GOP Sen. Jason Atkinson condemns Palin gunsight map, calls for change in political tone

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Senator Jason Atkinson (R-Central Point), who was the GOP's nominee for Senate President yesterday (and ran for Governor in 2006), is a friend of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords - and is condemning violent rhetoric in the wake of the shooting in Tucson over the weekend.

From the Medford Mail Tribune:

Atkinson was inside his closet at his Central Point home on Saturday packing his shoes for his trip to Salem for the beginning of the 76th state Legislature when he heard on the news that an Arizona congresswoman had been shot.

"I said, 'It better not be Gabby,' " he recalled. Atkinson and Giffords became friends when they both were in the Aspen Institute's inaugural class in 2005 for the Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership program based in Washington, D.C. ...

Atkinson said Monday in a speech on the Senate floor that the Tucson shooting should serve as a catalyst for change in the tone of political discourse across the nation, starting in the Oregon Senate.

"We have to turn off the national appetite for bad news," Atkinson said, "the idea that I am right, and you are evil."

Regarding Sarah Palin's gunsight map that targeted 20 Democrats - including Giffords:

Atkinson also condemned political tactics such as Sarah Palin's political action committee's use of a map depicting gun-sight images over congressional districts of House Democrats Palin wanted to win for the GOP in 2010.

Now, he also said that the "whole Keith Olbermann anger thing, all the sarcasm is the lowest common denominator" -- and I'll disagree with that. Sarcasm is not the lowest form of political commentary. It can often be tedious, repetitive, and stupid - but it's a far cry from the violent rhetoric we've heard from Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, G. Gordon Liddy, Michael Savage, and others.

But nonetheless, Jason Atkinson continues to prove why he's the most thoughtful and interesting conservative in Oregon politics.

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    Most thoughtful and interesting conservative in Oregon politics? That's an interesting question.

    I appreciate Sen. Atkinson's angles and thoughts (and appreciation of bicycles and fish), but would probably put others (Jack Roberts, for example) ahead in the race to be the most thoughtful and interesting conservative. How do you compare him with Rep. Bob Jenson? Or, despite my complete disagreement on the issues, I've had compelling conversations with Sen. Boquist... an interesting question, indeed.

    A hat tip, though, to Senator Atkinson for speaking up.

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      I'm a big fan of Jack's. And there's hardly a reason to start ranking people, but Jason is fascinating to me because he's certainly a rock-ribbed conservative - but he's hardly knee-jerk about it, like so many of his colleagues.

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        Jason Atkinson is one of the most fascinating conservatives in Oregon and as far as I know, the rest of the Northwest. He champions conservative causes with energy but doesn't treat politics as a blood sport and calls foul when he sees it, regardless of consequences.

        At bottom, Jason acts like we're Americans, Oregonians, and, most of all human beings. He has the capacity to see political excess and oppose it when it seeks to demean and demonize fellow human beings in and out of the immediate arena.

        He may be off key when he asserts some sort of equivalency between Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann. But Olbermann is so over-the-top, I stopped listening to him long ago.

        Politics could use more Jason Atkinsons.

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    Thank you, Senator Atkinson. Well done.

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    Would you vote for him for Governor?

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      No, I wouldn't vote for him for governor because of his preferred policies. But if he were elected I would give him and his office respect, and I would give him a fair listening. I wouldn't claim he wasn't a real American or implanted Manchurian candidate from a foreign place or religion.

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      Not likely. But you never know.

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    Holy Crow! Check out this trove of hate:

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      Really?! Some graffiti says "We won't fight your wars!" and that's a Malkin example of rhetoric calling on violence towards others?

      Huh. Guess I have to study up on this strange language.

      I think there's an intentional blurring (by the right) of the distinction between direct calls for/imagery about armed violence - and anger and "fight" language. If you don't think there's a meaningful difference there, I'd be interested in that conversation.

      Perhaps neither example is productive to the success of our long-term democracy, but I think there's a real distinction when we're trying to learn from Arizona.

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        There is a big difference between "We have to fight the right-wingers who want blah blah blah..." and "You know, sometimes the blood of tyrants must be shed."

