“If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun”

Former Irish News columnist Jude Collins popped up on Talkback today to add his voice to the various media commentators complaining about the dangerous rhetoric of the US right-wing in the aftermath of the attempted assassination of Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona.

But in his eagerness to attribute blame Jude Collins has become somewhat confused about the facts.

Of the two, the death of Gabrielle Giffords is the easier to explain. It may be, as US right-wing commentators claim, that the attack which killed Christina-Taylor Green and wounded Gabrielle Giffords was non-political, the work of a crazed loner,  motiveless. But few of us believe that. Giffords had been the subject of attack before. She was a liberal Democrat in a fiercely right-wing state. She was one of several politicians shown on material released by Sarah Palin’s office, the cross-hairs of an aimed rifle on their image with the instruction “Reload”. [added emphasis]

For the record, here’s the material he’s actually complaining about – in case you haven’t, you know, actually seen it.  It was released in March 2010 for the Congressional elections on November 2.

Such maps are not that uncommon.  Via the Professor, here’s a similar one produced by the Democratic Party in 2004.

And Giffords is more accurately identified as a moderate “Blue Dog Democrat“, a centrist who supports the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.  Indeed the Democratic Party supporting Daily Kos ‘targetted’ her in June 2008.

Who to primary? Well, I’d argue that we can narrow the target list by looking at those Democrats who sold out the Constitution last week. I’ve bolded members of the Blue Dogs for added emphasis.

[edited list]Emanuel, Rahm (IL-05)
Engel, Elliot (NY-17)
Etheridge, Bob (NC-02)
Giffords, Gabrielle (AZ-08)
Gillibrand, Kirsten (NY-20)
Gordon, Bart (TN-06)
Green, AL (TX-09)
Green, Gene (TX-29)
Gutierrez, Luis (IL-04)

Not all of these people will get or even deserve primaries, but this vote certainly puts a bulls eye on their district.

Dangerous rhetoric?  Hardly.  Unless, of course, the

“new standard [of] what we may and may not say is: How will it affect the behavior of an obviously crazy person who may or may not hear it?”

But let’s be clear about what’s happening here.  Mick has thoughtfully added to the side-bar this post from Stumbling and Mumbling.

What worries me is that  a combination of cognitive biases can lead us to fail to see this, and instead to infer too much from specific cases. I mean:
1. The confirmation bias. Paul Krugman always hated rightist rhetoric. Jack Straw always had his doubts about Muslim culture. Both are quick to find confirmation of their priors.
2. The availability heuristic. It’s easy to over-rate the prevalence of events if one or two of them get publicity, and thus to exaggerate the extent of a problem. This is not happening in the Giffords case – everyone knows it’s rare for Congressmen to be shot – but it might be happening in the case of Pakistani sex crimes, where statistics are less well known.
3. Outgroup biases. If a member of another tribe does something bad, we tend to regard such behaviour as representative of that tribe, whereas if one of our own tribe does it, we regard it as a mere idiosyncrasy. [added emphasis]

Read the whole thing.

In the meantime, here are some words of wisdom from The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart

“We live in a complex ecosystem of influences and motivations and I wouldn’t blame our political rhetoric any more than I would blame heavy metal music for Columbine,” Stewart said on “The Daily Show” Monday night. “Boy, would it be nice to draw a straight line from this horror to something tangible, because then we could convince ourselves that if we just stopped this, then the horrors will end.”

“You cannot outsmart crazy,” Stewart said. “You don’t know what a troubled mind will get caught on.”

And the post title?  Not just a mis-quote from The Untouchables.  But, via the Professor again, Barack Obama during his 2008 Presidential campaign…

Here’s good take on the media coverage at the Guardian’s CiF America blog.

Adds  For the benefit of those in the comment zone who still don’t seem to get it.

Here’s a snippet from the Guardian’s live coverage today

That is certainly what former Democratic congressman Paul Kanjorski was asking for when he penned an editorial this week in the New York Times in the wake of the Tucson shooting, writing:

“It is incumbent on all Americans to create an atmosphere of civility and respect in which political discourse can flow freely, without fear of violent confrontation.”

So far, so good. Except Kanjorski gave the following quote to a newspaper in Scranton, Pennsylvania, last year when he was fighting an unsuccessful bid to get re-elected. He decided to have a go at Florida Republican candidate for governor Rick Scott and came out with the following gem:

“That Scott down there that’s running for governor of Florida. Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to have him and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him.”

Oh dear. No doubt Kanjorski was just letting his mouth run rather than issuing a real death threat. But it does show that having the ability to say one thing while doing another is, sadly, one of the few bipartisan areas of American public life.

Hat tip to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. [added new link]

And from the linked Washington Examiner blog

I’ll give Kanjorski the benefit of the doubt that he did not literally mean Scott schould be killed. Regardless, Kanjorski’s way over the rhetorical line compared to the kinds of statements liberals are pointing to as evidence that Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are creating a “climate of hate,” to borrow Paul Krugman’s phrase. And somehow I doubt that there would have been crickets from the national media if a Republican politician called for a Democratic candidate to be shot barely a week before the election.