Incendiary Political Rhetoric: Free Speech Empowers; But With Power Comes Great Responsibility

As you may have heard by now, the right-wing radio and Fox [Republican] News hosts have been pushing back against the rising criticism of the violence in our political rhetoric in the wake of the Arizona shooting.  In light of this, it’s been encouraging to see some leaders actually not capitulating to the right-wing media machine on this topic.  The usual way a bad media cycle goes for conservative politicians is that if they are criticized or put on the defensive or in a bad light on an issue, the right-wing media machine goes on full attack mode and by the next day actually changes the narrative in the mainstream media from a question of “are the conservatives wrong or bear some responsibility for this?” to “was the media wrong or biased for reporting it the way it was reported?”  It’s a very clever way to shift the focus away from key questions of facts and from the issue at hand to distracting ones around a veil of “is the media attacking conservatives unfairly?” 

In the debate of how incendiary our political rhetoric has become, especially when it comes to some in the Tea Party crowd (who during the 2009 health care townhalls screamed out violent rhetoric against immigrants such as “send them back with a bullet in the head”), that dramatic reversal in media narratives has not fully taken place.  Why?  It may have something to do with how at least some in the media have not buckled under the pushback coming from Fox News and right-wing radio hosts, starting with the MSNBC prime time hosts not falling into such a trap and actually effectively fighting back against such attempts.  In fact, even Sarah Palin’s and Sharron Angle’s attempts at turning things around on their critics have flopped.  As Rachel Maddow covered in a segment on her show: Palin and Angle 1) refused to acknowledge any responsibility for their incendiary rhetoric, 2) claimed that they are the real victims of some sort of persecution, and 3) both Palin and Angle couldn’t stay away from using further inflammatory references to violence in their supposed refutals of criticism against them. 

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In addition, in light of their growing influence on our national political discourse and after Project Economic Refugee criticized Jon Stewart (and to a lesser degree Stephen Colbert) for labeling the concerns on the violent levels in our political rhetoric as “the blame game” and for further enabling right-wing talking points on false equivalencies, it’s been interesting to see the subsequent reactions from Stewart and Colbert responding to how right-wingers tried to make themselves to somehow be the victims of the aftermath of the Arizona shooting. 

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Words are powerful and they can influence perceptions, change our worldviews, and even affect behavior over time.  For this reason, our freedom of speech empowers us to influence and change our realities for either constructive things or destructive ones.  In all this, let us not forget how being in a position of power and influence has been intricately linked with responsibility not only by our leaders but by the Bible itself:

FDR’s 1945 state of the union address: “In a democratic world, as in a democratic Nation, power must be linked with responsibility… .”

[…] Jesus Christ [also] says in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 12, verse 48: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

Words are powerful and have consequences, if they didn’t, Charles Manson would not be locked up in jail for life for conspiracy in the murders that were committed by his cult followers.

Update: did you catch the History of Hate: Arizona timeline that the Alto Arizona campaign put together?