Never Waste a Crisis

If you had told me last week that half the media would be blaming Sarah Palin for the actions of a leftish nutcase, or that Keith Olberman would be accusing, well, anybody, of being too immoderate in their rhetoric, I would have said you were crazy.  Seldom have I found the tone and tenor of the media coverage of any event to be less satisfactory than with the Giffords shooting this weekend.  So of course, I have joined the fray with my own column on Forbes.

We libertarians cringe when presented with a “national tragedy” like the shooting of Gabriella Giffords.  Not because we are somehow more or less sensitive to vilence and loss of life, but because we begin bracing for the immediate, badly thought-out expansion of state power that nearly always follows any such tragedy, whether it be 9/11 or Columbine or Oklahoma City or even Pearl Harbor.  Those looking to expand the power of the state, and of state officials, make their greatest progress in the emotional aftermath of a such a tragedy.  These tragedies are the political equivilent of the power play in ice hockey, when defenders of liberty find themselves temporarily shorthanded, and those wishing to expand state power rush to take advantage.

Here is one example from later in the piece:

After 9/11, Republicans argued that it was time to put away political differences to rally around the President in a time of war.  They implied that criticizing the President in such a time was somehow unpatriotic and counter-productive.   Was this true?  I thought the opposite — that the momentous decisions to be made post-9/11 demanded more rather than less debate.  America would eventually wake up from this celebration of unity with a hangover in the form of the TSA, the Patriot Act, detention at Guantanamo Bay, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fact is that politicians, particularly those in power, find every excuse to ask Americans to “moderate their public discourse,” in large part because this request translates in the real world to “reduce the criticisms of those in power.”    So it should not be surprising that many of those who represent our current ruling party blamed the Giffords shooting on the hate-filled rhetoric of the opposition party, even before we knew the name of the killer,.

From a larger historical perspective, I would argue that current political discourse is really rather tame.   Even the wackiest cable opinion show pales in comparison to the fire-breathing political attacks that could be found in nearly any 19th century newspaper.  In the 1960’s, political discourse became so heated that it spilled out into the streets in the form of urban riots.  In fact, what we should fear far more than our rhetoric is the current threats by politicians like Jim Clyburn of South Carolina to use this tragedy as an excuse to put new restrictions on speech.  A number of high-profile comentators have spent more time blaming this shooting on Sarah Palin than on the shooter himself.   Given the complete lack of evidence for any such connection, such efforts can only be viewed as an effort by those on power to silence a prominent opposition leader.

  • me

    Interesting perspective on political rhethoric: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/the-giffords-tragedy-is-the-media-partly-at-fault-20110110.

    While there should be no laws changed to enforce a particular tone of the debate, it'd be nice if we all could discuss issues more than ad hominem attacks revelling in how nice it would be to blow the opposition away in a red mist.

  • DrTorch

    Remember the Maine!

  • Dimitri Mariutto

    I like your analogy of hockey and the power play. However, unlike hockey, when the 'state' scores, the 'defenders of liberty' don't get to return their man to the ice immediately.

  • deadcenter

    ... "badly thought-out expansion of state power that nearly always follows any such tragedy" ...

    ... badly thought-out expansion of state power that always follows all tragedies ...

    Left and Right are equally guilty of exploiting tragedy, all tragedy, to expand state power. Rahm Emmanuel is just the to voice it openly, but anyone that's paid attention knows that governement never lets a good crisis go to waste when expanding its power.

    And, come on, the rhetoric might be inflammatory but compared to times past it's nothing. In 1856, we had such inflammatory rhetoric that it lead to one Congressman assaulting a Senator with such savagery that it left the victim crippled.

  • rox_publius

    *** I like your analogy of hockey and the power play. However, unlike hockey, when the ‘state’ scores, the ‘defenders of liberty’ don’t get to return their man to the ice immediately. ***

    five minute major

  • Don

    Well thought-out aticle, but you might want to change the link in the last paragraph as MSNBC has taken down the video you referred to (I could make a conspiracy theory about why ;^).

    Here's another link, but perhaps not quite as concise.
    "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axKjS92pnqk&feature=related"

  • jhc

    Ken at Popehat: John Green is A Better Man Than I.

    My hat's certainly off to Mr. Green.

