Monday, January 10, 2011

Reverse Blogwhoring: Arizona Blues, Part 1

I've been spending a lot of time on Pharyngula since the shootings in Arizona Saturday, and I thought I might post versions of a couple of my longer comments there as blog posts here... which is a turnaround on the usual blogwhoring practice of commenting at some other blog for no reason other than to redirect traffic to your own. So here's the first comment, in response to another commenter who had objected to a plan from Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA) to criminalize "language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or federal official," in part on the grounds that it was cowardly of a congressman to attempt to safeguard himself and his federal colleagues when others had been injured and killed. I said...

I agree that Brady's proposal may be wrongheaded — credible threats of violence against public officials are (AFAIK) already illegal, and Brady's proposed change would put protected political speech at risk of prior restraint on the basis of what is effectively subjective literary analysis — but to suggest his motivation for making it is cowardly personal self-protection is, you'll pardon me for saying so, foolish on your part.

The security of our elected representatives is an important issue not because they're too cowardly to face the risk, but because they're our elected representatives! They deserve extra protection under the law not because they're more valuable as individuals than "regular people," but because, in addition to their value as individuals, they represent the rest of us. When the gunman fired a bullet into the brain of Gabby Giffords, he was not only attacking a daughter, a wife, a sister-in-law, a respected colleague, and no doubt a friend to legions; he was also attacking every citizen in her district by proxy, and attacking the very concept of representative government¹. When you target a public figure for violence, you're doing violence not only to a person, but also to everything the office that person holds stands for... and thus to everyone that office represents.

The tragic price paid by others in that crowd should make us more determined, rather than less, to stand up for the personal inviolability of those individuals willing to take on the grave responsibility of public service.

My own congressman is also a friend; in fact, I was talking to him at a local event Saturday morning, perhaps at the time this was happening in Arizona. When I got home and saw this news, my blood ran cold. I don't need to think my congressman is a coward — in fact, he is the polar opposite of that — to be desperately concerned for his safety. If some deranged right-wing gun nut comes for him at a public event, there's a chance I'll be there, and at risk... but it's certain he'll be there. I need him to stay safe, and we all need an environment in which it's safe for our leaders to lead.

¹ Please note: I'm not making wild suppositions about his motivations here; I'm making observations about the impact of his actual acts.

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