When Evil Sounds Like You

No one is in favor of murder. And all of us use pretty heated language at times. That’s why all of us have an extra responsibility to denounce violence perpetrated by those who agree with us. It looks like leading GOP candidates have failed at this important culture-war responsibility.


War and Culture War

It is still early days, but it seems as if the terrible shootings at the Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic may have been inspired by anti-abortion sentiment.  Suspect Robert Dear seems to have claimed he was motivated by Planned Parenthood’s alleged sale of “baby parts.”

I would expect every prominent cultural conservative to denounce this sort of political violence in the strongest terms. Yet, as progressive sources such as The Nation and ThinkProgress have pointed out, the leading Republican Party presidential hopefuls have done no such thing.

I am truly stumped.  I would think that every politician would rush to distance him- or herself from such an atrocity.  Especially leaders such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who have campaigned against Planned Parenthood as a retailer of baby parts.

Yet they did not.  Other anti-abortion activist groups have done so, including the National Right to Life Committee, Operation Rescue, and other pro-life activists.

Precisely because they are known to share very strong anti-abortion sentiments, such folks have leaped to denounce the shootings in the strongest terms. This is as it should be. Culture-war activists, after all, stand to be accused of collusion with such crimes. They have a duty to tell the world that such violence is not and never will be part of their strategy.

As NRLC put it,

National Right to Life, which represents 50 state affiliates and more than 3,000 local chapters, unequivocally condemns unlawful activities and acts of violence regardless of motivation.  The pro-life movement works to protect the right to life and increase respect for human life.  The unlawful use of violence is directly contrary to that goal.

The National Right to Life Committee has always been involved in peaceful, legal activities to protect human lives threatened by abortion, infanticide and euthanasia.  We always have and will continue to oppose any form of violence to fight the violence of abortion.  NRLC has had a policy of forbidding violence or illegal activity by its staff, directors, officers, affiliated state organizations, and chapters.  NRLC’s sole purpose is to protect innocent human life.

This kind of talk is not political bravery, but merely common decency mixed with self-protection. Leaders such as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump, then, could simply agree with these pro-life groups. They could work hard—and even cynically try to appear “presidential”—by weighing in against this sort of terrorist attack.

Yet they haven’t.

This is bad news for all of us, regardless of our political opinions or religious beliefs. If it is true that GOP candidates did not want to appear too energetic in their denunciation of this sort of extremist violence, then our political climate offers little hope for any sort of reasonable discussion of sensitive issues.

When simple human decency, combined with savvy political strategizing, don’t compel prominent politicians such as Marco Rubio to distance themselves in the most forceful way from folks such as accused attacker Robert Lewis Dear, we should all tremble.

Why? Because it hints at a breakdown of our implicit agreement about the fundamental nature of civil society. Aspiring GOP leaders should be falling all over themselves to demonstrate their understanding of this central idea. They should be jostling with one another to show just how leader-y they are in their denunciation of this sort of extremism.

If they don’t, we should worry that they think voters won’t like such denunciations. We should worry that these candidates, with their finely tuned political antennae, have decided that plenty of GOP voters condone or at least excuse this sort of terrorism.

If they’re right, we’re facing a frightening prospect.

We hope that in coming hours and days, GOP leaders will recognize their proper role. We hope they will see that it is their job to police their right wing, just as it falls upon progressives to police their left. Both sides, we must agree, must agree that terrorism is not part of their culture-war coalition. Once someone crosses a line into assassinations, we must all agree, they are no longer part of our civil society.

Only this implicit agreement keeps our vicious culture wars from devolving into all-too-common real culture wars.