Vail Valley Voices: The politics of tragedy |

Vail Valley Voices: The politics of tragedy

The shooting of a U.S. congresswoman along with those innocent bystanders in Tucson, Ariz., was a tragedy that will prompt soul-searching as we grapple to put some context around this heartbreaking story.

But what makes this particular narrative even more tragic is its gross exploitation by political zealots.

When opining on the matter two days after the shooting, The New York Times in the Jan. 10 edition wrote: “It is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these death threats. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients or bureaucrats.”

However, when the subject was a politician The Times’ editorial board held in disdain, as was the case with George W. Bush, the subject matter of the 2006 movie, “Death of a President,” the Times had this to say: “The movie is actually pretty riveting. The film pretends to be a look back at the events of Oct. 19, 2007, when Mr. Bush was shot and killed after delivering a speech in Chicago.”

The Times went on: “‘The Death of a President’ … has attracted some fairly predictable controversy. Since the president in question is George W. Bush and the death is the result of an assassination, the film has become a lightning rod for the usual forms of self-righteousness.”

Meanwhile, the day after the Tucson shooting, CBS News aired the following: “Giffords was one of 20 Democrats whose districts were lit up in crosshairs on a Sarah Palin campaign website last spring.” But they failed to mention the almost identical metaphoric imagery the Democratic Leadership Committee used during the 2004 campaign when targeting key Republican districts they wanted to win.

Most of us recall West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin’s clever TV campaign ad wherein he proclaimed, “I’ll take dead aim at the cap and trade bill,” and then fired off a live round from his Remington 750 at his metaphorical target.

Where was the outrage when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews opined, “At some point someone is going to jam a CO2 pellet in Rush Limbaugh’s head and he’s going to blow up like a giant blimp”?

Where was the moral indignation when Barack Obama said, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” at a campaign rally in Philadelphia in 2008?

People illustrate with metaphors all the time. If Joe Manchin wants to fire a rifle at a metaphorical target, so what? If Sarah Palin or the Democratic Leadership Committee paint metaphorical crosshairs on their opponents’ congressional districts to emphasize a point, I say go for it. If we eliminate metaphors because we believe they incite violence, then we had also better eliminate 70 percent of what’s on TV, including Saturday morning cartoons.To paraphrase political commentator Dick Morris, stigmatizing strongly articulated opinions on the left or the right and blaming them for the insane attack on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is ridiculous. Pundits didn’t cause the Oklahoma City bombing, the Virginia Tech bloodbath, the Columbine shootings, the Fort Hood massacre or the terrorists of 9/11, for that matter.

The only truly ideological aspect of the horrific attack in Tucson comes from the media intent on blaming those they disagree with, not the random insanity of a crazed gunman.

However, there is a plus amid the controversy. Perhaps this wanton act of violence will cause Americans (especially those in the media) to tone down the rhetoric and begin incorporating a modicum of civility into public discourse.

Honest and considered disagreement is healthy. It’s the American way. But a quick look at some of the comments made about the Tucson tragedy (or closer to home, many of the untoward remarks made in the letters-to-the-editor section of our very own Vail Daily when someone disagrees with an opinion) makes it patently clear that much of today’s political commentary is shallow, thoughtless, agenda-driven hypocrisy masquerading as analysis.

I look forward to the letters to the editor.

Quote of the Day: “A hypocrite is a man who murdered both his parents then pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.” Abraham Lincoln.

Butch Mazzuca is an Edwards resident.

Support Local Journalism