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    What a breath of fresh air from a GOP leader in our state? Now if the national GOP party could take note.

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    When liberals defend mainstream American Muslims, we do so knowing that they regularly acknowledge that radicals too often twist their faith into a justification for violence, and that they denounce it. These denunciations may not always make it into the news, but it happens.

    And therefore, we do not blame them for the actions of a relative handful of murderers.

    For far too many U.S. conservatives, their heads are buried so deep in the sand(*), they won't even acknowledge that they have a problem.

    (*) Or other portion of their anatomy

    And a problem they do have. The list of right wing violence is too long for this post, but it is obvious to anyone with a shred of intellectual dignity.

    So yes, kudos to Jason Atkinson. I may strongly disagree with him as an American. I may believe his solutions for U.S. economic ills have already been tried and already been proven to fail. But at least he is doing the exact same ethical steps that millions of American Muslims have already done, and said that violence, and all-too-cute implicit threats of violence, are not acceptable.

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      On persistent right wing violence. (Note: unabashedly cribbed from Crooks and Liars)

      -- July 2008: A gunman named Jim David Adkisson, agitated at how "liberals" are "destroying America," walks into a Unitarian Church and opens fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others.

      -- October 2008: Two neo-Nazis are arrested in Tennessee in a plot to murder dozens of African-Americans, culminating in the assassination of President Obama.

      -- December 2008: A pair of "Patriot" movement radicals -- the father-son team of Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, who wanted "to attack the political infrastructure" -- threaten a bank in Woodburn, Oregon, with a bomb in the hopes of extorting money that would end their financial difficulties, for which they blamed the government. Instead, the bomb goes off and kills two police officers. The men eventually are convicted and sentenced to death for the crime.

      -- December 2008: In Belfast, Maine, police discover the makings of a nuclear "dirty bomb" in the basement of a white supremacist shot dead by his wife. The man, who was independently wealthy, reportedly was agitated about the election of President Obama and was crafting a plan to set off the bomb.

      -- January 2009: A white supremacist named Keith Luke embarks on a killing rampage in Brockton, Mass., raping and wounding a black woman and killing her sister, then killing a homeless man before being captured by police as he is en route to a Jewish community center.

      -- February 2009: A Marine named Kody Brittingham is arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Obama. Brittingham also collected white-supremacist material.

      -- April 2009: A white supremacist named Richard Poplawski opens fire on three Pittsburgh police officers who come to his house on a domestic-violence call and kills all three, because he believed President Obama intended to take away the guns of white citizens like himself. Poplawski is currently awaiting trial.

      -- April 2009: Another gunman in Okaloosa County, Florida, similarly fearful of Obama's purported gun-grabbing plans, kills two deputies when they come to arrest him in a domestic-violence matter, then is killed himself in a shootout with police.

      -- May 2009: A "sovereign citizen" named Scott Roeder walks into a church in Wichita, Kansas, and assassinates abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

      -- June 2009: A Holocaust denier and right-wing tax protester named James Von Brunn opens fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard.

      -- February 2010: An angry tax protester named Joseph Ray Stack flies an airplane into the building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas. (Media are reluctant to label this one "domestic terrorism" too.)

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        -- March 2010: Seven militiamen from the Hutaree Militia in Michigan and Ohio are arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate local police officers with the intent of sparking a new civil war.

        -- March 2010: An anti-government extremist named John Patrick Bedell walks into the Pentagon and opens fire, wounding two officers before he is himself shot dead.

        -- May 2010: A "sovereign citizen" from Georgia is arrested in Tennessee and charged with plotting the violent takeover of a local county courthouse.

        -- May 2010: A still-unidentified white man walks into a Jacksonville, Fla., mosque and sets it afire, simultaneously setting off a pipe bomb.

        -- May 2010: Two "sovereign citizens" named Jerry and Joe Kane gun down two police officers who pull them over for a traffic violation, and then wound two more officers in a shootout in which both of them are eventually killed.

