Disgraceful efforts to make capital from mass murder

One expected consequence of the shocking mass murder of people at the political surgery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson is the  frankly disgraceful attempt of some to make capital out of the attack to shamelessly further their own political agenda by attributing responsibility to people that had nothing to do with it, but whom they wish to undermine nevertheless.

This has manifested itself with various tweets and blog posts laying blame for the attack at the doors of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the US Republican Party in general,and the disparate Tea Party movements around the US. Biased BBC and the Telegraph’s Toby Harnden examine this with two must read posts that provide some much needed context.

Another expected consequence of such a terrible criminal act is kneejerk responses that paint an inaccurate and unfair picture of the American people. Comment that asserts some kind of British moral superiority as a result of the tragedy, then suggests the outlook of the American people calls into question if we can describe America to be a democracy. This is what I want to look at in more detail.

One example that particularly stands out for me is a post from Conservative activist Chris Hawes. It suggests not only a lack of knowledge but the absence of any self awareness of our situation in Britain.  I’ll explain. Hawes briefly tours the US political scene and notes the polarised landscape, then goes on to suggest to readers that the Democrats and Republicans in the US:

‘truly hate each other in a way that is totally alien to us in Britain,’

This is an insult to the Americans that stems from complete ignorance of American politics. I know from personal experience that Hawes’ claim is way off the mark. It is true to say that the Democrats and Republicans frequently hate what each other stand for politically, but unlike here in the UK there exists a sense of unity borne from the shared experience of being part of the great American nation.

Hawes then incredibly goes on to add 2+2 and make 7 when he opines:

Going back to this specific incident, Gifford was at a public meeting called “Congress On Your Corner” where she was actively responding to her constituents and doing her job when she was gunned down. The assailant didn’t appear to be interested in asking a question and getting a response from his Congresswoman – in short, participating in the democratic process – but intent on assassination.

All of this together makes me wonder whether America can truly be called a democracy any more. Democracy requires consensus and acceptance of the democratic process – if an opponent is elected, they have the mandate to govern until the next election. Violence should never be part of political rhetoric; reasoned debate is foundation of democracy. If polticians have to be concerned about being attacked if they support an unpopular motion (even if it is only unpopular amongst a certain demographic), democracy is failing.

I’m sorry, but that is utter nonsense. Since when has an act of terror or the act of a mad man/men denoted that a nation might no longer be democratic? The murderous incident was perpetrated by a man who clearly has psychological issues, was rejected for military service (which takes some doing) and harboured violent intent to government and while possessing a hatred of the law.

The target of the attack, Rep. Giffords, was the kind of Democract who appealed to a large number of Republicans, being (as Harnden points out) a deficit hawk, someone who voted to lift the ban on guns in Washington DC and who voted against Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. If anything, Rep. Giffords created more anger among Democrats than Republicans, which is why a blogger at the left wing DailyKos blog said that Giffords was ‘dead to me‘ for failing to back Pelosi.

Hawes is also wrong to suggest democracy requires consensus. In fact, consensus undermines democracy because it stymies healthy adversarial politics which provides people with political alternatives. Consensus has been used by the political class to ensure the voting public is presented with nothing more than an opportunity to change the faces of MPs while leaving the direction of the country unchanged.

The piece goes on to say that violence should never be part of political rhetoric. Yet the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems in this country have all been guilty of it. Remember all the talk in recent elections of decpatitation strategies and George Osborne referring to the attempt to defeat Ed Balls as a castration strategy? In a nation where guns are a way of life, gun related metaphors can only be expected, even if they appear unseemly in countries like ours that have been disarmed through legislation. But the metaphors are not an incitement to murder politicians with whom people are dissatisfied or that political opponents hate each other personally.

Hawes then says that if politicians have to be concerned about being attacked for supporting a particular line then democracy is failing. This line in particular really rankles. Democracy is failing, but not for the reason he offers. Look at Britain. With all three main parties singing loudly from the same hymn sheet on the central political issues of the day, such as the being governed by the EU, taxation, state interference etc. the electorate is being denied democratic alternatives. The people we have asked to serve and represent us are ignoring us.

No number of letters to MPs and Councillors, campaigns, petitions, demonstrations and marches to signal our discontent or insistence in a change of direction by our representatives have any effect. The political class is determined to tell us what is best for us and impose it upon us regardless of what we think. That is what is subverting democracy and needs to be tackled, not the act of a lunatic.

The attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords, resulting in the death of at least six people, was horrific. It was the act of a deranged man or men. But it should not be used as an excuse by media outlets or individuals to build strawmen to knock down, further agendas or seek to make political capital. Such behaviour is disgraceful.

I feel nothing but sympathy for the families and friends of those whose lives have been cruelly snatched from them and I hope Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of that maniac who are being treated in hospital make full, swift recoveries.

15 Responses to “Disgraceful efforts to make capital from mass murder”


  1. 1 Gerard 09/01/2011 at 3:54 pm

    I wonder how Mr Hawes explained away the knife attack on Mr Stephen Timms by Roshonara Choudhary as he conducted his constituency advice surgery… Or doesn’t that count?

