Rhetoric amounts to more than what you advocate.

>> Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The title should go without saying, but even among intelligent conservatives, sometimes it doesn't:

The fact that a homicidal maniac shares your goals doesn't make you responsible for his methods.

I never claimed otherwise. In point of fact, I didn't say that the ideological brethren of homicidal maniacs are responsible for the actions of homicidal maniacs. Quite the opposite. I claimed that there exists "a non-incidental relation of particular ideologies with acts of violence," a fact no one who's ever opposed Islamic fundamentalism can deny. I further claimed that:

conservatives do inspire those on their fringes to engage in politically motivated violence. The politics of the George Tiller murder are an indictment against conservative rhetoric because that rhetoric made Tiller a target[.]

So as to this:

Is it fair to say that I "inspired" Scott Roeder's actions if I have engaged in full-throated condemnation of partial-birth abortion (and I have)? If I accurately describe the horrific acts of violence involved in that monstrous process, does that rhetoric "make" an abortion doctor a "target"?

My question would be, "Have you, Patrick Frey, ever said anything like the following from mainstream conservative figure Rush Limbaugh?"

One of the things I strongly believe is that we are not going to, as individuals, erase evil from the world. That is God's task. But we can be soldiers in that process, and we can confront it when we see it. Now, is child abuse an evil? Of course it is. Child abuse is an evil, and we confront it, and we take children away from parents who are abusive all day, do we not? Well, if child abuse is evil, as Mr. Morrissey points out here, then infanticide is even more evil.

In this comment, Patrick notes that both of us can point to cases on the right and left in which fringe figures "advocate" violence, and I'll concede that. But openly advocating violence isn't the issue here (if only because those who do so are immediately dismissed as the cowardly cranks they undoubtedly are). The issue is the rhetoric of violence, and I don't think anyone will deny the violence inherent in Limbaugh's rhetoric there.

The phrase "soldiers in that process," in which that "process" is stopping "infanticide," is not neutral language. Envisioning opposition in martial terms encourages the mentally unstable to think of themselves in grandiose terms, e.g. as God's soldiers. Is Limbaugh encouraging people to murder abortion providers? Not directly. (Plausible deniability is the order of the day.) Is he encouraging those people invested in the cause of stopping infanticide to imagine that they’re "soldiers" in a "process" who should "confront [evil] when [they] see it"? Of course he is. How do I know that?

Because that's what he said. He may not have meant it that way, but that's what he said. Trace the logic of his comment:

God's task is to erase evil from the world. We can be soldiers in the process of erasing evil from the world. We should confront evil in the world when we see it. Because abusing children is evil, infanticide is more evil.

What conclusion might an unstable person draw from it?


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