Violent Rhetoric – and Graphics – in Political Discourse

Whether it is Susan Angle's "Second Ammendment remedies" or the Sarah PAC's targeting of Democrats with the crosshairs of a gun's scope, or the Democrats' use of target images for their political strategy in 2004, violent rhetoric in political discourse only contributes to an environment where shootings like the one today in Arizona can take place.  No online graphic or politician's reckless rhetoric caused today's shooting, but it sure didn't help.

Please, can political opponents simply be opponents, and not "enemies" at whom we are urged to take a shot?  Let's tone down the rhetoric, please.


Note that the blood red crosshairs stand for opponents who have retired – and thus are politically dead.  The goal is to have this map full of blood red crosshairs, symbolizing politically dead Democrats.  Graphic can be found in many places online, including here.



This graphic, posted on the Democratic Leadership Committee's website in 2004 as an illustration alongside an essay on election strategy, was posted in one discussion to rebut criticism of the Sarah PAC graphic, above.  This graphic and it's language is not helpful.  "Behind Enemy Lines"?  Last I saw, Republicans were opponents, not enemies, of the Democrats.  Such polarizing language is bad for our country.  Nonetheless, this graphic simply targets states, not individuals.  Not as bad as the Palin graphic.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

8 thoughts on “Violent Rhetoric – and Graphics – in Political Discourse

  1. I’m not even sure I’d go with ‘opponents’. It’s better than enemies, but still implies an adversarial relationship. I’d prefer if our political leaders didn’t see one another as adversaries, but rather as working together for the improvement of our national life together ~ but I don’t know the word to describe that. Of course, sometimes I wonder whether there will ever be a day when people who disagree with one another could still be friends.

  2. Nice post. “Such polarizing language is bad for our country.” I couldn’t agree more. However, suggesting that the Dem graphic is not as bad as Palin’s doesn’t help your case here. Polarizing is polarizing. Cross hairs on people may be more bothersome than targets on states, I get that, but whenever we have to end us making “them” worse than “us” we’ve defeated our own premise. I appreciate hikerrev’s point. How do we go all the way from enemies, past opponents and adversaries, to congressional co-creators. Wouldn’t that be a thing? Let the Church be not neutral, but embracing and inclusive.
    Dave Brauer-Rieke

  3. This shooter was a stereotypical nut job but don’t let that get in the way of taking the opportunity to blame Palin for it. Both sides use war/violence vocabulary when talking about winning a contest. I do not think this guy was influenced by Palin’s cross hairs on a map any more than he was by Obama’s call to use guns against Republicans.

  4. As nice as it might be to eliminate terms and images of violence from political rhetoric, it ain’t going to happen. The rhetoric of war has done double duty in politics for as long as there has been politics. Most people have entirely forgotten that even the word “campaign” was originally a military term, and that it is its use in politics that is metaphorical. (I read a blog post not too long ago in which the blogger complained about one of our generals in Afghanistan (or Iraq, I’m not sure) using the word “campaign” to refer to military operations, as if the general had been misusing a political term. The writer had no idea that the military sense of “campaign” is the original sense, and the political sense is the metaphorical one.)
    People do (and always will) use the rhetoric of war in reference to any sort of competition, be it politics, business, sports, or the school spelling bee. Better to focus on the substance, not the rhetoric, of political discourse.

  5. Whenever we label groups, we get into a “we” and “them” mode. It doesn’t have to have any violent undertones at all. But the we/they rhetoric strongly tends to make the WE group somewhat higher/better/more important/better values, etc. WE are the In Crowd, so THEY are the out group, the lesser people, the less valuable, maybe even the slime in society.
    Yes, both sides have done it. I have done it. The admittedly slanted TV network that I sometimes watch does it with the sarcasm its commentators use to denounce the commentators on the fair and balanced network. It is all too easy to have no compassion for those in the group that are less than we are, the unworthy people. We can easily overlook these people and never think about walking a mile in their shoes.

  6. Not even close. “Targets” could apply to darts or paper airplanes. Cross Hairs means gins. They are not equivalent. The Democrats are not “just as bad”. They could tone it down as well, but the really aggregious stuff is from the Republicans. The eliminationist rhetoric, the guns at rallies, and more.

  7. For 30 years I have lived in the district Tom Delay represented. During his last re-election campaign I received one of the robocalls spoken by DeLay himself referring to Democrats as his enemies. I protested via email and a phone call that I actually was a Democratic constituent living in the his district and he was supposed to be representing me, not calling me his enemy. The young person answering the phone didn’t get what I was talking about and why this language was a problem. People don’t even see the violent language they use routinely. Very sad for the future of our country.

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