In case you haven't been paying close attention during all the back and forth over the current state of our political discourse, the absurd "both sides" meme has returned with a vengeance over the past couple of days. The claim, of course -- generally heard from the side accused correctly of trafficking most in irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric -- is that, well, both sides are guilty of trafficking in irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric. It's bullshit -- but you hear it a lot.
Well, now there's this from CBS News, which conducted a poll to try to pin down just who's behind all the anger:
"The poll also shows that while three in four Americans say violence against the government is never justified, 16 percent say it can be justified -- the same percentage that said as much in April. Twenty-eight percent of Republicans said such violence can be justified, compared with 11 percent of Democrats and independents."
Anybody surprised? Anybody?
First of all, at this point, after what we now know about Jared Loughner, I'm not saying that he was some right-wing stooge who took the words of Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin to heart and acted on them. He's much more your garden variety whack-job whose ideology is, predictably, all over the place. But there remains the possibility that the overall climate of unfocused rage in Arizona may have fed his psychosis -- and the discussion about how far things have gone in this country when it comes to politically based outrage is one worth having, regardless.
What the above poll clearly shows, though, is that, no, both sides of the political spectrum aren't dispensing the same brand of dangerous invective; they don't subscribe to the same consistently stoked anti-government paranoia or, let's face it, possess the same fetishistic view of militarism -- that worship of gun culture or innate horseshit frontier mentality that still, in 2011, believes that it might only be a matter of time before they have to pull a John Wayne and grab their rifle to defend what's theirs, en masse. I'm damn well not saying that everyone on the right is like this, only that most who are like this are on the right; it's part of their ideological DNA.
And it's adopted as a cynical sales pitch by people like Sarah Palin, who plays the entirely fictional role of Caribou Barbie on her reality TV show -- hunting "wild game" while a make-up tent and craft services spread sits directly off-camera.
Or Glenn Beck, who strikes a Jack Bauer-esque pose -- complete with handgun -- on his website, despite the fact that if he were ever really put in a live-fire situation, he'd almost certainly cower in a corner and cry like a four-year-old.