Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson writes an important column today (1/12/11) about right-wing rhetoric and the Tucson shootings.
Meyerson's point is that discussing certain symbols–like the Sarah Palin "cross hairs" map–makes little sense without understanding the paranoid worldview that is advanced by right-wing leaders and commentators like Glenn Beck. When folks like Beck and Erick Erickson use threats of violence in discussion flu vaccines and Census workers, it's an articulation of their worldview.
The primary problem with the political discourse of the right in today's America isn't that it incites violence per se. It's that it implants and reinforces paranoid fears about the government and conservatism's domestic adversaries.
Much of the culture and thinking of the American right–the mainstream as well as the fringe–has descended into paranoid suppositions about the government, the Democrats and the president. This is not to say that the left wing doesn't have a paranoid fringe, too. But by every available measure, it's the right where conspiracy theories have exploded.
A fabricated specter of impending governmental totalitarianism haunts the right's dreams. One month after Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, Beck hosted a show that gamed out how militias in Southern and Western states might rise up against an oppressive government. The number of self-proclaimed right-wing militias tripled–from 42 to 127, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center–in 2009 (and that doesn't count those that are entirely underground).
Meyerson adds that "the imputation of lurking totalitarianism, alien ideologies, and subversion of liberties to liberals and moderates has become the default rhetoric of the right…. That doesn't make Beck, Erickson, Rupert Murdoch and their ilk responsible for Tucson. It does make them responsible for promoting a paranoid culture that makes America a more divided and dangerous land."