It was a frustrating Christmas season. A fledgling contemporary service had made great strides in 2010. Attendance was up, the church was experiencing the first growth in years.
There had been some resistance to more modern music and a less rigid routine. But the church changed one of its two traditional services, the later one, to a more contemporary style. There were disagreements even among those who had pushed for a service that might better speak to current struggles involving real people. There were discussions about how large the band should be, and who should be asked to join. The pastor first reluctantly acquiesced to allowing others, members of the band, to introduce songs. He eventually warmed to the idea, then became an enthusiastic advocate. Conflicts among professional staff led to the departure of a key member. But we persevered and the congregation kept growing.
Then Christmas crept up. We had discussed how to approach the season as much as a year before. Promises were postponed, then forgotten as committees changed membership. There were traditions that must be honored. A musical program centered around seasonal hymns had been a part of the service about forever. The choir always worked hard on a traditional presentation of the Christmas story. Service times had always been changed, congregations joined, to see the presentations.
The issue was a simple one to some of us. The success of the new venture depended a lot on consistency. Those who visited a new contemporary service would, as one might anticipate, expect a modern, forward looking service. It was important that new visitors coming each week see a vivid demonstration that worship of our Creator did not need to be confined to ancient rituals, 200 year old songs, and Elizabethan English thrown randomly about for a holiness effect.
The compromise was what one might expect from conservative committees trying hard to understand. The issue was addressed as one of hurt feelings that must be soothed. Contemporary band members would be invited to participate in singing spirituals, or in announcing some of the traditional songs. A joint service would be offered as "blended" worship, a combination of old and new. The old turned out to be all the hymns and structure of the traditional, and the new was accompaniment by a guitar.
Contemporary band members held informal caucus meetings, curbside conferences, coffee shop conclaves. A consensus emerged. Our attitude should be one of gratitude. We were not self-sustaining, although we had made strides. We were a child of the larger congregation who had already made huge concessions, turning one of their traditional services over to this new worship idea.
The analogy to MSNBC is far from perfect. Keith Olbermann's Countdown was more than self-sustaining. The link is gratitude.
I recall when Olbermann seemed to be the sole ray of light in an otherwise dark stage. The news was a simple choice between the Fox-News spin machine and hand wringing never-call-anyone-on-anything CNN. "Many math experts feel that 1 + 1 = 2. Other voices rise in disagreement." Olbermann was willing to present a fact-based liberal case in unapologetic tones. He was the only one. At first.
And I was grateful, not only to Olbermann himself, but to the sponsorship by MSNBC. The news network had been willing to take a risk on a liberal voice. His sponsorship of Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, and Lawrence O'Donnell increased my admiration both for Olbermann and MSNBC.
The network still presents half a loaf. Switching channels to get the latest on some breaking item, I often will find Fox-spin, CNN temporizing, and MSNBC doing what? A cheap show of life behind prison bars, or the latest humiliation of some sexual predator. The hours that Fox goes unrebutted give me heartburn. But MSNBC does provide a few hours of opportunity for liberal fact-based views.
Now Olbermann has left in circumstances yet to be explained by anyone. Some personality conflict seems to be at play. Rumors were that some management types tried to pressure him to tone down some segments. Worst Person was supposed to be part truth, part joke, fellows.
So I am left with mixed feelings. I am grateful, MSNBC, grateful for the Maddow, Schultz, O'Donnell hours. I am grateful even for Matthews. I am grateful for the contrast with the evil empire of Fox-Ailes-Murdoch. I am grateful for an alternative to the CNN very-pretty-airhead anchors of the weekend.
I am completely grateful. You clueless bumblers. Grateful.
Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot weighs in, obliquely, on the historical controversy of whether President Buchanan was guilty of provoking the Civil War through inaction or rash preemptiveness in supplying Fort Sumter. He looks at a last second abortive attempt at compromise and why it failed.
At Chuck Thinks Right, Chuck is shocked, just shocked, at welfare costs generated by illegal aliens. He's so shocked he lacks the strength to click over to snopes to find it's a hoary old myth. False. Untrue.
- At Mad Mike's America, friend John Myste visits trial by court.
Belgian phone companies have a reputation for terrible customer service. Everyone hates the phone company. But one enterprising group became an overnight sensation by providing the phone company with customer service . . . modeled after the phone company.
