Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sarah Palin and "Second Amendment Remedies"

Demonizing or ridiculing one's political opponents can be fun. I enjoyed calling George W. Bush an idiot and Dick Cheney an evil genius. Nixon was paranoid, Reagan a Grade B actor, and Gerald Ford played too much football without a helmet. Yes, we liberals have done some name-calling. But with the exception of the “Where is Lee Harvey Oswald Now that We Really Need Him?” buttons, which, as far as I know, never inspired anyone to try to kill Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon, we never talked about “Second Amendment remedies,” as did Nevada senatorial candidate Sharron Angle.
We've now seen a Second Amendment remedy in action, with Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in critical condition, and six people dead, including a 9-year-old girl.

Rep. Giffords, a moderate Democrat in a Republican-leaning district, was one of those targeted for defeat by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin in the 2010 election. And I use the word “targeted” almost literally, for one of her political action committee's advertisements showed Giffords' district in what appears to be the crosshairs of a gunsight.

Palin has expressed shock and sadness at the shooting. I'm sure she never expected anyone would take her literally and try to kill one of her targets. But Palin and her supporters were having too much fun playing the political demonization game to think there might be consequences to putting their opponents in a virtual gunsight.

Palin loves the political game. So do I. In the summer of 1972 I worked on the staff of Iowa Democratic senatorial candidate Dick Clark. Four years later I knocked on doors for presidential candidate Morris Udall, and did the same for the Democrats in 1980. Since then, employment and family have kept me from devoting a great deal of time to political action, but I'm still very much a political junkie.

As we all know, the outcome of the political game has far greater consequences than the outcome of, say, the Super Bowl. While I've always been politically liberal, I know very well that many conservative Republicans want to cut Amtrak funding to zero, thus depriving me of a job. (Still, I don't plan to kill any right-wingers because of it.)

Palin seems to like the political game a lot more than she does the business of governing. Otherwise, why would she resign as governor of Alaska in order to be the Tea Party's Number One cheerleader? I'm sure Palin's advisers told her that her best strategy for winning the presidency in 2012 was to stay in the governorship, make a reputation as someone who can govern effectively, and begin full-time campaigning in 2011. But the lure of the campaign trail and the adulation of the Tea Party crowds was too great for her, and she succumbed to temptation.

And until now, it's been fun for her. Even though some of the wackiest candidates she backed, such as Angle, Delaware senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell, and Alaska's own Joe Miller, lost, she picked up enough victories to celebrate. But now she has to face the consequences of her crosshairs ad, along with the Tea Party's view of opponents as The Enemy.

I hope Palin and her Tea Party followers have realized, if they hadn't before, that their opponents are just that—opponents—loyal Americans who disagree with them on many issues, and that they are real people, with real husbands, wives, and children who love them. They aren't enemies or traitors, just as the Republicans aren't my enemies. I just happen to disagree with them.

And there are simply too many people in this country who don't understand that hyped political campaign rhetoric is not meant to be taken literally. We saw that Saturday in Tucson. Please, no more crosshairs, no more talk of “Second Amendment remedies,” and no more likening one's political opponents to traitors or enemies. From my position on the moderate left, I'll strive to do the same.