        -- July 2010: An agitated right-winger and convict named Byron Williams loads up on weapons and drives to the Bay Area intent on attacking the offices of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, but is intercepted by state patrolmen and engages them in a shootout and armed standoff in which two officers and Williams are wounded.

        -- September 2010: A Concord, N.C., man is arrested and charged with plotting to blow up a North Carolina abortion clinic. The man, 26-year--old Justin Carl Moose, referred to himself as the "Christian counterpart to (Osama) bin Laden” in a taped undercover meeting with a federal informant.

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    Jason's comments are absolutely correct, including the one about Keith Olbermann. Olbermann's juvenile name calling has long lost its shock value and is now just pathetic.

    Today he referred to the NRA as "soulless" and "money-grubbing" in calling for new gun control legislation. How does that advance the conversation or do anything but further polarize political debate over critical issues?

    I'm proud of Jason for calling out his fellow Republicans and conservatives in setting a higher standard for political discourse. I would love to see some Democrats and liberals do the same.

    You don't have to assert "moral equivalence" (which is always Olbermann's defense, "I'm not as bad as Beck, Hannity or O'Reilly!"). Just admit he crosses the line and should clean up his act.

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        Part of the problem, Kari, is that we really don't know what effect any of this rhetoric has on crazy people. To the extent that any rhetoric affected Jared Loughner it appears to have been crackpot ideas about currency and grammar, not gun metaphors.

        Frankly, I think the idea that we should eliminate such metaphors--whether its Palin's bullseye or Obama's quote from Sean Connery in The Untouchables--is more about good taste and actual civility than removing a real contributing cause of gun violence.

        On the other hand, I think language that dehumanizes those with whom we disagree does contribute to an environment in which some unbalanced and irrational people may justify their resort resort to violence.

        That's the real damage that I think people like Glenn Beck and Michael Savage do and which I think Keith Olbermann does.

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          While I think that making angry comments and violent hateful comments as equivalent is missing the point, I dislike listening/watching left-wing commentators as much as the right-wing ones. Olbermann, Rhandi Rhodes, and some of the evening shows on KPOJ are just as irritating as Limbaugh and Hannity. I really wish that we would get a better mix of shows on KPOJ that were equal to the locally sourced ones with some intelligence.

          My opinion of Mr. Atkinson has also grown. Of course, he well understands the impact of gunshots.

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          Jack, I worked for many years as a Mental Health commitment investigator in Oregon and I can tell you that conspiratorial and violent rhetoric and symbols, words and symbols that legitimize violence do have an effect in provoking mentally ill and personality disordered people to act out violently. On one occasion I consulted with the Secret Service and warned them to watch a mentally ill woman who was known to carry a loaded gun in her purse on the occasion of an anticipated visit from President Reagan. I expect they watched her closely and kept her from being anywhere where she might do harm.

          When Congresswoman Giffords asked Sarah Palin to refrain from using violent symbols legitimizing violence she knew what she was talking about, and sadly Sarah Palin and her teabagger followers are uncontrite and doubling down on their behavior. Just today on of your own Republican Party officials, an African American, chose to quit his office after threats on him and his family from teabaggers. His statement: "I love the Republican Party but I don't want to take a bullet for anyone." I hope Jason Atkinson and his family are now not under threat because of his statements.

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          Again, I think there's a substantial difference between rhetorical metaphors about "fight" and "war", which abound in politics and sports -- and generalized (though non-specific) calls to action, such as the "if ballots don't work, we'll turn to bullets" stuff.

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      I assume that you're saying that Olbermann was the one calling for gun control legislation, not the NRA.

      Do you really think that calling an organization "soulless" and "money-grubbing" is the same as Glenn Beck's calling the President a racist? Do you really think it's the same as Lars' lie that nearly all terrorist acts of the last 40 years have been by Muslims? Do you really think it's the same as Rush Limbaugh accusing Democrats of trying to make sure that Loughner is acquitted?

      Olbermann may cross a line (though calling an organization "soulless" doesn't really seem to fit the bill--come on, Jack, you've got to do better than that), but Beck and Larson and Limbaugh routinely cross far different lines, and suffer no consequences for it.

