Rhetoric, Violence, and Pain, Part II

Since my post yesterday, I’ve gotten a lot of email saying, “Yes, but…Sarah Palin is still wrong and part of the problem.”

Of course.

The part I dispute is that Sarah Palin is a cause rather than another symptom of a political and social discourse drenched in hate and disrespect.

I very much hope that the all the shouting about Palin and violent political talk does bring about a willingness for people to learn to communicate nonviolently. I am all for that.

What I am lamenting–and I have a point, no matter how wrong you think Palin may be—is that victims deserve a break. They deserve a little chance to recover before the rest of the world descends on them to run color commentary. That’s all. Is that really so much to ask?

Think about it. As wonderful as the web and communications have become, the world reacts to disaster in virtual real-time with the victims–for both good and ill. The world got to pray for the victims in real time. Great. But they also got to leer, gawk, and blame—and score political points.

My students from my planning theory class will recognize what I am talking about in terms of the political theories: policy streams, policy windows–high-profile public tragedies focus individuals’ attention on particular issues, and can provide you with a podium to try to frame and define problems to your advantage. Hence, the gun control folks come up. And those who deplore political hate speech. And now the Christian right has taken up Palin’s cause, treating her like a martyr. All 100 percent predictable for anybody who has been at this rodeo more than once.*

Behind that policy window, there is pain, and the real-time world of internet media means that before victims have any real time to process anything, the world is on top of them. This isn’t entirely new, but it all happens much faster now.

Has anybody, for example, ever thought what it must have been like for the Kennedy children to have grown up in a world where footage of their father’s murder was shown over and over and over and over again, loop after loop? These are human beings, not actors playing characters on a tv screen. Yeah, they should tune out if they don’t like it? That’s the answer? Please. Don’t the rest of us have any obligations to demonstrate self-restraint?

*I wasn’t just at Virginia Tech during the shootings there. I was at the University of Iowa when those shootings occurred. I was so young then, and not involved in the physics department, that I didn’t see what was happening, and it didn’t change me as radically as the Tech shootings did.