Yesterday, conservative David Frum featured prominently on his website an article by another conservative with a suggestion for Arizona Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords is recovering from the bullet that passed through her brain in the murder and attempted murder in Arizona. Doctors are calling her progress a medical miracle.
The suggestion is a simple one.
Stepping down from one’s office is nothing to be ashamed of. In actuality, the shame lies in not being honest with one’s own self about the responsibilities that voters have entrusted in one and the expectations they have. Constituents should expect that an official will either be appointed or a special election held within six months, not years. This current Congress should take this issue up immediately and in consultation with Giffords’ family and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer come to an appropriate remedy.
So the desperately wounded Giffords, having fought her way back to probable, but not certain, long term survival, still fighting for complete recovery, owes it to Arizona to quit making excuses and get out of the way. And if she does not quit, then she should be ashamed for her personal dishonesty and for betraying the trust of voters, who expect her to buck up and get back to work or move aside.
If Gabby won't do the right thing, Governor Brewer should take action. She should petition Congress and gently pressure the Giffords family to help push the stubborn one out of the way.
"After all," says the conservative writer, "Rep. Giffords is not the only person suffering in Arizona."
The writer, John S. Wilson has bounced around Virginia Republican circles for a while in state government. He writes for HipHopRepublican and TheLoop21, and is a leading contender for this year's National Richard Cheney Conservative Compassion in Action Award.
Okay, I made up that last part.
It wasn't easy for anyone of any decency to watch the tragic violence in Tucson, each bit of news carrying more horrible weight. A judge killed, a congressional representative shot through the brain, a husband taking fatal bullets in the back while shielding his wife, all sobering, shocking. Then the crushing news of a nine year old girl, precocious, curious, being treated to her first glimpse of how government ... in America ... really ... works.
How much worse it must have been to imagine millions whispering to each other that you may have been responsible. Imagine the serious burden suddenly carried by a completely innocent public figure unfairly attacked by an evil enemy willing to use anything, even a tragedy of this magnitude. They had cynically declared war on her, even attacking her for the timing of her eventual response, then for the follow up response. It was evil, unfair, breaking every rule of decency. Damn them, damn them, oh damn them all.
Time to call them out on their unfair and heartless tactics. They are evil, so say so. They are self-serving, so call them on it. They are spiteful, so give them another dose of mama grizzly. The best defense is attack and attack some more. I'm not gonna take it.
They wanted to blame her for the killings. They wanted to demonize her. Just when the nation needed voices of calm, when the only important thing was the death of innocent victims, they were trying to take advantage. And if they succeeded in silencing her, as well as those like her, they would be many steps closer to their ultimate goal of destroying the nation. Besides the killer was probably a liberal.
It all was less strategy than eruption. The contradictions were amplified by the echo chamber that makes up the world of professional figures. Encouragement is what paid flatterers and comrades-in-arms are expected to give. Slights are boosted into travesties, criticisms are exaggerated into attacks, and attacks are threatening to the core. How dare they!! Even partisans had to struggle to keep up. Few Americans who had watched criticisms of Palin witnessed the dramatic she's-guilty-of-murder accusations. The attacks most saw were more along the lines of she's-guilty-of-very-bad-taste. "Toxic rhetoric" seemed to many like a fair critique.
The white hot eruption of Sarah Palin had no internal check, except what was demanded for internal consistency. When that crumbled, what was left was the vitriol for which she was criticized to begin with. Casting the enemy as evil for their supposed tactics, while using the same evil tactics against them created a weird presentation for many viewers. It was startling.
"Using such a tragedy for what appeared to be, right off the bat, some political gain," was clearly wrong, and the murderer was "an apolitical or perhaps even left-leaning criminal who killed these innocents." Demonizing those who dare to disagree is dishonest, "we should be respectful, we should be civil," and they are trying to silence her in order to bring down America. "And if they ever were to succeed in doing that, then our republic will be destroyed." Acting as if ordinary people are lesser beings because they have a message the establishment doesn't like is immoral, and it usually done by those who aren't real Americans with real American values, since "those on the left if it weren't for their double standards, they'd have no standards."
