Who’s to Blame for Political Violence?

LA Times: Who’s to blame for political violence? My take on the Steve Scalise shooting.

The more we blame speech for violence, the more likely we are to use violence to stop speech.

On Wednesday morning, a Trump-hating Bernie Sanders volunteer shot five people at a Republican practice for the annual congressional baseball game. One of them was the third-ranking House Republican, Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise. We could blame Democrats and Sanders supporters for this crime, if we wanted to imitate past liberal tactics. But the rush to score partisan points by using incidents of violence to discredit your political opponents is not only all too common but also cheap and dishonest.

The blame for violent acts lies with the people who commit them, and with those who explicitly and seriously call for violence. People who just use overheated political rhetoric, or who happen to share the gunman’s opinions, should be nowhere on the list.

In 1995, Bill Clinton famously used Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City to tar Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh and turn the public against small-government Republicans. The 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords led to an orgy of Republican-blaming, mostly based on the fact that Sarah Palin had released a map of 20 vulnerable Democratic districts with a set of crosshairs to mark each target. Never mind that the shooter had never seen the map and turned out to have no Republican connections and few conservative-sounding ideas. (Scalise’s shooter, by contrast, used his social media account to endorse and spread partisan arguments).

Since President Trump’s inauguration, several House Republicans have been targets of violence. A woman was arrested for trying to run Tennessee Congressman David Kustoff off the road after a healthcare town hall; a man was arrested for grabbing North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer at a town hall; a 71-year-old female staffer for California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher was knocked out at a protest and the FBI arrested a man for making death threats against Arizona Congresswoman Martha McSally.

Everyone can see that the political climate has gotten a lot nastier lately. Americans used to despise politicians they disagreed with; now they hate the people who vote for them. Fewer and fewer people can tolerate friendships with political adversaries, and polls show more and more Americans — yes, especially Democrats — have trouble respecting anyone who voted for the other candidate. Donating to the wrong cause can get your business boycotted, and a stray tweet can bring down the online rage mobs.

All the talk of “resistance” and “treason,” plus the apocalyptic rhetoric about the climate and healthcare, certainly doesn’t lower the country’s temperature. But drawing a line from rhetoric to violence will only make matters worse. Each half of the country deciding that the other half is literally responsible for murder will only deepen that divide.

Every political and religious cause will inevitably attract some zealots who take strong words too far. It’s fair to blame a movement for the violence it inspires if — and only if — its leaders actually, seriously urge and celebrate and perpetrate violent acts, as the leaders of groups like Islamic State do.

But even at a time when American political figures call each other fascists and traitors and rant about resisting tyranny, there remains a world of difference between our political factions and Islamic State. If you hear someone shoot their mouth off, just remember it’s still only their mouth.

The more we blame speech for violence, the more likely we are to use violence to stop speech. Blurring the lines between bullets and tweets eventually will leave us with more bullets. Nobody forced Scalise’s shooter to pick up a gun over politics; he did that himself. It cheapens the moral consequences of that decision to credit angry words with an assist.

Democracy and free speech need room for people to exaggerate and vent. It wasn’t right when Democrats blamed Republicans instead of the Arizona shooter for the Giffords attack, and it wouldn’t be right for Republicans to return the favor just to get even. Keep the blame where it belongs.

Bernie Sanders, Deodorant and Diversity

RS: Bernie Sanders, Deodorant and Diversity

The Smell of Statism

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, now running for President as a Democrat (and thus forcing the Democrats to take some ownership of having had an avowed Socialist in their Senate caucus for the past decade plus) thinks that America’s children are starving due to too many brands of deodorant. No, really – here’s the full Q&A:

HARWOOD: If the changes that you envision in tax policy, in finance, breaking up the banks, were to result in a more equitable distribution of income, but less economic growth, is that trade-off worth making?

SANDERS: Yes. If 99 percent of all the new income goes to the top 1 percent, you could triple it, it wouldn’t matter much to the average middle class personThe whole size of the economy and the GDP doesn’t matter if people continue to work longer hours for low wages and you have 45 million people living in poverty. You can’t just continue growth for the sake of growth in a world in which we are struggling with climate change and all kinds of environmental problems. All right? You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country. I don’t think the media appreciates the kind of stress that ordinary Americans are working on. People scared to death about what happens tomorrow. Half the people in America have less than $10,000 in savings. How do you like that? That means you have an automobile accident, you have an illness, you’re broke. How do you retire if you have less than $10,000, and you don’t have much in the way of Social Security?

Now, there’s a lot of things wrong with Sanders’ call for a return to the 90% top income tax rate – the best you can say is that he’s running for President because Yakov Smirnoff is getting desperately short on new material – but let’s focus specifically on that deodorant thing.

You know why America has so many brands of deodorant? Because we’re a very diverse country. Bernie Sanders, being a 73-year-old white guy from a 95% white state, may not know this, but women buy different deodorants than men do, and people of different racial and ethnic groups tend to have different needs and wants as well when it comes to deodorant, shaving cream, shampoo, sunscreen, etc. Race is an artificial category because it’s only skin deep, but hygiene is skin deep too, and people with different skin and hair have different needs to care for their skin and their hair and whatnot. (Ask any black man about his shaving needs, or any Irishman about sunburns, and you’ll know what I mean).

And here’s a more serious point about diversity: in a free market, it doesn’t matter if our political leaders don’t know this stuff. You can sell hair straighteners and respiration masks (hello, Chinese immigrants) and all sorts of things that cater to the different needs of different niche markets, and if some guy in a Senate office in Washington has no clue, that doesn’t matter. But the more the government gets involved in the economy, the more those kinds of local, neighborhood needs get forgotten because powerful people don’t know anybody who buys that stuff.

So leave the rest of us alone, Bernie Sanders. Your economic theories stink.