Which Side I Am On

For eight years following the 2000 election, progressives like myself suffered under a government we considered illegitimate and malicious. We watched the economy destroyed, environmental regulations gutted, corporate criminals running riot, thousands dying in an unnecessary war started by lies — and we continued to participate peacefully in the political process. Frankly I think we could have done a lot more in terms of civil disobedience and protest, but we most certainly did not call for revolution or violence. Why are people on the right incapable of controlling themselves under circumstances nowhere near as extreme?

Of course there were some leftists who advocated violence, disrupted peaceful protests, organized violence at various world gatherings. Even some extremists who joined terrorist groups. I turned my back on a few people in those years, disgusted by their apparent belief that killing innocent people was somehow justified by political circumstances.

Those decisions were hard sometimes. I agreed with their political viewpoints. Some of them were radicalized by extreme trauma — war or torture or apartheid or genocide. But I could not understand their support of violence, especially those who’d suffered its effects. I did the same thing in high school when a friend started telling me I should read the Spotlight, and later in life when another friend turned into a hardline Libertarian. Or when I found out that friends or colleagues were racists, homophobes, or supporters of torture.

And I’ve been doing the same thing again recently, as I’ve seen friends or acquaintances repeating or supporting the violent and angry rhetoric of people like Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle, Glenn Beck, and the goons and bullies who follow them. And those decisions were not hard at all. Unlike many of the radicals I knew when I was younger, these people have not been radicalized by trauma. What horrors have the tea partiers howling for blood? Having to pay taxes for the government services they enjoy? Resentment at government helping those in need? Racism? Homophobia? It would be laughable if it weren’t so terrifying.

But in the end this has nothing to do with left or right. I feel no differently about Palin and Beck and their supporters than I did about the IRA or the Weather Underground or the Unabomber and the soft-headed liberals who supported them — certain of being insulated from any of the resulting violence. I want nothing to do with people who support or defend the gun-happy ranting of liars and thugs.

Radicals and extremists, on both the left and the right, demand to know “Which side are you on?” I’m on the side that believes that bullies shouldn’t have their way, that reasonable conversation is better than senseless screaming, that words have meaning and those that use them should take responsibility for them. I believe in telling the truth. I believe that one’s opinions should change in the face of facts. I don’t like being threatened. I am not on the side of gun pushers who regard our urban violence as a business opportunity. I am not on the side of religious lunatics, whether they are members of the Taliban or the Westboro Baptist Church. I believe that power should come from thinking and reasoning and persuasive argument, not from the barrel of a gun, whether that gun is held by a Communist or a Fascist.

Gabby Giffords–a decent, thoughtful person, a genuine conservative, from a state that used to be genuinely conservative–is lying in a hospital because she wasn’t insane enough. Because she had the temerity to say what she believed, even if it wasn’t doctrine. And all the monsters who revved that stupid nutcase up until he decided to go shoot her, and made sure he had easy access to the (utterly useless for any normal person) weapon he shot her with, sit back and pretend they didn’t mean anything with all their hate speech? No. It’s disgusting. And I won’t have it.

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