For me, it was a time warp. I saw a variation of a former Vice President's "Won't have Dick Nixon to kick around" extemporaneous speech in 1962. After losing his bid to become governor of California, Richard Nixon artlessly intermingled his blurted hurt with cautious rhetorical backsteps. It was like watching a robot controlled remotely by some inept amateur. Jerk forward, jerk back, stop, go, reverse. You guys are all out to get me, not that I'm not for a free press, it's not fair, but I'm taking it like a man, you stabbed me in the back, but I understand the game, no hard feelings, you unethical soulless manipulators. The extreme emotion checked then released then checked again, then erupting. The internal contest must have been titanic, the volcanic force of a lifetime of frustrated resentment struggling against decades of well honed political calculation.
Pundits have invested much thought dissecting Palin's colloquy with Sean Hannity. She roused the faithful. Did she miss the opportunity she was after to expand her influence beyond her little band of followers?
The picture she presented was not a strategic self portrait. It was not a miscalculation. It was unselfconscious venting. The pure meanness of it was completely genuine. The real thing.
It was all Sarah. Shining for the American public to see.
There was a time when conservative think tanks employed genuine policy wonks, and when asked to devise a Republican health care plan, they came up with -- Obamacare!
That is, what passes for leftist policy now is what was considered conservative 15 years ago; to meet the right's standards of political correctness now, you have to pass into another dimension, a dimension whose boundaries are that of imagination, untrammeled by things like arithmetic or logic.
- - Paul Klugman, Nobel Prize winning Economist, January 18, 2011
Oh, what the heck !
Besides: the editors aren't watching, Burr is out with the flu, and I can get away with it.
Hey Critics! We find no toxic rhetoric here.
- At Why do we have to do this, Sir?, our favorite future spiritual leader explains the priesthood to a skeptical audience.
The real victims of last week's violence were those who were killed, those who were wounded, and their families. Our prayers must especially go to nine year old Christina Taylor Green and her family.
When I was a kid, we got to know a family about two doors away. Their mom and ours became very close friends. The grandmother was a sweet and cantankerous old lady, Mrs. Armbruster. Grandma Armbruster would take some of the kids in the neighborhood for car rides. My little brother always looked forward to that. I never understood why until years later.
It seems Grandma Armbruster was kind of a little kid herself. She was fun to be with because she was wildly irresponsible. In our later teens, my brother regaled the family, including our horrified mother, with stories of the, by then departed, Grandma Armbruster.
When one of the kids had wondered aloud whether the speedometer on the car reflected how fast the car could really be pushed, Grandma Armbruster conducted an experiment on a straight backwoods road to find out. The kids had a lot of fun as the elderly grandmother put the accelerator to the floor to see if the limits of the car would be a match for the limits of the speedometer. I have written about the adventurous perils of my childhood neighbor, but I hadn't thought much about her for a couple of years. Not until this week.
Economist and political pundit Paul Krugman is a Nobel prize winner, but he won a different prize on Tuesday. He was awarded an angry response for smearing Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN). It seems Krugman, like many of us, quoted Bachmann urging conservative activists to become "armed and dangerous" in fighting against environmental proposals to reduce global climate disruption. Krugman was accused of lying by taking her remarks out of context. A Republican Wall Street writer, James Taranto, was furious at the out-of-context smear. So he provided the context.
But you can get all the latest information on this event, this . . . a must-go-to event with this Chris Horner. People will learn . . . it will be fascinating. We met with Chris Horner last week, 20 members of Congress. It takes a lot to wow members of Congress after a while. This wowed them. And I am going to have materials for people when they leave. I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us, having a revolution every now and then is a good thing, and the people--we the people--are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States and that's why I want everyone to come out and hear. So go to bachmann.house.gov and you can get all the information.
This was far from the toxic rhetoric Krugman had accused Bachmann of using, charged the triumphant Taranto. The full quote proved it. Krugman was at a loss. What was he supposed to have taken out of context?
It did bring back memories of one of Grandma Armbruster's mad adventures with the neighborhood children. After one perilous drive, a police officer pulled the group over. Grandma Armbruster had ignored a stop sign, charging through while the officer watched. To the delight of the youthful passengers, she became indignant and began a demented argument. "Look at that windshield!" she demanded of the startled officer. "How do you expect me to see a little stop sign through that dirty glass?" The kids tried to stifle their giggles at the deranged logic.
I'm imagining a bewildered officer Krugman contemplating this week's Armbruster type defense. Michele Bachmann wasn't guilty of anything toxic. Her armed and dangerous remark was merely a call for violent revolution to keep freedom from being changed forever in America.
