Free Markets, Free People

Dan Gerstein


Political opportunism never lets a crisis go to waste

I continue to be incredulous of the blatant political opportunism this shooting of Rep. Giffords has unleashed on the left. OK, not really. But in a way, it is the Paul Wellstone memorial all over again on a national level.

First, all of this angst over political rhetoric is so overwrought and overblown as to be laughable.  There has never been a time in the history of this land that the language hasn’t been rough or partisan.  Never.  Pretending this is the worst it has ever been is simply historically inaccurate.  It may be more obvious now because of mass communications and the democratization of opinion, but it isn’t at all any different than it ever has been.  Folks, do a little digging in the history books.  Hell, use Google. I’m not going to do you homework for you, but trust me on this – this era isn’t any better or worse than the vast majority of the rest of them.

Secondly, the entire premise of those calling for the toning down of the rhetoric originally was that it was the cause on the attack on Giffords.  Now it is becoming more and more apparent that isn’t the case.  But it provides such an opportunity for the left to demonize the right that the talking heads and political advisors continue to make that point even while they walk it back a little with a disclaimer about this guy being a nut.   It now goes something like “we must ratchet the vitriol and rhetoric down, even if this guy wasn’t a right wing nut influenced by it”.

Really? 

Why?

Right now the only reason they can come up with is “it could happen”.  When they first started harping on this nonsense, soon after the shooting, you got the impression that the left was 99.9% sure this guy was a right-wing militia member or something.  As it turns out he was the .01% loon instead.  But that hasn’t slowed down the messaging has it?

And, as I mentioned in another post, political strategists see this as a golden opportunity for the president to speak out on something that didn’t occur.  Oh, forget the last part of that – we’ll pretend it did to give Obama’s forthcoming words some sort of foundation of relevance.  One of those political strategists who are enamored with the opportunity is the odious Paul Begala:

Paul Begala, one of Clinton’s top political advisers during the 1990s, thinks Obama has a genuine opportunity to re-define the nation’s political debate – a promise he first made in his breakout 2004 speech to the Democratic convention —and reclaim moral high ground lost during the last two years of intense partisan combat.

“One of the things I learned from Oklahoma City is not to rush to judgment…We don’t know this Arizona animal’s motive,” said Begala.

But almost irrespective of that, it wouldn’t hurt for all of us to tone things down a bit – myself included. If the President uses this tragedy to challenge us all to move to higher ground, it would be a welcome message. And if the right tries to demonize him for doing that, they will look small and petty and extreme.” [emphasis mine]

Begala learned “not to rush to judgment” in the OK City tragedy?  Did he really?  So why is he doing it now by attempting to tie political rhetoric (“tone things down a bit”) to the shooting in Tucson (the reason for any speech Obama might make)? 

Well in reality I guess he doesn’t.  Note the “but almost irrespective of that” phrase.  He’s saying, hey it really doesn’t matter if the dream scenario didn’t play out (right winger shoots left wing pol), this is still a great opportunity for the President to pull a Bill Clinton and demonize the right (although he doesn’t say that specifically, that’s precisely what Clinton did – Limbaugh and the militias were the bad guys then) and connect with the people (which he sorely needs to do).  And, of course, if the right fights back, well “they will look small and petty”?

What if the right fights back by throwing the facts of the case (loon, not right winger, shot Giffords not because of rhetoric, but because he’s a loon) in the President’s face and standing firmly on 1st Amendment grounds to resist the call to curb political speech, Mr. Begala?  Who’ll look rather diminished then, sir?

Begala’s not the only operative salivating on the chance to capitalize on this tragedy:

Veteran Democratic consultant Dan Gerstein said the crisis “really plays to Obama’s strengths as consensus-builder” and gives him the opportunity to build a deeper emotional connection with the people he governs.

“He’ll be active, but also very careful not to appear like he’s blaming or politicizing,” Gerstein predicted.

