Classless Warfare: Politically Exploiting Tragedy

RANCHO SANTA FE, CA., January 11, 2011 –  Let the finger-pointing begin between the Left and the Right, the fans of Olbermann, Matthews, and Maddow and the fans of Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck, and the political devotees of Rahm Emanuel’s infamous quote, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”  Vultures may have a bad reputation, but no one can pick a carcass clean like a biased politician.  Over the past several days, Conservatives and Liberals alike have tried to exploit our Nation’s most recent tragedy for their own gain.  Whether it’s meant to sway votes, pump up ratings, or just lash out at the other side, I sure wish it would stop.

In a way, Rahm Emanuel may have had it right:  “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”  What if that were to be interpreted in a positive sense rather than in a negative one?  What if we were to take a hard look at ourselves and reevaluate the tenor of our discourse?  Perhaps we could realign our thinking, put aside our differences, and begin to work toward our “general welfare” as we are guided to do by the Constitution.  Then, President Obama might not feel so compelled to travel around the world to apologize for our behavior.  The reduction in his carbon footprint alone might justify the effort.

I am saddened by the personal and accusatory nature of the attacks that have been flying between the factions.  A friend of mine humorously speculated that Sarah Palin might next be named “a person of interest” in the Lindbergh kidnapping.  I assured him that she had a solid alibi as she was bow-hunting Kodiak bear in southwestern Alaska with Dick Cheney when the kidnapping took place … which, I suppose, shifts the suspicion back to “W.”  Did Sarah Palin exercise a profound error in judgment in using hunting metaphors on her website and in her stump speeches?  Absolutely!  Was she directly responsible for anything that transpired in Tucson?  Absolutely not!  Neither was anyone else … with the exception of the shooter.

The Tea Party has been another popular “target” of the Democratic Party. They’re all gun-toting vigilantes who want to kill us you know!  From the way they’re portrayed, you’d think that Tea Party members regularly march down the street playing their fifes and drums and loading their muskets.  Have you ever been to one of their rallies?  I have.  I’ve attended Democratic and Republican rallies as well, and you’d be hard-pressed to tell the players without a scorecard.  Frankly, I’ve been more scared at “peace” rallies where the crowds have been more disruptive and prone to vandalism and civil disobedience.  Are there some “fringe” elements within the Tea Party that create a negative image for the rest of its members?  Certainly!  Are there some “fringe” elements within the Democratic and Republican Parties that embarrass their members as well?  Definitely!

I’m a little surprised the Republicans haven’t attacked the Tea Party as well to divert some attention away from themselves.  They apparently either need the Tea Party’s votes or they’re just so used to fighting with the Democrats that they can’t break the habit.

Network news personalities (and I use the term “news” loosely) have also been busy marking their territories … substituting each other for trees.  I follow all of the major news networks and their respective interpretations of each day’s events.  I often visit their online articles to peruse the “comments” sections.  Do you remember John Gray’s book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus?  Well, you should read the comment sections of a few Liberal and Conservative news sites.  Mars and Venus are way too close together to serve as an analogy for the extremists you’ll find there.  We’re talking about separate solar systems.  How two people can look at the exact same facts and reach such utterly different conclusions is beyond me.  Then again, who said that the facts had anything to do with their opinions?  In many cases, they reaffirm what H.G. Bohn always asserted:  “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”  Given the number of entries that a few of the “regulars” seem to find time to offer, I can only surmise that unemployment is a contributing factor … but at least the devil’s workshop seems to be well-staffed.