  • Ignoramus

    Something I wrote earlier this week. Makes a similar point:

    This feels like the start of an assault on core First Amendment rights.

    The Tuscon shooter was a nut -- pure and simple -- and had been stalking the Congresswoman since 2007 -- it had nothing to do with ObamaCare.

    But he has hit a nerve -- especially among Democratic Congresscritters, most of whom I'm sure have been getting an increasing earful from constituents over the last two years. Many have been saying fearfully to themselves "that coulda been me" on the assumption that the Tuscon shooter was rational.

    But this should not turn into an assault on our core First Amendment rights.

    Ironically it was during last week's tag team reading of the Constitution that Congresswoman Giffords was the one who read the First Amendment.

    Before he died, comedian George Carlin expressed his surprise that censorship was now coming much more from the Left.

  • Doug

    On last night's Red Eye (Fox News), comic Bobby Slayton ("the pitbull of comedy," "yid vicious") actually came down on the side of "moderating the tone" in today's politics. Of course, he's a San Francisco local, so one can cut him some slack. But Bobby Frickin' Slayton?!?!?!

    The REAL emphasis should be on how to handle --- or restrain --- the mentally ill. In days past, guys like this shooter would have been taken away in a white coat and institutionalized before he had a chance to commit his foul deed. But in the 50s, if not earlier, the civil libertarians began a movement to liberate these people. I can't speak for the rest of the country, but Google "Short-Doyle Act" to see how and when California started their ball rolling. It eventually led to the emptying of all the state-run facilities for the insane. The old Agnews facility still stands not far from where I live, empty. (I suspect Hollywood played a major part in the movement. "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" anyone?) Then-Governor Ronald Reagan inherited this law and others like it from Jerry Brown's father, and was required to free the inmates, leading to the ages-old charge that "Reagan created homelessness." To the contrary, civil libertarians (and I suspect Warren might be in this boat) were the ones responsible for it. The standard used to be that you could be held if you could not take care of yourself. It eventually was modified so that you could NOT be restrained if you THOUGHT you could take care of yourself. Guess how that ended up.

    I do think it is safe to say this sicko Jared Loughner was free and safe to act freely to do what he did because of the highly-misguided actions of civil libertarians in the last 50 years, not because of political speech that this clown never listened to, much less comprehended. In typical government fashion, the course of action will NOT be to address the problem (how to deal with truly crazy people), but instead our politicians will fix the problem by gagging us and limiting the clip capacity of Glocks.

    Which begs the question: what IS the libertarian position on "holding" the criminally insane? Wouldn't the world have been far better off if Loughner had been snatched and put away, particularly after he started issuing threats a year or two ago? Or are Loughner's civil rights to be lumped in with ours? I would love to hear Warren's thoughts on this matter.

  • me

    @Doug - not sure I agree...

    Here's a column about one of the predictable attempts to further restrict civil liberties (with a focus on mental illness): http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/01/12/galston?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+salon%2Fgreenwald+%28Glenn+Greenwald%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

  • kevino

    RE: "We libertarians cringe when presented with a “national tragedy” like the shooting of Gabriella Giffords. ... because we begin bracing for the immediate, badly thought-out expansion of state power that nearly always follows any such tragedy, whether it be 9/11 or Columbine or Oklahoma City or even Pearl Harbor. ... These tragedies are the political equivilent of the power play in ice hockey, when defenders of liberty find themselves temporarily shorthanded, and those wishing to expand state power rush to take advantage."

    Bravo! Well said, and it is beginning.

    Besides the attacks on first amendment rights, CNN gave Jim and Sarah Brady about five minutes this morning to promote a return of the 1993 Assault Weapons ban with an emphasis on banning high-capacity magazines. CNN gave the couple a growing introduction, the easiest of softball questions to start the "interview", asked no tough questions, and finished up with the two CNN journalists staring sadly at each other over the lack of gun control. This morning's radio talk show from the major city where I live featured a lengthy discussion on banning high-capacity magazines, too.

    Here we go again.

  • http://bsfootprint.com bs footprint

    Here's my take on the unsurprising calls for increased gun control after the most recent tragedy:

    http://bsfootprint.com/politics-and-politicians/why-not-regulate-speech-as-seriously-as-toys