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.