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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bipartisan Agreement Needed on Violent Speech, Ammo Control

In assessing the political fallout from the Tucson slayings, one of the few things that could be done to prevent further such tragedies is for traditional media — primarilly television, newspapers and radio — do a better job of calling out politicians who flirt with violent rhetoric.
A few traditional media reporters did express some concern when the rhetoric of violence began to escalate months ago. But more vigilance is clearly needed. Any political figure who even vaguely suggests physical violence against another political opponent ought to be hounded by all media until they apologize for it.
Nor am I including the blogosphere, because quite a few progressive bloggers have done a good job of calling politicians into account for violent rhetoric. The problem is most politicians still feel free to ignore the progressive blogosphere, which exerts its influence more indirectly than does TV, newspapers or radio. Public figures get more worried when a meme adversely reflecting on them gets discussed on the nightly news, morning talk shows. op-ed columns and radio reports.
There is plenty of discussion going on right now in the MSM about the role of violent rhetoric on the part of political figures like Sarah Palin. In six months, however, I would be surprised if Beck, Limbaugh and others are still coolling their propensities for referencing physical harm to their political opponents. The question is, will the MSM, not just the progressive blogosphere, make them account for it?
I’m not going to make the case here that a “violent climate” caused the tragedy. Others have done that about as well as it could be done (see Olbermann here, for example). Regardless, a huge majority of Americans would agree that political leaders need to tone down the ad hominem attacks, at least to the point of not using gun-related imagery in talking about how to deal with political adversaries. Certainly there is no downside to doing so.
I don’t buy the false equivalency argument that progressives have been as guilty as conservatives in suggesting physical violence against political opponents. There may be a couple of examples, but nothing as outrageous as the incidents Vega discussed yesterday. But if we get bipartisan agreement on nothing else, let it be that even vague references encouraging physical violence against political opponents be immediately and loudly condemned by leaders of both parties.
But I would hold Dems to account for weak leadership on gun control, which has become a sort of ‘third rail’ for office holders. I don’t expect most Democratic office-holders to lead the charge for a broad range of gun control measures. Regretfully, America has not yet reached the point where sane gun control reforms can be broadly enacted. But this tragedy certainly underscores the need for a ban on high capacity ammo clips, as has been proposed by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), who lost her husband to gun violence and saw her son seriously injured by it. That, at the very least, should be doable.

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