In the wake of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting tragedy, some members of Congress, citing “vitriol,” are calling for legislation to “tone down the rhetoric” of our political debates.
The problem is how do you define vitriol?
When King George III was engaging in tyranny against the American colonies, he would have considered any talk of separation to be vitriol. When Stalin was consolidating his grip on power in Russia, he considered any discussion of individualism and property rights to be vitriol.
There is a difference between hateful rhetoric and the use of political satire, metaphorical anecdotes, analogy and humorous ridicule. And quite frankly — vitriol isn’t a crime in this country.
Humans have been using these rhetorical tools to teach and to debate the issues of the day for thousands of years. Remember Aesop’s fables? Though they would hardly be considered vitriolic by most people’s standards, these stories were analogies full of metaphors in a fantasy world. C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” series was one long metaphor for God’s relationship and redemption of man. Did anyone seriously believe that God was a lion?
The evidence most often referred to in this current progressive frenzy is Sarah Palin’s use of “targets” over certain congressional districts where she thought Republicans could win. Now some Democrats are suggesting that we ban the use of such symbols or words that refer to guns or militaristic expressions.
But these terms are not new in our political lexicon, nor are they limited to the Republican Party. The DNC used similar targets in 2004 for Republicans in a print publication entitled “Behind Enemy Lines.” One of the most vicious Palin attackers, the progressive blog “Daily Kos,” used almost the exact same graphic in which they “targeted” conservative Democratic districts that the blog hoped would lose in the primaries — ironically, one of their targets was U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
For those of you who buy into the theory that “right-wing vitriol” caused the shootings, I ask you this: Was the moveon.org ad that called General Petraus “General Betray Us” vitriol? Was President Barack Obama using vitriol when he told a group that “if they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun”? Was he using vitriol when he told Hispanics to “punish your enemies”? Where was the media outcry for Al Gore to “tone down” his global-warming rhetoric after a mad man strapped a bomb to his chest and held the Discovery Channel headquarters hostage, citing Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth?”
Al Gore may be wrong about global warming, but he is not a fault for the mad bomber. Normal people understand the use of metaphors and analogy.
To accuse people of being accomplices to mass murder because they express their anger with government using rhetorical tools is morally reprehensible and damaging to a society built on free expression.
Arguing that the use of metaphors or strong arguments make one responsible for the twisted actions of an isolated psychopath — and should therefore be banned — would be the same as arguing that Aesop’s fables should be banned because they aren’t literal. After all, some vulnerable and “mentally-unbalanced” person may see himself as a grasshopper in need of food, and the ant that stored his food for the winter is a Republican, and shoot somebody.
Progressives are seeking to exploit a terrible tragedy and use it to silence those who disagree with them. They want to criminalize conservatism. Be careful of any “public servant” whose first reaction in a crisis is to call for the ban or limitation of one our most cherished freedoms, the freedom of expression.
Editor’s note: Leland Conway is the executive editor and co-founder of www.conservativeedge.com and the host of the Pulse of Lexington on News Radio 630 WLAP.