Ramble On

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Taking Offense...at an Image of Handgun Violence

Before I start the post today I suppose I need to say that, living in a Washington, DC suburb, I know just enough about politics and how the government works to be socially acceptable here. Maybe I understand a little better than that since I make a living consulting to government about business decisions. That said, the recent discussions over the budget were truly eye opening in some ways, but there was a particularly ugly image I came across, being used by groups associated with the Tea Party, that is something I can’t gloss over and have to post about. Call it a rant if you want.

This image, which I won’t dignify with a repost, showed a gross caricature of the president – one that harkens back to the racist images these groups continue to post when they are talking amongst themselves. But that part of the image, while offensive, wasn’t what struck me as the most offensive part of the cartoon.  By the way, I also don't intend to use this blog as a forum on this topic, so if you comment, I may or may not publish your remards.

The image showed the president with his arm around the neck of a soldier in battle dress. The suggestion was that the president was holding the troops hostage over the budget negotiations, since one of the warnings that was laid out to everyone involved in the negotiations was that a failure to come to closure on the budget, averting a shutdown, could delay paychecks and benefits to the military. Even as ironic as this was – the president is commander-in-chief after all, and only recently called upon our armed forces to be part of the situation in Libya – this was not the item that I found most offensive.

What struck me about the image was the fact that while holding the soldier hostage, the image had the president holding a hand gun in his hand, pressing it to the head of this soldier. I have a bottom line rule on Facebook, where I saw this image, and that is, if I encounter images of handgun violence there in any context, I will call you on it - and so I did, simply telling the poster that I found it offensive.

Now, in that Facebook way, I came across this because a friend saw the image and commented, so it came up on my page. I know the original poster has Tea Party sentiments, so that’s not a page I would lurk or troll in the first place to engage an argument. However, my post about the image showed up on her page, and it wasn’t long before my comments were engaged.

I haven’t gone back since reading the first one or two posts in response, I don’t need to because my beliefs in the matter are long held and won’t be negotiated away – and I don’t feel the need to argue the point…images (or threats for that matter) of handgun violence really don’t have a place in our society’s political discussion. But those first few remarks were astounding in their attempts to rationalize this image.

In one of my remarks I said that you don’t see democratic politicians using handgun imagery in their discussions over negotiations, suggesting that this is a Tea Party tactic. A responder asked me for statistics. I found this debate to be off the point…in fact, that’s what I’ve found whenever I’m engaged with the Tea Party in discussion: a blood lust rises blinding them to the fact that it’s simply part of life to need to get along politically with others. But I’ll engage that question here, without statistics; I’m going to try and remember the most recent cultural images of handgun violence that come to mind. And all of these will be since the Virginia Tech massacre.

  • First, there is this image. Brought to you by the Tea Party.
  • Second, we have the shootings in Arizona, similar to the Virginia Tech situation in that someone who probably shouldn’t have had a weapon managed to get one. This person’s rage was fueled by Beck rantings (again, closely aligned to the Tea Party) and empowered by lax enforcement of handgun purchases (not to mention the fact that he was using 30-round magazines, as was the Virginia Tech student, yet another topic).
  • Third, we have Tea Party candidate Sharon Angle discussing “Second Amendment Solutions” – and she wasn’t the only one using this kind of rhetoric during the 2010 election.
  • Fourth, all those open carry situations during the various demonstrations against health care reform over the last few years. You couldn’t avoid the image of the “Don’t Tread on Me” banner during all that – an historic banner that has been misappropriated by the Tea Party.
Related to this is an image another friend adopted as her Facebook profile photo during all that discussion. It drew from that iconic photograph of the Vietnamese assassination, you know the one, but it was a cartoon, and the person being shot in the head this time held what looked like a doctor bag in his hand. I’ve blocked that person's updates from appearing on my page, but I can’t “unfriend” her, as she was a high school friend.

  • Fifth, an anti-abortion protestor tracked down and killed a doctor – in church. You can’t rationalize the cold-blooded nature of this one.
Those are the first few that come to my mind. I’m drawing a blank on when Barack Obama or Joe Biden mentioned second amendment solutions in any of their campaigns. I don’t ever recall seeing Nancy Pelosi or Jim Moran doing open carry as part of a stance against pro-life demonstrations. Sorry, the statistics argument doesn’t fly.

Now in subsequent posts, while I was still reading them, I was presented with some other arguments: “Have you read the budget bill, Jim? I’ve read H.R. 1 and none of these issues (the EPA defunding, the Planned Parenthood issue, etc.) are in there.” This is an argument that falls on its face because the problems we are discussing here are riders…which means they are not germane to the discussion at hand or the bill, but are political agenda items that get tagged procedurally to the bill.

Following his request for statistics, the one poster answered me with a long post. I used a wrong word in describing it, but corrected myself later – it was a monologue, because at this point I’ve disengaged from the discussion. This individual – or the several that leapt into the fray on this topic, aren’t going to convince me that the image suggesting hand gun violence was okay. I prefer to leave them talking amongst themselves in the echo chamber they seem to enjoy being in.

That’s to say nothing of the other two offensive elements in this cartoon – the racist caricature of our president and the responsibility he showed in reminding the negotiators what was at stake in the budget discussions.

I’m happy with the outcome at this time, that we will finally have a budget, and I recognize that the current situation in government is one where there will be tense discussions on other issues ahead. But in this one, the president, the speaker, and Senator Reid all have done us proud. Let’s improve the quality of public discussion next time, eh?

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