Two Sides of Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann

Now:

“My tears are flowing, and I am stunned and angered Gabby Giffords was savagely gunned down while performing her congressional duties,’’ she said.

Then:

“We’re on to this gangster government,” Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told the cheering crowd at the lunchtime rally where the Tea Party Express closed out a 47-city bus tour. “We need to take out some of these guys.”

So where will all the rancor, hatred and verbal bomb-throwing end? Your best bet–it won’t.

Whatever the motive for the shootings that gravely injured Giffords during a “Congress on Your Corner’’ event, the tragedy is likely to force up-in-arms political leaders to take it down a notch, and possibly even alter the initial tone of the 2012 campaign. It’s hard to imagine any politician now putting out a map of rivals, as Republican Sarah Palin did, with targets overlaid on their districts. Or a member of Congress suggesting, as Republican Michele Bachmann did, that “We need to take out some of these guys.” Or a candidate like Republican Sharon Angle in Nevada, quipping: “You know, I feel a little lonely today, I usually bring Smith and Wesson along.”

But while the take-no-prisoners rhetoric may subside for a while, it’s unclear whether any political truce would last longer than the temporary cooling-off periods after Oklahoma City and 9-11. There’s not much interest in kumbaya in a 24/7 media culture that thrives on the latest conflict.

I should, out of a sense of responsibility, note that I do not blame Bachmann, Palin, or anyone else but the shooter for killing the judge, the little girl and the others, or for putting a bullet in Rep. Giffords’ brain in Tucson. This kid Loughner is a sick puppy.

But I’m also not willing to concede that, just because the kid is crazy, it means that all the hate bombs thrown in the past four years have nothing to do with directing his insanity toward violence. Both things can be true. Even with his compromised state of mind, my guess that it was not entirely for no reason that he obsessed over and ultimately targeted a U.S. congresswoman.

Paul Krugman shares that view.

It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

Last spring Politico.com reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness — but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.

But of course, FOXNew.com is ready with the counterpunch. Their message: “I know you are, but what am I?”

Krugman, in his blog post on the Times website, went on to mention Giffords’ presence last year on Palin’s “infamous crosshairs list.” This was a map, disseminated by Palin’s political action committee, SarahPAC, denoting the districts of 20 vulnerable House Democrats with images of crosshairs overlaid on each. The map was accompanied by a caption saying: IT’S TIME TO TAKE A STAND. Giffords herself, during her narrow campaign victory over a Tea Party-backed opponent last year, had complained about this choice of imagery, telling MSNBC: “The way that (Palin) has it depicted, the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district …When people do that, they’ve gotta realize there are consequences to that action.”

Unnoted by Giffords then, or Krugman now, is the routine use of similar language and imagery by both parties in a culture obsessed with “battleground” states. Indeed, a nearly identical map, included in a Democratic Leadership Committee publication in 2004, featured nine bullseyes over regions where Republican candidates were considered vulnerable that year, and was accompanied by a caption reading: TARGETING STRATEGY. A smaller caption, beneath the bullseyes, read: BEHIND ENEMY LINES. The map illustrated an article on campaign strategy by Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute.

Not to defend the Democratic Leadership Committee, but it used the image of a target, which not only is used on dart boards but by a major national retailer as a logo. Maybe it’s just me, but the image of crosshairs in a rifle scope is just a little more shudder-inducing.

And by the way, what the hell are you talking about when you say “routine use”?

But point taken. Partisans everywhere need to chill out with the hints of death and destruction for their political opponents. You can go ahead and believe you’re right if you disagree with the other guy. But you can cram it if you’re going to go on insisting that because you’re right, the other guy is evil and therefore must be destroyed.

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