Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman
Isn’t it time to be blunt? When the news hit that Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been critically wounded and 6 people were dead, it was news that many Americans had expected. The wounded were collateral damage.
It isn’t only supposedly wishy washy moderates and independent voters who have long been alarmed that America’s poisonous political polemics had replaced professional wrestling as a mass culture sport with (some of the controversies as authentic as the outcomes of pro wrestling matches).
We haven’t been waiting for a shoe to drop. We’ve been dreading news that very soon a body or two would drop.
And now they have.
No proof exists that alleged murderer Jared Lee Loughner is linked to any political party or ideology.
But it became a big political issue. GOPers insisted their gun and military political-attack language could never have anything to do with it. Sarah Palin tried distancing herself from her website that put Gifford’s district in crosshairs. A staffer even laughingly claimed it was just a surveyors’ symbol ““ a fact undermined by an earlier Palin Tweet that suggested otherwise. Patrick Kennedy weighed in:” “When Sarah Palin puts targets on people’s districts? Or you have 10,000 signs on the mall during the healthcare battle saying “˜Bury Obamacare with Kennedy’? When the vitriol and the rhetoric is so violent, we have to connect consequences to that.”
The left blamed the right. The right said the press and left were politicizing it. And the media LOVED it all.
FLASHBACK: On July 18, 1984 while on an interview as a reporter on the San Diego Union, I was ordered back to the office. James Oliver Huberty had walked into a McDonald’s near the San Diego-Tijuana border murdered 22 people (including some kids) and injured 19 others. The community was shocked. Families — devastated for years –became collateral damage.
I did some reporting and was put on the news desk to help edit. I later asked a key editor if the extent of the tragedy had hit her while she was managing the story. She said that in doing her job she totally focused and plowed through.
But later, she said, is when it hit her”¦”¦”really, really hard.”
Has the total significance of the Arizona attack sunk in yet? Some think so. Some talk of politicos hitting the “reset” button.
But don’t hold your breath.
Many partisans and competing ideologues have too much personal vested political interest and genuine hatred of the other side. Over the top language and fear of “them” mobilizes and wins votes.
Broadcasters and corporations make millions of dollars sawing off a niche demographic and delivering it to advertisers. Conflict and controversy sell. With a few notable exceptions, cable shows ONLY give you right and left. Centrist and the independent pundits often don’t exist. Political news or talk show hosts often smirk after an angry partisan left/right scream fest as if to say “Hey, this is great TV!!!”
American politics’ toxicity seemingly worsens each day due to a mirror image: each side sees the other side as ill-intentioned, manipulative, insincere, ill informed and/or lying. And, often, dangerous.
But if Loughner is a lone nut then how can any of the rhetoric matter? Because a “lone nut” can pick up on a societal context.
As sure as pay phones are vanishing, if America continues along this path where it’s considered cool and trendy to be angry and insulting and demonizing and contemptuous of those who genuinely see things differently and where political skirmishes continue to be framed as life/death struggles where America As We Know It is at stake ““ then one day a lone nut WILL be influenced by the political scene.
If we continue on this path, one day we’ll get news of a political culture figure or a politician such as Barack Obama murdered due to our increasingly fetid atmosphere of political disrespect, incivility and outright hatred.
And then that’s when it’ll hit all of us”¦really, really hard:
That the collateral damage is us.
Copyright 2010 Joe Gandelman
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be booked to speak at your event at mavenproductions.com.
Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter @joegandelman