How was she supposed to notice the stop sign through all that dirt?
"Our nation was founded on violence. The option is on the table. I don't think that we should ever remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms."
"I want to kill Charlie Rangel with a shovel."
"The first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out."
"I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back."
"Every night I get down on my knees and pray Dennis Kucinich will burst into flames."
"If ballots don't work, bullets will."
Most of these are not exact quotes of the narration by Representative John Dingell (D-MI) in yesterday's session of Congress. He left out the names of the national figures making the statements, as well as the names of their targets. The relationship between sometimes oblique calls for violence and violence itself is easy to see, but causality is tenuous at best. The common thread is more likely a simple shared passion. A distorted ideology that provokes one person to extreme verbal assaults may also provoke another to criminal action.
The rhetoric is less dangerous than it is distasteful. It is akin to calls from the street to a potential suicide on a very high ledge. The screams of "Jump! Jump!" may not even be heard by the suicide. Yet we still recoil at what it reveals, if only for the moment, about the shouter.
The coarseness of today's verbal assaultiveness is destructive because it drags down the quality of public dialogue. It is distasteful because of the ugliness it brings out from some dark place in the human soul.
The various strained attempts to defend Sarah Palin's crosshair gun sights are remarkable for their creativity. The image was not really offensive because they were not rifle sights, they were surveyor marks. They did not imply violence because they were not actually aimed at Gabrielle Giffords and others, but rather at the geography of their congressional districts. Palin herself strikes back with a best-defense-being-offense tack. It is not she, but her critics who promote violence.
The significance of these efforts is not in their limp logic, but rather that they are needed at all. The eventual scaling back of offensive language will not come from new legislation. Violent rhetoric will succumb to social cost, as disapproval makes itself heard. When politicians find that inflaming a paranoid base loses many more reasoned votes; when media figures discover that wishing death on their ideological adversaries frightens advertisers more than opponents; when bombastic individuals begin to encounter gentle dissent from friends and family, those worn down by weary politeness; noisy advocacy of violence will begin to abate.
The process already finds one example. The noxious homophobia of the Westboro Baptist church has bent a bit to public disapproval of their spectacular exhibitionism. Their suggestion that the murder of the little nine year old victim was a gift from God is already on record. "That child was not innocent," read their press release. But their courage has faltered at the public reaction to the prospect of screaming at the grieving parents. They have backed away from plans to disrupt the funeral of the child.
There are, of course, cases in which criminal sanctions will remain appropriate. "I'll round them up, I'll kill them, I'll kill his friends, I'll kill his family, I will kill everybody he (expletive) knows," shouted one man in only one of a series of telephone threats to a Congressional representative. He now faces criminal charges.
And there will be cases in which fear of something more than fear itself will have a substantial effect. A district Republican chairman in Arizona is resigning in fear of violence from Tea Party activists. "I love the Republican Party," he says, "but I don't want to take a bullet for anyone."
But, in the end, violent rhetoric, intimidation, verbal threats will devolve into the background noise that has always accompanied politics. It will shrink back for the most simple of reasons. People will not want to hear it.
It's political gamesmanship. The real case is that she had no security whatsoever at this event. So if she lived under a constant fear of being targeted, if she lived under this constant fear of this rhetoric and hatred that was seething, why would she attend an event in full view of the public with no security whatsoever?
- - Trent Humphries, Tucson Tea Party co-founder, January 11, 2011
Constant friend and occasional critic JMyste shares his frustration with reactions to the Arizona violence. He includes a bit of backhanded praise. I am slightly more reasonable than others who tow the party line.
I have been reading blogs for several hours now. I have probably posted a good half a dozen comments supporting my local conservative against what I perceive to be as irrational exploitation of recent events in the service of discrediting his philosophy by identifying him with horrific things. I had to expose the fallacies involved, but may have unwittingly defended him otherwise. I will probably be ostracized by the liberal community and knighted by the conservatives, two upshots I find equally humiliating.
As is often case, you take virtually the same position as your party, but inject an extra bit of reason.
Tim McGaha, whose own site is a source of wisdom, endorses JMyste's general approach. But his own reaction is tempered with a degree of introspection.
