Tina K. Russell

January 11, 2011

Dangerous rhetoric

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 6:28 pm

Washington (CNN) – Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pennsylvania, said he will introduce legislation making it a federal crime for a person to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or federal official.

Brady’s decision to offer the legislation comes less than 24 hours after a gunman attempted to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, in a shooting that claimed the lives of a federal judge, and a nine year-old girl, among others.

via Shooting prompts legislation to protect lawmakers, officials – CNN Political Ticker – CNN.com Blogs.

I think there are two problems with this:

  1. It sounds overly broad, of course. I’m sure there are plenty of innocuous, over-the-top Onion articles or Daily Show sketches that could be interpreted to encourage violence so as long as you don’t address their substance.
  2. Language explicitly inciting political violence is only part of the problem anyway. A larger problem is that when you say, as many radical opponents of Obama have taken any opportunity to tell us, that Barack Obama is a terrorist megalomaniac with a plan to subvert American democracy under his iron-fisted rule, you’re essentially saying the right idea is to kill him. If you compare him to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc., you’re comparing him to people for whom being assassinated early might have saved millions of lives. If people believe your inflated rhetoric and take it to its logical conclusion—kill Barack Obama and anyone allied with him—you cannot back away and say “oh, I didn’t mean that, I never said that.”

To be clear, such extreme language should also be protected, because it is sometimes true. But, you must take responsibility when people believe you and then do what only seems rational based upon it.  If you truly don’t want to see violence against Obama and his allies, you shouldn’t compare Obama to Hitler.

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