Since when has Obama yet demonstrated he is a “consensus-builder?”  On what?  And when in his last two years hasn’t he “blamed” or “politicized” just about everything?  If I hear anything more about his “predecessor” or about what he “inherited” I’ll puke.   If Gerstein is Obama’s consultant, it isn’t at all difficult to understand why Obama is in trouble.  Gerstein obviously has Obama mixed up with someone else.

Gerstein goes on:

“The biggest question about him is strength – can he be a strong leader? This tragedy will give him an opportunity to answer that question and build a closer emotional connection with the middle of the electorate that sees this as a reflection of something disturbing about our politics.”

I can answer that question – making a speech about a shooting and calling for toned down rhetoric and less partisanship (while having use heated rhetoric, blaming and blatant partisanship) does not make someone a leader, Mr. Gerstein.  It doesn’t make him a strong leader or a weak leader or even a mediocre leader.  Leadership is about action, decisions and consequences.   It isn’t a passive word as folks like Gerstein seem to think.

Will it help him “connect” with the middle of the electorate?  Have his speeches in the past done so?  Sure, when he was a total unknown, his words were pretty, inspiring and hopeful.  But now the “middle of the electorate” know him much better and he has an actual record of 2 years.  Pretty and high-minded speeches aren’t going to impress anyone anymore.

The rest of the POLITICO article discusses the similarities and differences between Tucson and Oklahoma City as well as the differences between Clinton and Obama.  But here is the nut of the premise that the left is trying to lay on the right at the moment:

And Clinton has made clear he believes that the trend he identified in the 1990s – the connection between radical speech and violent deeds – still exists.

Even though Timothy McVeigh explicitly cited Waco as his reason for bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City, this premise continues to exist as if it has been proven.  Yet, again, when the violence is cited and radical speech blamed, we find little to convince us that there’s any connection.  The nutcase that shot Giffords dreamed up his own reasons for going after her it seems, independent of anyone else’s rhetoric.

How inconvenient for those who would love to shut us up.

Clinton said in an oped during the time of the OK City bombing:

“Civic virtue can include harsh criticism, protest, even civil disobedience. But not violence or its advocacy,”

I don’t think any reasoning person on the right disagrees with that statement.  What they will disagree with is what constitutes “advocacy” for violence.

Well, here’s a clue – it’s not crosshairs on a political map.  If one can reasonably deduce what that means in context with a political campaign, you understand without a second thought that it is a metaphorical device.  So are may other terms.  But the left is attacking that in the normal contextless and disingenuous way they do their business:

A key ally, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), for example, explicitly called out Palin for injecting gun imagery into politics, arguing that her use of crosshairs over districts – including Giffords’ — in an email pitch to SarahPAC supporters incited violence.

“We live in a world of violent images … the phrase ‘don’t retreat, reload’ — putting crosshairs on congressional districts as targets … they invite the unstable,” Durbin told Candy Crowley on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Our political speech should not be held hostage by the “unstable”.  And this latest nut is a perfect example of the point.  It appears he was not swayed by anything to do with political speech by anyone but Giffords.  He was obsessed with her and for all we know, he got his orders to shoot her from the chicken pot pie he ate the night before.

Durbin’s nonsense notwithstanding, we cannot and must not make ourselves hostages to what could happen if some nut decides to take something literally.   There is a difference between a random nutball deciding for whatever reason to do something and a movement that advocates violence as a solution to political problem.  We must not bow to the pressure to accommodate the former by denying our free speech and we must not accept the latter as a solution to anything.  But what we can’t do is lump the former with the latter and just curb our speech “in case” it might set one of the nuts off.  That’s precisely what Durbin and his ilk are suggesting.

Yeah, I know, what, 4 posts in and around the subject?  Can you tell it hacks me off?  I’m disgusted by the cold-blooded opportunism, I’m aghast at the concerted attempt to limit speech and I’m just pissed that anyone would calculate any sort of political win out of an obvious tragedy.

But then, I’m talking about the left here and nothing they do surprises me anymore.

~McQ

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