During the election campaign of 1912, a mentally-unbalanced man fired a shot at Theodore Roosevelt, the candidate of the Bull Moose Party, at a rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The bullet was slowed by TR’s lengthy speech, which he had double folded in his pocket, and by his eyeglasses case, nevertheless the bullet entered his body and he was bleeding profusely. Roosevelt declined to seek immediate medical attention and mounted the podium, announcing that he had been shot but that “it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”
A minute later, Roosevelt delivered the following lines about his would-be assassin.
“Now, friends, of course, I do not know, as I say, anything about him; but it is a very natural thing that weak and vicious minds should be inflamed to acts of violence by the kind of awful mendacity and abuse that have been heaped upon me for the last three months by the papers in the interest of not only Mr. Debs but of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Taft.
“Friends, I will disown and repudiate any man of my party who attacks with such foul slander and abuse any opponent of any other party; and now I wish to say seriously to all the daily newspapers, to the Republicans, the Democrat, and Socialist parties, that they cannot, month in month out and year in and year out, make the kind of untruthful, of bitter assault that they have made and not expect that brutal, violent natures, or brutal and violent characters, especially when the brutality is accompanied by a not very strong mind; they cannot expect that such natures will be unaffected by it.”
These words bring to mind the mendacity, abuse and foul slander that were heaped upon Dr. George Tiller by the Right Wing talk show machine, most prominently by Bill O’Reilly, but by others as well. O’Reilly called Dr. Tiller a “baby killer,” who has “blood on his hands” and who is guilty of what O’Reilly called “Nazi stuff.” Others in the Right Wing routinely call abortion a “Holocaust.”
Bill O’Reilly and his cohorts of hate cannot expect that “not very strong minds…will be unaffected” by their inflammatory language.
Truly delusional or deranged persons need little of this sort of “foul slander” to pick up a gun in order to prevent what they are told is a Holocaust. Those with weaker minds and constitutions need more instigation, which is what the daily litany of hate, intolerance and mendacity that Right Wing talk shows provide. They also provide a justification for murder — that murdering a doctor is justifiable homicide, preventing a greater evil, saving innocent lives. In this case, homicide isn’t just justifiable, it is as necessary and imperative as bombing Auschwitz.
Delusional people often commit assassinations—Hinckley shooting Reagan to impress Jody Foster, for example. But an ordinary human mind, even a not very strong one, needs to be inflamed to commit the deed. Murder is a powerful taboo, but it can be overridden by the sort of bile that TR decried in 1912.
The Right Wing talk show juggernaut is an operation that would make Joseph Goebbels or the KKK proud — first dehumanizing the enemy, as the Nazis did the Jews and as the KKK did the black man, then dramatizing their threat to the home and hearth, and finally inciting the weak, in carefully coded and deniable language, saying that whatever happens to the enemy he brought on himself.
Those defending or excusing the murder of Dr. Tiller adduce a perverse variation on the civil obedience argument of Gandhi and King and Thoreau—murder for a higher principle. They press that principle further to say that it was necessary to kill the doctor in order to save lives—the lives of unborn children he might have aborted. This is to adapt the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Greater Good justification (we dropped the bombs to end the war to save American and Japanese lives, as many as a million and more) to the abortion issue.
General George S. Patton used to give incredibly bloodthirsty speeches to his men in order to inflame them to kill in battle, believing that it was necessary get men’s passions up in order to induce them to commit murder. So the atrocities they committed in war seemed to them condign revenge and (as with the murder of an abortion doctor) a morally justified preventative measure. In his famous “Blood and Guts” speech to his Third Army on the eve of D-Day, Patton said the following:
“We’re not going to just shoot the sons-of-bitches, we’re going to rip out their living Goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those lousy Hun cocksuckers by the bushel-fucking-basket. War is a bloody, killing business. You’ve got to spill their blood, or they will spill yours. Rip them up the belly. Shoot them in the guts.”
Scott Roeder, the accused murder of Dr. Tiller, upon hearing that Dr. Tiller’s clinic would not reopen, said the closure would mean “no more slicing and dicing of the unborn child in the mother’s womb and no more needles of poison into the baby’s heart to stop the heart from beating…” I wonder which Right Wing Patton he heard that from.