‘Gun Against the Head’ Civil Discourse

In 2008, long before a shooting in Tucson where six people died and 19 were injured, candidate Barack Obama did not shy away from violent imagery when explaining how he would counter Republican attacks during the 2008 presidential campaign. Chicago-style Obama warned: “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”



After Tucson, when it came time to assign blame for what amounted to an attempted political assassination, liberals did not squander the opportunity to blame the Sarah Palin PAC website’s depiction of cross-hairs for inciting the type of uncivil discourse that led to the murders, and Obama didn’t stop them. In fact, the media all but laid the responsibility for Jared Lee Loughner shooting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in the head at Palin’s feet.

Liberal commentator Keith Olbermann even went so far as to say: “If Sarah Palin ... does not repudiate her own part, however tangential, in amplifying violence and violent imagery in American politics, she must be dismissed from politics, she must be repudiated by the members of her party.”

Four short days after the shooting, Barack Obama used the opportunity to sell T-shirts, rebuke the gun lobby, and use the tragedy to partner with the media and call for “civility in public discourse.” In other words, the memorial in Tucson became a platform for Obama to reprimand his critics and harness the First Amendment by condemning “point scoring and pettiness.”

Barack recited Scripture, offered condolences, and eulogized all the victims before segueing into rhetoric that heaped guilt upon anyone on the right who might employ hyperbole in political discussion. Citing the gallant actions of those who saved lives in a Safeway parking lot, the President said heroism posed a “challenge to each of us,” and raised the question “going forward” of what “beyond the prayers and expressions of concern,” was required of all Americans, including himself, to “honor the fallen” and “be true to their memory?”



Politicizing an act that had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with insanity, the President brought up “national conversation” as an “essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.” Obama also used the occasion to mention the debate over the “motivations behind these killings...the merits of gun safety laws,” and “the adequacy of our mental health systems.”

President “Bring a Knife and We’ll Bring a Gun” Obama chided the nation by saying, “at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

It was touching sentiments such as those that inspired the New York Times to praise Barack Obama for ushering in a New Era of Civility. Six months later, amidst talk of economic “Armageddon,” as the debate over raising the debt ceiling continues to heat up, Barack Obama is the one who dropped the ‘civility’ ball.

If it is true that mentally ill individuals can be goaded toward violence by cartoon depictions of cross-hairs, then Obama, who exhorted the nation by saying “rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together,” may have unintentionally provided the impetus for a future tragedy.

At a Twitter town hall in Washington DC, the man who, when in Tucson, demanded from political adversaries “more civility in our public discourse,” tweeted out to millions that Republicans are using the debt ceiling debate as a "gun against the heads" of the American people. He even made reference to how Republicans disagree with what they call “job-killing tax increases.” If President Obama wants to set the courtesy bar, maybe he should stick to his own stringent, legalistic language standard and when speaking censor the word “killing.”

Barack Obama’s own words at the Tucson Memorial denounced ‘gun against the head’ imagery, which everyone knows is simply hyperbolic analogy. However, unless this is another in a long list of examples of Barack Obama exempting himself from the edicts he places upon everyone else, the President either owes an apology to the nation for exhibiting the lack of “decency and goodness” he called for in Tucson, or he should quit looking for any excuse to control speech and politicize misfortune.

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