The recent shooting of Rep. Scalise has brought the old complaint about double standards to the surface again. Absolutely everyone knows that if the shooter had been a Tea Party guy, and if the baseball team in question had been the Democrats, the pieces would still be falling out of the sky. Something really is going on here, but it is not as simple as some want to make it.
The issue is not whether both sides have nutcases. The issue is not whether you can find Twitter feeds on both right and left that are filled to overflowing with vitriolic and violent language. That is granted, and is not the issue. There are people who want to shoot conservatives and there are people who want to shoot abortionists. There are unhinged people out on all the edges.
So if that is the case, then why the claim about double standards? Why do I say, as the saying goes, that if it weren’t for double standards, the left would have no standards at all?
It goes like this. On the left, almost all the extremists are able to function as members of a justified class, and I am using this word in its theological sense. There are exceptions (and this baseball game shooter appears to be one), but there is an array of people given to violence who are justified by their central authorities. And people on the edges who are justified by people at the center are no longer at the edges.
All the leaders of the conservatives provide no justification whatever to hard right extremists. They denounce them early and often. They denounce all of them, front to back, and side to side. Conservative leaders are even required to participate in ritual denunciations of things their tribe did 150 years ago. In the main this is actually a good thing (people fighting for fixed moral standards should live up to them), but it will become decreasingly a good thing as the definitions of extremism that are being cooked up and crammed down our throats by the left become increasingly bizarre. Outlaw normalcy!
So the issue is not whether you can find a bad actor on the right and then another bad actor on the left. And the issue is not how bad they might get. We should rather compare the left and right on this issue by looking at how much violence is approved by its respective center. And this is where comparative thought experiments come in handy. We know that Kathy Griffin was surprised by the negative reaction she got, but if, say, Dennis Miller had done a photo shoot with a severed head of Obama, we all know that the rest of his life would be something that only Salman Rushdie could identify with. The left was quick to blame Sarah Palin for helping to create the “climate of hate” that contributed to Rep. Giffords getting shot. She had used a “targeting” metaphor with regard to congressional races, and without any evidence that the shooter knew anything about her metaphors, the conclusion was reached that Palin had something to do with the harm done to Giffords. And then here, we have someone who had stopped just short of having “I love Bernie” on his forehead, we are all officially mystified as to what made him snap. His actions were rightly condemned, but where did that climate of hate go? It was here a minute ago.
The forefront of the justified classes on the left include, but are not limited to, activists, artists, college students, protesters, organizers, and youths. The issue is how much violent behavior gets a free pass, how much of it is not denounced by the leaders of the faction that benefits from the agitation. Smashing windows and burning cars is euphemistically called “protesting,” just so long as the bricks are being thrown by a left hand. From Berkeley to Baltimore, from Ferguson to Oakland, from Evergreen to Middlebury, the left is largely free to resort to violence.
The violence will be denounced if someone gets out too far out over their skis, as the baseball shooter did. But there is still a large amount of tolerated violence going on constantly in the background. That violence is not being denounced in the same way, and why? Because it is being used. It is one of their chess pieces on the board, one they use a lot.
And the only other kind of violence that is sure to be denounced will be when middle America (fairly well armed, come to think of it) starts to fight back. I hesitate before leaving this point in my post here because people always think I am wishing for that kind of reaction, or somehow threatening it. Not at all. But whether I want it to or not, whether I am wishing for it or not, the reaction is already underway.