The root problem that I see isn't an excess of bitter or intemperate speech, that's always been a part of the American political landscape. It's an increasingly fixed belief that the other side of the aisle is not merely wrong or mistaken, but ineffably evil. Any extreme of rhetoric is justifiable, no insult is off-limits, it isn't enough to defeat them, they must be destroyed utterly.
Going forward, I am going to be careful not to contribute to that problem. I will attack ideas that I see as wrong. Vigorous debate is vitally important to our civic health. But I will not attack the people who hold them. I'll take them to task for what they say or do, but I'll try to retain my respect for their humanity.
One other thing that's important: that's a very good point about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. When it drops in the fire, YOU may be the first responder. If we have the means to do so, we should all take a first-aid course, so that we can be prepared if it should become our turn.
I first heard what may be the best comment at the local Methodist church where I worship. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) spoke to a small group several months ago, then had good cause to repeat his comment this week on national television.
But what has happened to the debate is one person or one side--Republicans or, or Democrats, it doesn't matter--they say, "I'm right and you're evil." And that is what's damaging this country.
There has been some talk about legislating an end to attack talk when it borders on rhetorical violence. In the end, the inflamed rhetoric will become a little more reasoned when disagreement from friends, family, and allies becomes a little more robust. Hate speech is easily fueled by a passiveness that can be mistaken for approval.
The best answer to the excesses of free speech will remain the exercise of free speech.
As with the Fort Hood shooting, unspeakable evil came face-to-face with remarkable courage as seemingly ordinary citizens demonstrated that they were, in fact, extraordinary. It was as if Hannah Arendt's penetrating analysis of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, the Banality of Evil had been turned completely around. This was the banality of heroism, the previously untapped, perhaps even unimagined, capacity to defy personal danger to help someone in life-and-death need.
The heroism was overshadowed by the tragedy that unexpected and extreme courage did not, could not, prevent. A politician is gravely wounded, a Judge is murdered, and then there is the nightmarish thought of a life ended at the age of nine. What possible political significance could have been carried by the precocious little Christina Taylor Green, beyond her election to her student council?
Battle lines are drawn, as they were after the Fort Hood incident. This time there is no Muslim community to target with collective guilt. Instead we have cross hairs and second amendment remedies, the imagery and rhetoric of violence. The assaults, the death threats, and the vandalism of the last election were accompanied by the startling presence at public events, even events involving the President of the United States, of angry individuals ostentatiously brandishing firearms.
I believe Sarah Palin's heartfelt horror at the shooting. I am sure to a moral certainty that, when she put Gabby Giffords in that now-famous cross hairs image, the motivation was far from violent, that ratification of gun-culture symbolism carried no anticipation of deadly confrontation. After protests over the gunsight, her subsequent defiant message of "lock and reload" was obviously intended as nothing more sinister than to irritate and inflame the liberal enemy. You think the cross hairs were out of bounds? Try this!
I have no doubt that the young man with mixed up ideology acted on his own. He was not a captive of Sarah Palin or anyone else. He bears complete responsibility for his own actions. If there was any remote connection between those actions and some Palinesque influence, it was only a young deranged individual latching onto some far out idea that could have come from any direction. The direct responsibility of any link is too small to consider.
Conservatives do not need to prove a counter connection. One rightward individual urges fellow conservatives to claim the murderer was a liberal because he once possessed a book containing writings of Karl Marx.
Sarah Palin's cross hairs do not need to be explained away. "We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights," insists one Palin aide, improbably. "It was simply cross-hairs like you'd see on maps." A surveyor's mapping mark mistaken by casual readers for something dangerous.
Gradations of symbols do not have to be elevated beyond their obvious meaning. That some liberal group "targeted" an opponent for defeat does not have to be made the equivalent of a gunsight. "She is dead to me" cannot be mistaken, even by the deranged, for "I want her dead."
The defense is not needed, because the liberal temptation to find a connection is not needed. The idea that Sharron Angle's rhetoric about guns as a fallback alternative to ballots reached across the internet to captivate the mind of this soon-to-be child killer is farther than far fetched.
The lesson is much simpler. It is clear as crystal.
No matter the glee at irritating the other side, no matter the angry passion, no matter the lack of connection between inflamed rhetoric and violent death, look inward and think. You do not have to be complicit in the death of the next small innocent to be guilty of a lesser, still terrible, offense:
Today's thoughtless cheerleading for tomorrow's unimagined violence.