  2. 2 The Maldives are not sinking 09/01/2011 at 4:13 pm

    Strange, isn’t it that when Stephen Timms MP was stabbed by a muslim woman in his surgery the left fell over themselves to tell everyone that this was nothing to do with Islam. Fast forward to Jan 2011 and the fact that a lone lunatic tried to murder a Congress woman and its automatically something to do with the Tea Party.

    Isn’t the left a morally bankrupt place to be on the political spectrum?

  3. 3 Trooper Thompson 09/01/2011 at 5:02 pm

    Good point, Maldives. Even the fact that the lunatic was a leftist, and that there was something of a hate campaign going against the Senator from the left, but never mind that: let’s blame the rightwing bogeyman, and clamp down on that ‘outmoded’ Bill of Rights.

  4. 4 Chris 09/01/2011 at 5:06 pm

    You are misinterpreting my words. Especially regarding the phrase “democracy requires consensus”. It doesn’t require consensus as to what should happen, but that the will of people expressed through elections should not be prevented by violence. An agreement that those elected should be allowed to do their job and that losers should accept that they lost.

    The big difference is that in the UK rhetoric such as “decapitation” is quite clearly to only be enacted through democratic means – ie. by getting them voted out through running a superior campaign. But n the US, they appear to infer more sinister attributes such as the rally where Gifford’s opponent and his supporters fired gun into the air. It is indeed likely that this carries a slightly different social correspondence in the US than we in the UK interpret it as, but considering even the responses even in the US, I don’t think it can realistically be significantly different.

    Democracy IS failing if politicians have call to be scared for their life over their votes. And if you think that he parties are too close together or they are not reflecting the will of the people, you can always stand yourself as an alternative candidate…

    As for the rest of it, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  5. 5 Autonomous Mind 09/01/2011 at 7:01 pm

    Sorry Chris, but consensus is not the same as consent. If you have mispoken then you should say so, instead of suggesting I have misinterpreted what you have written.

    The words ‘appear to infer’ show this is your own value judgement, it is not a statement of fact. And to be honest it is quite insulting to Americans to suggest here the use of violent rhetoric is acceptable because we can control ourselves but that the use of metaphor in the US is too subtle for them to understand and that they see it as an incitement to engage in violence against a political opponent. The killer in Arizona did not launch his attack because he disliked Democrats, he did it because he hates authority and government per se.

    I’ve always enjoyed your writing Chris, both now and as Thunder Dragon. Where is your evidence that Rep. Giffords was attacked because of how she voted on any issue? I notice you slide past my point that our representatives ignore the things we care about and do their own thing. That is the real evidence that democracy is failing. But like so many party members of any stripe, you seem incapable of accepting the failure of our politicians to serve our interests.

    Please do not think I am picking on you with my post. Yours was merely an exemplar of other less well written arguments that I consider to be fundamentally flawed.

  6. 6 Chris 09/01/2011 at 7:33 pm

    I don’t think it was misspoken, but perhaps not explained as well as it should have been.

    I don’t think that “decapitation” in the context it is used can be seen as violent rhetoric, but unfortunately I think the way some of the US rhetoric with the way people like Palin refer to “Don’t retreat, RELOAD” alongside their support and demonstrations around the right to bear arms combines to create the wrong impression.

    My post wasn’t about what caused the shooting – in fact, I make the very point that we don’t know why he did it and that it is not currently thought to be linked to a political party – but more the reaction to it.

    If our elected representatives are not doing what we want, we should vote them out. They are our servants, not the other way round. But I see few real examples of this – and none of independents getting elected to replace them.

    I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my blogging. Please come and comment more often! ;)

  7. 7 Autonomous Mind 09/01/2011 at 7:42 pm

    Regardless of our loggerheads here Chris, I hope you will visit and comment here too. Perhaps we will revisit the democratic deficit issue again shortly.

  8. 9 kelly gomez 09/01/2011 at 9:35 pm

    GREAT NEWS if America put the capital murder again. The crime in America is on similar to Latin countries,where anybody can to kill the politicians in any place. The problem in America are the Democrats with their BLOOD HEART””” and lawyers for gain more money,don”t permit the capital murder…The criminals should to pay with the same coin>>>.

  9. 10 KEELY GOMEZ 09/01/2011 at 9:59 pm

    Our congresswoman Gifford,is a great person that was working for this country,now wounds for a sick mind killer,that he go to prison for the rest the his life supported with my tax money,good food.good bed,good television,good,gym,,no pay rent,no pay taxes It”s a award for his crazy life..and nobody is thinking in his capital murder for the other people that he killed????? how can the politican and lawyers give me a explanation without have BLOOD HEART???

  10. 11 David C 09/01/2011 at 10:04 pm

    Checkout the comments on this HuffPo link. Frightening. It really was Palin’s fault, no honestly …
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/09/sarah-palin-rebecca-mansour-crosshairs-arizona_n_806375.html

  11. 12 Neil Craig 10/01/2011 at 6:21 pm

    Nice finding that “dead to me” line. Certainly had it been said by a Republican it would have been all over the BBC as it would have been much better than Palin’s “trageting” of Arizona being implied as meaning to kill her.

    We will not, of course, see any apologies from the pseudoliberals for remarks like the Dem who wished Palin had been in an aircraft that crashed. She’s fair game to the media.


  1. 1 Disgraceful efforts to make capital from mass murder « Autonomous Mind -Political Fund USA Trackback on 09/01/2011 at 9:18 pm
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