Public servants have also gotten into the fray.  I felt sorry for Sheriff Dupnik (D) when Megan Kelly of Fox News aggressively questioned his motive for raising the issue of political rhetoric during the crime investigation briefing he conducted immediately after the Tucson shooting.  I actually thought his premise was a sound one, and if his choice of forums was a bit unconventional, it could be overlooked in light of the fact that he had just lost two personal friends in the incident.  Then, as if to actually pursue a “fair and balanced” presentation of the Sheriff’s position, Fox News had Geraldo Rivera interview him Sunday evening.  To the obvious chagrin of Mr. Rivera, Sheriff Dupnik launched an attack on the Republican Party.  The left-leaning commentator quickly gave the Sheriff the opportunity to recant, which the Sheriff refused to do.  Geraldo hasn’t looked this flustered since he broke into Al Capone’s safe.  It was an interesting study in self-destruction since the Sheriff’s initial plea was to curb mean-spirited, politically biased rhetoric.  Undoubtedly, we can expect some “spin doctor” to suggest that Dupnik was just trying to demonstrate how ignorant one appears when one misrepresents the truth in the name of either Party.  In the interim … my apologies to Megan Kelly.

I’m a little disappointed that America’s Crazy Lunatic Unit hasn’t weighed in on the subject (I may be wrong about the acronym).  The ACLU usually jumps at the chance to go after the Second Amendment, and this past weekend’s tragedy certainly surfaces some legitimate concerns.  There’s also the First Amendment issue:  people and the press should be free to say whatever they want; you just have to ignore the well-established exceptions such as “fighting words” or “inciting to riot” … not to mention defamation.  I can only assume that the ACLU’s absence is predicated upon its preoccupation with other aspects of the First Amendment that create a more immediate and significant threat to our Nation … like the cross on Mt. Soledad in San Diego that was erected in 1954.  You never know when a cross like that could surreptitiously establish a religion.  What would we do if “Thou shall not kill” became more universally adopted?  I think they should just tear the cross down and build a mosque.

However, all is not lost.  There have been attempts to honor the victims by using the tragedy to reduce the divisiveness that permeates today’s political discourse.  Keith Olbermann did a special segment that challenged the news media to admit to its failings, apologize for any past advocation of violence (expressed or implied), and promise to be more measured in its tone going forward.  While he apologized for at least one instance in which he was involved, his words would have had more meaning had he not spent so many of them upbraiding the Tea Party, the Republicans, and his major network competitors (such as equating Glenn Beck to the shooter).

Speaking of Mr. Beck, his website carried a picture of him on Monday with the caption, “We must stand together against all violence.”  Good words!  Unfortunately, the website’s random picture generator simultaneously showed a picture of Beck with a gun in his hand in the adjacent column.  Why he even has such a picture in the rotation is an excellent question.

Other “shock jocks” on the Left have seized the opportunity to blame the Right, and “shock jocks” on the Right have vigorously counter-attacked the politicization of the issue by the Left.  The good news is that I will no longer have to explain the titles of two of my books, The Left isn’t Right and The Right is Wrong.  Their meanings should be obvious going forward.

Thankfully, a number of people have made sincere statements that call for a more thoughtful use of the gift of free speech; one that recognizes that we have the freedom to choose to communicate in a manner that has the potential to unite the Nation as opposed to divide it.  Fox News CEO, Roger Ailes provided a succinct example within the media arena when he said, “I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.  You don’t have to do it with bombast.  I hope the other side does that (as well).”  A number of politicians from both sides of the aisle responded similarly.  I was most struck by the words of Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO), who serves as the new Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.  In an interview with CNN, Rep. Cleaver said, “We can’t blame talk radio or anyone else.  We are the band, the president is the orchestra director and we can’t blame people for picking up a bad tune.  We’ve got to stand up and declare that the 112th Congress has a clean slate.  Whether it’s defiled or not is up to each member of Congress.”  That’s known as taking responsibility for one’s own actions.  Rep. Cleaver, thank you for throwing down the gauntlet.

A defining moment will occur Wednesday evening, January 12th at a memorial service being held in the McKale Center at the University of Arizona.  President Obama will be speaking at “Together We Thrive: Tucson and America,” and it is my sincere hope that he will step up as a leader and deliver a message, devoid of any partisan innuendo, that honors the six individuals who lost their lives in the Tucson tragedy and that inspires all of us to begin to build a better tomorrow for America.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.


This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, The Common Sense Czar, in the Communities Section of The Washington Times.