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
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
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
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
to 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 […], we’re going to rip out their living […]
and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those
lousy Hun […] by the bushel-[…]-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.
Alexander Sanger is Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council
and the grandson of Margaret Sanger, founder of the birth control movement more
than eighty years ago.