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A CITIZEN’S BASIC DUTIES! Our discourse is ludicrous—and encourages violence. How can this best be addressed? // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JANUARY 10, 2011

A CITIZEN’S BASIC DUTIES: As those of a certain age may recall, political shootings can come in waves.

From 1963 through 1981, three American presidents were either shot or shot at. One of the three was seriously wounded; one of the three was killed.

During that same period, two presidential candidates were shot. One was killed; one was paralyzed.

During that period, the moral giant of the last century was shot and killed, in Memphis. Also shot and killed, in New York: Malcolm X. And the culture of assassination spread beyond the realm of overtly political figures. Three months before President Reagan was shot, John Lennon was shot and killed in New York.

In 1978, Rep. Leo Ryan was shot and killed in Guyana, where he had gone to investigate the operation of the “Peoples Temple” cult. Nine days later, Mayor George Moscone was shot and killed in San Francisco, as was Supervisor Harvey Milk.

Was this wave of political shootings a coincidence—some sort of statistical accident? Or did these shootings somehow reflect the angry, turbulent political culture which began in the 1960s? Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea—no real way of knowing. But this wave of political shootings seemed to end with the attempt on President Reagan’s life. That said, one man tried to fly a stolen airplane into the White House in September 1994; he crashed into a tree on the White House grounds and killed himself in the process (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/11/09). Six weeks later, another man fired 29 rounds at the north entrance to the White House, aiming at a group of men who stood on the White House lawn. This assailant fired through the White House fence before being subdued by several by-standers.

These last two incidents have largely been forgotten. Bill Clinton was president at the time, after all—and no one was injured in either event, except for the first assailant. According to Wikipedia, the man who fired the 29 shots “pleaded not guilty and mounted an insanity defense, claiming that he was trying to save the world by destroying an alien ‘mist,’ connected by an umbilical cord to an alien in the Colorado mountains.”

We’ll guess you’ve never heard that.

Are the mentally ill driven to act in violent ways by outlandish or violence-tinged debate? Presumably, this can happen. (Truth to tell, we’ve long been amazed that it doesn’t happen more often.) And as heaven knows, we’ve long possessed an outlandish political discourse—a discourse driven by ludicrous claims about major issues and major public figures. This ludicrous discourse has long been tolerated—disregarded; enabled—by the major organs of our mainstream press corps.

Sometimes, those major organs have even helped push it along.

In the last few years, the discourse has become even more ludicrous; it has also featured explicit appeals to violence from major public figures. (The most explicit was the comment by Senate candidate Sharron Angle about the pursuit of “Second Amendment remedies.”)

If progressives and liberals want to address this destructive culture, what would be the best way to proceed? Starting tomorrow, we’ll review reactions by some major figures to the recent shootings in Tucson. How can progressive interests be advanced?

You’re asking a very good question. How should progressives proceed?