Hey, Remember That Girl Who Got Her Head Stomped on? Why Not?
by Rebecca Schoenkopf
Not even three months ago, in the final days before the 2010 midterm election, Lauren Valle was protesting at a Rand Paul rally, when Paul supporters wrestled her to the ground and one—to the horror of his comrades, who quickly stopped him—stomped on her head.
It was awful, heart-stopping, the first time I saw it. But the worst was in the following days, when Internet commenters came out from under their rocks to explain why Valle had it coming. She was from MoveOn. She was a provocateuress. He “placed his foot on her,” they claimed in wild insincerity; he didn’t stomp her head at all!
Lauren Valle and the stomper, Tim Profitt, were forgotten pretty quickly in our insane news cycle, where there always must be more and new. There was such a lot of insanity in the midterms, and before that in the health care debate. Tea Partyers went to Town Hall meetings with simple instructions: to Shut. Them. Down.
Rep. Bart Stupak got death threats, and lots of them. (You can listen if you want; boy, they’re a treat!) Rep. Tom Perriello’s brother’s gas line was cut, after a Tea Party blogger posted his address, mistakenly thinking it was Perriello’s own. And Gabrielle Giffords, of course, had the door of her office shattered, at which point she—moderate-to-conservative, Blue Dog Democrat representing a Republican-tilting district—pointed out that there was a lot of really unacceptable violent rhetoric going on, and it was spurring actual violence. She said this mildly; she demurely acknowledged neither side is perfect; she is a respectable sort. But she meant it, every word.
You know who hasn’t mentioned the existence of Giffords’ interview on the subject, one in which she actually called out Sarah Palin in particular? A single person on the Right. Not one. Instead, they’re having vapors that the dastardly, disingenuous left is “politicizing” the matter ... by acknowledging it exists. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik should resign, they say, for having broached his thoughts on the dangers the Republic has been facing. They think he’s making the whole thing up, as if Giffords’ own prophetic words weren’t an eerie harbinger. And as always, they themselves are the victims. "To say, as Dupnik did, that comments made on the airwaves essentially motivated this person to commit this crime is exactly what he blamed talk radio of doing, inciting through pure rhetoric," talk show host Jon Justice told the LA Times, before calling for ... you guessed it! The sheriff's resignation.
The hang-’em-high crowd—or “shoot first, ask questions later”—all of a sudden wants ironclad proof that the clearly deranged Jared Loughner listened to a specific shock jock (like Joyce Kaufman in Florida, who said “if ballots don’t work, bullets will”—and who was then hired as chief of staff to incoming Rep. Allen West1, or read a specific Tea Party memo telling him to kill. The Right has decided that without a paper trail, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. This, appropriately, is called “arguing from ignorance.” It’s also an incredible straw man: nobody’s saying Sarah Palin reached into Laughner’s brain and caused this, as if she were Angela Lansbury and crazy old Laugner were the Manchurian Candidate. They’re saying that if she had any shame, she ought to be feeling some right about now, and she should really rethink her whole Oeuvre of the Grotesque. Another stupid straw man I’ve heard everywhere from Slate to Tim Pawlenty’s mealy mouth: that saying people should tone it down is an offense to the First Amendment. Jack Shafer in particular is carrying his contrarian shtick to a Palinesque level of illogical extreme.
Meanwhile, they’re sniffing about how uncivil it is for people to point out that calls for armed revolution are ... uncivil. And they’ve got an unlikely ally this week in Jon Stewart, who’s been a rambling wreck as he’s tried to say how both sides have been to blame, and as he’s tried so reasonably to maintain that no one is to blame. Really, Stewart’s been a mess. I blame the time he told Tucker Carlson that the shouting on Crossfire was “hurting America.” He’s bought into the idea that since the left hates George W. Bush (and man, we really do!), and since we called him illegitimate (because Jesus, he really was … both times), that we are equally to blame for the rending of the American soul. But even though we really hate George W. Bush, and believe he was illegitimate, not a single person on the left, not one, advocated anything other than beating him at the ballot box ... or, in the worst case scenario, moving to the South of France. Jon Stewart, I promise: it’s not the same thing as …
- Leading a mob on election night when you lose and encouraging your supporters as they shout “JEW!”
- Encouraging your followers to smash Democratic windows around the country, in your own cute li’l Krystallnacht.
- Saying a “violent uprising” is “on the table,” specifically, when asked, if you yourself don’t win your race.
Do you know what Keith Olbermann did after the shooting? He searched his soul, and found that he too had been responsible for dehumanizing his opponents, and he vowed to stop it. Do you know what everyone on the Right did after the shooting? They promised never to give in to the left’s “politicization,” and then hurried on to their favorite argument: that if more people had had guns at the event, the shooter would have been stopped. Here, if that’s your bag, is an interview with an armed citizen who came on the scene very quickly—and, thinking he was the shooter, almost shot the man who had wrestled the gun away from Jared Loughner. So, you know, there’s that too.
My son has a great US history teacher. From the reading list he’s assigned, he’s pretty clearly a radical. The kids are studying the American Indian Movement, and the differences between King and Malcolm X. And as Jimmy was writing one paper or another and I was giving it an edit, I tried to explain why I’m a King fan, and not one of Malcolm: that I don’t believe in armed revolution, even when your circumstances are terrible. And I worried as I explained it that I would sound like a milquetoast Stewartesque centrist, a peacenik naif, because if blacks in the ’60s didn’t have grievances that called for revolt, who did? I know Malcolm gets the love these days, but the call for “any means necessary” meant that those on the other side could call for “any means necessary” as well. And for a while now, they have, and this is what it looks like.
Whether or not the specific shooter in this specific case had a political beef or a schizophrenic one (he seems pretty clearly to be on the schizophrenic side, at which point Slate—Shafer again—gives him the credit of “pure evil” and of being sane enough to gauge the frightening quality of his own smile), the after-effects are the same. This is what armed revolution looks like. This is what a Second Amendment remedy looks like. And if you think it’s cute to say you’re locked and loaded, if you think your weapons fetish makes you a sexy centerfold for real Americans, and that it’s a blood libel to point out what those images actually look like—then really, just: Fuck you.
1From the Washington Post: "I didn't learn anything from it," West said Sunday of the brouhaha. He dismissed the controversy as "an attack from the left" and said "there were other issues with that," but did not elaborate. Shortly after Kaufman resigned, West, who is black, blamed the controversy on the left's "racism" and "misogynistic behavior."