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For the next few days I guess we’re going to be talking about political rhetoric and how toxic it’s become. And it has! But the problem is still with specifics. Here’s First Read, for example:

What was particularly striking to us is how activists, especially on the right, were playing the victim when there are so many actual victims — the deceased, the wounded, the grieving — in Arizona. And here’s our point from yesterday: Although it appears that Jared Lee Loughner had nothing to do with mainstream conservatism or liberalism, can’t we all agree to condemn violent, de-humanizing, or de-legitimizing rhetoric — “2nd Amendment remedies,” “Don’t retreat, instead reload,” “Gather your armies” “facism/socialism,” etc. — aimed at our politicians and government institutions?

How many of those examples do you agree are violent or de-humanizing? I’d go along with the first: “2nd Amendment remedies” has a pretty obviously violent connotation. But the second is, to me, just a garden variety political metaphor. The third is even softer. I could imagine it being part of not only a standard stemwinder on the stump, I could imagine it being part of a Sunday sermon. And the fourth? It’s stupid, perhaps, but the American right has been calling liberals socialists forever. It’s not really de-humanizing or even de-legitimizing. It’s just kind of dumb.

So where’s the line? It’s easy to say that the overall tone of political rhetoric is pretty toxic these days, but it’s the sum total of the frenzy that’s really the problem, and that’s hard to pin down. Sure, specific imagery that uses nooses, guns, knives etc. aimed specifically at a campaign opponent ought to be out of bounds, but even if we got rid of all that it wouldn’t change the overall atmosphere more than a trace. Frankly, I think the best advice any of us can give is: don’t be an asshole. But that’s pretty good advice for all walks of life, and it doesn’t seem to do much good, does it?

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