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A point of agreement?

Here’s the thing: estimate the odds, Gentle Reader, that Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck or Sharron Angle or Michael Savage or even Jan Brewer will react to the news by taking responsibility, in their minds, for the violence?

No, they will think that this guy was a raving lunatic, no follower of theirs, inspired not by the voices on the airwaves as by his own breakdown.

And they will be correct.

Well, about the rhetoric, they will be correct. Not so much their support for flooding the country with weapons, but that is a different (and much more important) story. Well, and their lack of support for subsidising mental health programs for adolescents. Also true. But the rhetoric? There are millions upon millions of people who hear and use the metaphors of violence and war applied to politics who don’t shoot their federal judges and Representatives, or little girls for that matter. This guy was not a Tea Party fanatic, he was a nut.

Having said that…surely, surely there must in their minds be something saying that continuing to use the metaphors of hunting and rebellion applied to electoral politics—the sights, the "taking out" talk, the references to tyranny and the Second Amendment—would be in very poor taste?

I know they are metaphors. I know that they are talking of arming themselves with knowledge to fight elections. Sure. But the metaphors are terrible, terrible metaphors, and while anyone can certainly them at their discretion, choosing them has always been vulgar, crass and unworthy. This, by the way, applies to everyone; I joked in bad taste about the death of Dick Cheney, but I knew it was in bad taste. Had I been running for office, or standing in front of a microphone, or working at the library counter, I would not have done so. Come to think of it, I wasn’t entirely comfortable when a boss told me the one about Dan Quayle. Hm, was it a boss? It would have been in 1989; might have been a summer job. Anyway, the point is that the rhetoric is bad rhetoric whether it bears responsibility for the bloodshed or not. Which is a difficult question, and not one that I think prominent conservative and Tea Party figures will solve to their own guilt.

But it doesn’t require that to resolve not to do it anymore. Is Sarah Palin clean of the blood? Fine, but she still shouldn’t do that gunsight stuff any more. Surely, surely that we can all agree on.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I hope Sarah Palin burns in agonizing torment in the fires of Hell for all eternity.


Be aware that there are several examples of very similar maps by Democrats that precede the Palin map.
But hopefully none ever again, by any party.

The "very similar maps" argument is an excellent example of false equivalence. The "bull's eye" used by Democrats is a symbol with very different cultural implications from the "gunsite" used on Palin's blog. As a thought experiment, consider how it would feel if a certain national bargain retail chain replaced its current bullseye logo with a gunsite logo. Would that be a change without meaning? You betcha. Notice how the DCCC map uses a symbol that matches closely the one used by the national retailer.

The bullseye logo functions semantically as a visual equivalent for the word "target," as the marketers of the retail chain understand. Although one meaning of this term is (quoting from American Heritage) is "an object that is shot at to test accuracy in rifle or archery practice . . . something aimed or fired at," the word "target" also means "an object of criticism or attack" and "one to be influenced or changed by an action or event" and "a desired goal." When Palin replaces the generic bullseye symbol for "target" with crosshairs, she is referencing the shooting meaning of "target" directly in a way that the bullseye symbol doesn't. That's the reason for the change, and that's why there was an outcry about it. No one complained about or even looked for the Democratic maps until questions were raised about the Palin map. One imagines two likely reasons that they didn't. First, the maps have generic "target" symbols on them, so nobody who looked at them said, "hey, that's an incitement to violence" until objections were raised to the Palin map. It was Palin's substitution of crosshairs for bullseyes that made the Democratic map readable as violent rhetoric. Second, there was never a consistent. high-volume stream of violent rhetoric proceeding from left-wing talk radio and left-wing political candidates (are there any?) across the country to bring out the (deeply buried) shooting implications of the bullseye symbol. The connection between Palin's use of crosshairs and all manner of violent rhetoric on the right was immediately obvious.

The difference between what a bullseye image communicates and what a crosshairs image communicates shows up quite clearly on a Google image search. If you do an image search for "bullseye," you'll find that the bullseye image is used in lots of different ways, many of which have nothing to do with shooting at all. When the bullseye is used as an image of an actual shooting target, it is represented as being a target for arrows or darts, not guns. Notice that not a single image on the entire first page shows an image with bullet holes in a target, although there are dozens of images with arrows or darts in the middle of the bullseye. There are also no images on that page of a person being fired upon. If you do an image search for "crosshairs," you'll find that the images are very different in content and in tone. On the front page, there are at least a dozen images of people, plus a number more of animals in the crosshairs, targeted for shooting. Now, a couple of these images are reactions from the left to Palin's use of the crosshairs image, so they are trying to play up the implications of the image, but it's evident that a crosshairs image is directly associated with shooting a person with a gun, while a bullseye image does not make that association at at all.

Would the Democrats have done better not to use the bullseye at all? Yes. Is using a bullseye the way they did very similar to Sarah Palin's use of crosshairs? No. Is the use of violent rhetoric by politicians and pundits on the left similar in magnitude, volume, or tone to the use of violent rhetoric by politicians and pundits on the right? No.

I'd like to add one more point about the bull's-eye map, which is that YHB didn't see that DLC map until yesterday. It was in bad taste, yes, (and the text elsewhere in the pamphlet about going 'behind enemy lines' was inexcusable) but I didn't know about it.

Does that seem like a small deal? Think about this: Your Humble Blogger is pretty plugged in to Left Blogovia. In particular, I was following discussions of the congressional elections of 2004 on a few a-list blogs, and I was getting emails from the Party. And I never saw the bull's-eyes. That could just be a coincidence (and it's also possible that I have just forgotten them, as they were stupid and in poor taste and not worth remembering), but I have the sense that they were semi-internal documents not intended for wide distribution as fund-raisers. That doesn't affect the taste issue (arguably, but it's not an argument worth having) so much as the responsibility issue; the misguided people who put the thing out had reason to think they were speaking a language understood amongst themselves and needn't worry about some crazy outsider.

Now, the infamous Rahm Emmanuel “Dead! Dead! Dead!” rant is a much more fruitful target for outrage.


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