      If Olbermann uses violent rhetoric and imagery on his show, or allows guests to use violent rhetoric and doesn't challenge them for it, then yes, I'm all for calling him out.

      But I'm unaware of anyone on his show calling for "Second Amendment remedies." You'll notice that Larson didn't challenge Sharon Angle in any way when she said that.

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      Maybe there would be less name-calling if the conservative movement/GOP wasn't full of bigots, creationists, and corporate prostitutes.

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    This from RFK Jr.

    "Uncle Jack's speech in Dallas was to have been an explosive broadside against the right wing. He found Dallas' streets packed five deep with Kennedy Democrats, but among them were the familiar ornaments of presidential hatred; high-flying confederate flags and hundreds of posters adorning the walls and streets of Dallas showing Jack's picture inscribed with "Wanted for Treason." One man held a posterboard saying, "you a traitor [sic]." Other placards accused him of being a communist. When public school P.A. systems announced Jack's assassination, Dallas school children as young as the fourth grade applauded. A Birmingham radio caller declared that "any white man who did what he did for nig%ers should be shot." As my siblings and I visited the White House to console my cousins John and Caroline, a picket paraded out front with a sign, "God punished JFK.

    Jack's death forced a national bout of self-examination. In 1964, Americans repudiated the forces of right-wing hatred and violence with an historic landslide in the presidential election between LBJ and Goldwater. For a while, the advocates of right-wing extremism receded from the public forum. Now they have returned with a vengeance - to the broadcast media and to prominent positions in the political landscape."

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      Yes, and many people immediately jumped to the conclusion that Kennedy must have been killed by a rightwinger--until it turned out he was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald.

      Jackie Kennedy was quoted as saying, "He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights. It had to be a silly little communist."

      Following President Kennedy's assassination and Goldwater's crushing defeat in 1964, right wing rhetoric did cool down.

      Even so, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were still assassinated in 1968 and George Wallace was crippled by an attempted assassin in 1972.

      Apparently, rightwing rhetoric is not the primary source of political violence.

      I will believe that people are serious about the effect of political rhetoric when they take their partisan blinders off and apply the criticisms across the board, as Jason Atkinson has done. Otherwise, I'll suspect they're just exploiting a tragedy for their own political aims.

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        Jack, I know the tendency here for most Republicans is to circle the wagons and fire back, and we can argue about rhetoric and equivalency, but question has to be asked, is the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords a turning point or the beginning of our country turning into another Lebanon. For me the alarm bells began ringing, a line was crossed was when teabaggers began a campaign to show up at town hall meetings with loaded AK-47s. The point of that went beyond an exercise of 2nd amendment. The purpose was to threaten and menace. A continued escalation will to come to a point where the right of assembly and free speech is turned into a situation where armed militias meet each other on the streets for political dominance and acts of terror and assassination take the place of the ballot box. Aren't you worried about the voices calling for "second amendment remedies" and armed insurrection and "taking out" govt. officials? Is any public official safe in our country any more? I don't think so.

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          The problem, Bill, is that we either believe in raising the level of political discourse in this country or we don't.

          If our real concern isn't discourse but people who are actually taking up arms and shooting people, that's a different subject and we should leave the talking heads and political figures alone because none of them are advocating that or participating in it. And so far as I can tell there is absolutely no evidence that any of them actually inspired this shooting or any other.

          But if we're serious about raising the level of the debate, we first need to debate that because it isn't clear that we are all talking about the same thing.

          If we continue to call each other every name in the book and attribute the basest and most evil qualities to folks on the other side but are carefull not to use gun metaphors or language suggesting violence, I think we'll find that nothing really has changed.

          I remember when William F. Buckley hosted a TV show called "Firing Line" and CNN named one of the first political talk shows "Cross Fire" and yet no one feared that these were inspiring violence.

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            I liked "Firing Line" and despite the fact that Buckley was as partisan and conservative as one might get, he was respectful and argued on an intellectual basis without demonizing his opponents or making personal attacks. Those on the right today, Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, Hannity, would do well to emulate him, but none of them have the intellectual preparation or the ethical commitment that he did.

