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Arizona, Again

January 10, 2011


Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords gave an interview last March that now sounds eerily prophetic. The conservative Democrat had just dared to vote for health care reform and so  had become the target for an avalanche of  violent threats and vandalism from the Right.  She said American democracy was  “a beacon to the world because we effect change at the ballot box, not because of these outbursts of violence. We are on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is that the way she has  it depicted has the crosshairs of a  gun sight over our district, and when people do that they have to realize there are consequences to that action.”

Palin put 20 House members in her infamous “crosshairs” target because, like most congressmen and Senators, they voted for health care reform. Gabby Giffords’ Tea Party challenger  called for people to “get on target for victory” and invited his supporters to “shoot a fully automatic M-16”  in their quest to  “remove Gabrielle Giffords from office.”

Despite that, most voters chose her. She won re-election.

As a result,  she has now been removed from office by  violence: mission accomplished.

Violent “conservatives, ” opponents of health care reform, brought firearms to her meetings, smashed her windows and doors, sent suspicious packages to her office, brandished weapons, and screamed death threats. Now we are being told this “had nothing to do” with what happened. It was just a series of meaningless coincidences we are supposed to overlook.

We are being told the alleged assassin was not a political radical but a mentally ill individual. As if those were clear-cut,  mutually-exclusive categories.  Whew! What a relief  Just another “lone nut” whose murders are meaningless, completely unrelated to the cultural context in which it occurred.  But violence is never symptomatic of any mental illness.  The diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia is being suggested–but a four-nation study concluded that the odds of anyone being murdered by a stranger with schizophrenia are about one (1) in 14.3 million, much less than the odds of being struck and killed by a random bolt of lightning.  Invoking mental illness, in other words, does nothing to explain violence.  Mental illness and violence are two different things with little connection between them.

We should pay attention to what the Pima County Sheriff said in his press conference. Noting that “the vitriol that comes out of some mouths about the government” was unprecedented in his lifetime (he is 75)  he went on to say “the bigotry that goes on in this country is outrageous, and unfortunately Arizona has become a mecca for  prejudice and bigotry.” Stating this obvious truth has caused him to be called “far left” by the lunatic fringe of the right-wing.

Anyone who speaks the truth is  “far left,” apparently.

This all reminds me of the under-reported events in Phoenix and Tempe back in August 2009 when the Obama administration scheduled a Town Hall meeting  to encourage dialogue and debate about health care reform. Stephen Anderson, Pastor of the Faithful Word Baptist Church literally screamed for the President’s blood from his pulpit.  (an audio recording was posted on YouTube at the time. It may still be there). This pious “Christian leader” shrieked , “I hate Barack Obama! I pray he dies and goes to hell! I want him dead! He needs to die!  It’s not enough that he dies! I want him to burn in hell! He must burn in  hell tomorrow!” He screamed this over and over as his  “sermon” that Sunday to an audience apparently numbering in the hundreds.  For many Arizonans, this is “Christianity.”  this is whatt many so-called  “Christian” and “patriotic” people believe, it is what defines them, in their own eyes, as “Christians” and as “patriots”. As a result,  the day of the Town Hall meeting  one of his parishioners brought an M-15 to the rally. No doubt many others also  carried concealed weapons. The Tea Party-types carried out their announced intent to make the Town Hall meeting into  a “Town Hell” by making any debate, discussion, or dialogue physically impossible. Screaming for the blood of  the democratically-elected  US President and shouting violent threats, they burst into the meeting, threw chairs across the room, pushed and shoved people, threw papers around,  screamed and  shouted down anyone who tried to speak. They succeeded in defeating rational dialogue, which was their announced purpose. I suspect some of these same people are the ones now piously whining, while  shedding crocodile tears,  that  there “wasn’t enough discussion and dialogue”  before the health care reform was passed. The  very same  ones  who have been devoting all their waking hours to making reason, rationality, debate, and genuine  dialogue utterly impossible.

Perhaps I was naive to be surprised that the mainstream media acted like this was normal, what always happens when the American  President holds a Town Hall meeting, nothing new. Can you imagine what would’ve happened if someone brought an M-15 to a George W. Bush event? In the Bush Era,  citizens who didn’t worship W. were physically blocked from coming within 500 yards of any Town Hall Meetings, which were always carefully packed with pro-president attendees only. Ironically,  Obama had been legally elected in 2008 by a landslide vote of the American people,  in an election that , unlike both of  Bush’s election victories,  was not tainted by fraud. Whatever you think of his policies and actions he is a more legitimately elected president than Bush ever was.

And the  “good Christians” remained silent, just like the “good Germans” of an earlier generation.  Where were the Christians who are not lunatic-fringe, bloodthirsty,  ultra-rightwing maniacs? Where were the Methodists, the Lutherans,  the Presbyterians, the Catholics,  etc.? The ones with an American flag displayed near the altar?  Why didn’t they speak up? Did they lose their voices? Were they intimidated into silence? Will they remain silent now?     So many questions.

One thing for sure: Arizona is showing the rest of the country (and the world), that our political culture has changed.


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