Even violent rhetoric is still free speech

January 9, 2011

Jack Shafer has a great rebuttal in Slate to assertions by the Left that violent rhetoric and imagery are to blame for the mass-murder in Tucson, yesterday. His point is that our political speech is often over-the-top, but only the shooter is to blame for what he did — In Defense of Inflamed Rhetoric:

For as long as I’ve been alive, crosshairs and bull’s-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such “inflammatory” words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I’ve listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I’ve even gotten angry, for goodness’ sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge.

From what I can tell, I’m not an outlier. Only the tiniest handful of people—most of whom are already behind bars, in psychiatric institutions, or on psycho-meds—can be driven to kill by political whispers or shouts. Asking us to forever hold our tongues lest we awake their deeper demons infantilizes and neuters us and makes politicians no safer.

Be sure to read the whole thing. Violent, even hysterical rhetoric has been part of our political discourse since the earliest days of the Republic. Thomas Jefferson himself once wrote:

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

So, did Jefferson have blood on his hands when John Wilkes Booth murdered President Lincoln and shouted “Sic semper tyrannis?”

No, of course not. Again, the only person responsible for the outrage in Tucson is the shooter himself and anyone who may have helped him. Not Sarah Palin, not the Tea Party, not the Republicans, and by no means their rhetoric.

Not that this will stop many on the Left from exploiting this tragedy in a attempt to suppress free speech.

AFTERTHOUGHT: And where were all these clucking scolds when George W. Bush assassination fantasies were all the rage? Or Bush as a vampire sucking the blood of liberty? Or Sarah Palin, herself? Dollars to donuts they saw no problem at all.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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