            I don't like the rhetoric today and I agree both sides need to take responsibility. But I'm worried about right wing militias who train to kill other Americans. I'm worried about people who vandalize and attack the offices of public officials. I'm worried about people who threaten the lives of public officials and their families fueled by anti-govt. rhetoric. There was a time in the 60s and 70s where that was coming from the Left, but it's coming from the right. And now, as of today Congressman Mike Pence defends the presence of loaded guns at political events, equating them with free speech and political placards. Sensible people like you in your own party need to speak out critically at that kind of atmosphere of intimidation.

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            Addendum, Jack. I take exception with your isolating political speech and violence. There is a connection between talking heads and gun violence, especially when the talking heads are demonizing individuals and labeling them as terrorist sympathizers or traitors to their country. As I mentioned upstream, I was a mental health commitment investigator and the paranoid, the personality disordered, and the political fanatic pay attention and take these messages in the media as commands to act. Especially when they are reinforced by politicians who promote "second amendment" gun violence when ballots don't work, or who promote packing loaded guns to political rallies to emphasize your point and intimidate the opposition.

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            we should leave the talking heads and political figures alone because none of them are advocating that or participating in it.

            Wrong, wrong, wrong.

            Again, there are people who have substantial megaphones in the political discourse - radio hosts and politicians who are, in fact, advocating for taking up arms.

            Since I always ask people to cite specifics, I will -- though they're all over the place these days.

            That last one, by the way, because Erickson was apparently offended that Washington legislators would consider - oh, the horror! - banning phosphates from dishwasher detergent.

            Whether Laughner was left-wing or right-wing or just-plain-nuts is irrelevant. He's a lunatic with a gun living in a world where serious people with megaphones are saying that it's OK to use violence as a remedy for political disagreement.

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              I agree that those examples are horrendous (although the Beck comment is more an example of extremely bad taste than an incitement to violence).

              My problem is lumping them in with Palin's "Don't retreat, reload!" or the kind of rhetoric more typical of talk radio and cable news networks. But I think if all we do is eliminate these more extreme statements--which I strongly support--we will not really have raised the level of our political discourse the way John Stewart, for example, has been advocating.

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        I am all for reciprocal self criticism. However, Jack, the critical moment at this moment of history is not about what will become of the Dem. Party. We will continue to be pretty much as we have been as a coalition united by common New Deal principles. We are not going to lead any armed insurrections. Rather it is about what will become of our nation if the Republican Party is captured by extremists and thugs. If reasonable women and men can prevail in your party and act on the perspective of leaders like Jason Atkinson, in this instance, then perhaps we are in good stead. If the militants and thugs prevail in your party, then no one will be safe. I hope you can work to support the forces of reason and decency in your party. We will all go over the abyss if that isn't possible.

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    I want to add one, not minor, point. It is of great significance to me that Jason Atkinson knows Gabriele Giffords personally as friend. When we know another as person, they become part of our circle of community. So Gabriele wasn't just a hated "librul" to Jason and vice versa, there's a bond of humanness and friendship that transcends ideology and group loyalty, that enabled Jason to critique someone in his own political grouping. That is the psychological, human reality which is not captured in ideology and struggles for power. Differences in policy viewpoints are real, but when any of us places another outside the human family, and outside of our circle of belonging and community, such a person becomes expendable and even a hated stranger or threat.

    A number of veteran senators have lamented that senators leave D.C. on the weekend. Friendships no longer form. Senators no longer attend the weddings and graduations of each other's children or backyard barbeques or other social gatherings. The alienation has grown deep and bitter as a consequence and compromise has become a dirty word.

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    I believe the president's speech this evening found common ground of healing with Sen. Jason Atkinson's remarks noted here. Even Charles Krauthammer called the speech, "brilliant." Maybe Jack's expressed wish here can be realized in the journey ahead.

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      I agree. A nice combination of "Mourner in Chief" and "Healer in Chief"--an underappreciated role for a U.S. President in today's world.

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