Hannity and that other guy will go on the air and coach the Right on how to oppose letting immigrants get stuff. They convince the right to do what they want because the Right, even the old and impoverished Right who benefit from medical care, believe they are like Murdoch and the other guys like him who have a really, really large amount of stuff.

    When a congressman is shot in the head, it is okay with Murdoch and his many mouths because that does not get in the way of all the stuff he gets.

    A lawsuit that names Murdoch, Beck, Hannity, that other guy, that fat guy from the radio, that stupid female who quit her government job halfway through, and others (who say and do nasty things to get more stuff)would be bad for them because they might have to give up some stuff to stay out of the courts, or jail.

    It might be good for the republic if people who abuse their rights to get more stuff had to stop getting stuff and start living like a hard working person who is paid what they or worth, or less, such as immigrants (code word for people who value people over stuff).

    If that didn’t work, we could take some of their stuff and stuff it where …. oops, almost slipped into nasty rhetoric. Sorry.

  13. This whole thing is sick, but what is even sicker is that it will afford Sarah Palin new opportunities to bask in the limelight of public attention and opprobrium, bolster her ratings and speaking fees, and allow Rupert Murdoch to rake more cash into his coffers.

  14. I am somewhat bemused by all this hand-wringing about possible societal causes for the Tucson massacre. We seem to care a great deal about the death of six civilians and the injury of 14 others, yet we care not one whit for the daily deaths of many more civilians in the foreign lands we have occupied.

    Where is the memorial service for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed as a direct result of our brutal sanctions regime against Iraq? Where is the Sixty Minutes documentary on the birth defects in Fallujah, which occur at roughly 14 times the expected rate thanks to the use of depleted-uranium shells and a variety of chemical concoctions against civilian areas? When will our glorious leader visit the orphans of Afghanistan to console them for their loss?

    I’m sorry, but a country that can turn a blind eye to human suffering on such a huge scale has far larger psychological and moral issues to resolve than those presented by Murdoch’s morons. We must face the ugly, fundamental truth that America specializes in death and destruction. It is what we do; it is who we are; and everybody knows it but us.

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