Patterico's Pontifications


Sensibility and Sociopathy: Jon Stewart, Howard Fineman, and Others React to the Safeway Massacre

Filed under: General — Aaron Worthing @ 6:33 pm

[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.]

Buckle up, because this is a long one.

First we will start with Jon Stewart.  This segment should be a warning to anyone on the left who thinks this blood libel is going to work: not even Jon Stewart is buying it.

Now earlier Patterico asked which was worse: inflamed, honest rhetoric or calm, “civil” smears.  Jon Stewart decides he will take door number three: calm, civil honest rhetoric.

(Warning: This clip is not actually very funny.  But he’s not really trying to be funny.)

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Arizona Shootings Reaction
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

So his view is that we can’t really blame overheated rhetoric for the massacre, but let’s try being kinder to each other anyway.  Of course this is reminiscent of the time he skullfraked the blogosphere:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Blogs Must Be Crazy
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

There is a certain consistency of wanting the rhetoric tamped down, and he seems to be genuinely non-partisan in his approach.  I respect that, although I also remember what the Supreme Court wrote in Cohen v. California, explaining why the first amendment includes the right to walk around a courthouse with the words “fuck the draft” written on his jacket:

[I]t is well illustrated by the episode involved here, that much linguistic expression serves a dual communicative function: it conveys not only ideas capable of relatively precise, detached explication, but otherwise inexpressible emotions as well. In fact, words are often chosen as much for their emotive as their cognitive force. We cannot sanction the view that the Constitution, while solicitous of the cognitive content of individual speech, has little or no regard for that emotive function which, practically speaking, may often be the more important element of the overall message sought to be communicated. Indeed, as Mr. Justice Frankfurter has said, “[o]ne of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures—and that means not only informed and responsible criticism but the freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation.”

It is precisely for this reason I say immoderate things at times.

Contrast Jon Stewart’s very reasonable, very human reaction to things with this little bit of sociopathy from Howard Fineman, writing at HuffPo yesterday.  He starts off reasonably enough talking about how reaction to tragedy shapes human events:

We don’t yet know the extent to which the Tucson murders were about politics per se, though the alleged killer apparently did deliberately target a member of Congress. But violent national tragedies such as this one can profoundly affect the temper of the times–and the fate of the presidents who are in office when they happen.

The most vivid and obvious occurred almost a decade ago, when Al Qaeda attacked on September 11, 2001. President George W. Bush, his presidency until that point largely adrift, spoke amid the rubble of the World Trade Center four days later.

He made many mistakes thereafter. We are living with the consequences of them. But it is hard not to conclude that his bullhorn moment in New York–capturing Bush at his ardent best–all but insured his re-election three years later.

I think that was a bit much, actually.  Bush had a great moment on September 14, but it was still a close reelection.  Kerry could have won; imagine if the man hadn’t slandered our soldiers and did have a scintilla of personality?  Fineman goes on to talk about Clinton’s speech at Oklahoma City, saying it had a similar effect.  I remember watching it, but I remember none of it.  By comparison I will never forget the image of President Bush hooking his arm around one fireman and saying, through that bullhorn, “I hear you!”

Fineman continues:

Now comes Tucson. The deaths there are not about politics, ideology or party. From what we know, Jared Loughner’s acts were those of a madman divorced from reality, let alone from public debate.

But that doesn’t make Tucson politically meaningless. The president need not, and should not, speak of ideas or programs or parties. What he can speak about, and what perhaps he will speak about, is civility….

As was the case with Clinton, Obama may be able to remind voters of what they like best about him: his sensible demeanor. Amid the din and ferocity of our political culture, he respectfully keeps his voice down, his emotions in check and his mind open.

That is the pitch, at least. The trick is to make it without seeming to be trying to make it. He will, after all, be speaking at a funeral.

Got that?  It’s a funeral, so try to fake sincerity.

Seriously, what the frak?!

I am reminded of Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People.  Carnegie’s basic idea is that you do that—win friends and influence people—by being nice, showing empathy, and so on.  But in one part of the book he explains that he is not telling you to fake niceness.  He is telling you to genuinely be nice.

And in the end, wasn’t that what made Bush’s bullhorn speech so special?  He wasn’t pretending to care.  He really did.  Here, watch it again:

Do you think Bush planned that reaction on any level?  No, he just expressed the simple patriotic anger that every normal American felt right then and there.

And I wasn’t kidding or hyperbolic when calling this sociopathy.  Consider this from the profile of a sociopath:

  • Shallow Emotions: When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
  • Incapacity for Love
  • Callousness/Lack of Empathy: Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others’ feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.

Now, I won’t pretend to diagnose him, but it sure is creepy the way that lines up.  And there sure is a lot of that going around.  Like you have this from Mark Halperin, telling Obama how to come back from political oblivion:

No one wants the country to suffer another catastrophe. But when a struggling Bill Clinton was faced with the Oklahoma City bombing and a floundering George W. Bush was confronted by 9/11, they found their voices and a route to political revival….

While he negotiates his way through the lame-duck session of Congress, prepares for his State of the Union address and budget, and braces for the new normals of 2011, the President had better figure out how to react when the moment comes. Without that moment — whatever it is — and strong leadership in its wake, Obama may find his luck has run out.

Obviously that was written before this shooting occurred.  And as if that wasn’t risible enough, um, please put down any items in your hands, because you are liable to throw something at the screen while watching this clip:

Oh, the mainstream media, rushing to blame the people on the opposite side of the political spectrum from the gunman, they have been pretty good.  But, the right has been behaving badly because they don’t like to be blood libeled.  Glad he cleared that up.

And there is a similar “gee, if only Obama had a OK City moment” sentiment was expressed by Democratic Pollster Mark Penn:

And there is also Jonathan Alter, in a piece entitled, “Can Obama Turn Tragedy Into Triumph?”

This horrific event offers the president a chance to show leadership qualities that he’s inexplicably hidden away in some blind trust. The shootings and the resulting debate over the climate of incivility play to his strengths as a calm and rational leader. Just as Bill Clinton’s response to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings helped him recover from his defeat in the 1994 midterms, so this episode may help Obama change—at least in the short term–the trajectory of American politics…

Conservatives like to argue that these are isolated incidents carried out by lunatics and therefore carry no big lessons (unless the perpetrator is Muslim, in which case it’s terrorism); liberals view them as opportunities to address various social ills. Obama is in the latter category and should act accordingly. “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel famously said in 2008. The same goes for a shooting spree that gravely wounds a beloved congresswoman.

And of course the most famous example is Rahm Emanuel:

The interesting thing is he has recently said that we shouldn’t apply that wisdom, here:

What I said is never allow a good crisis go to waste when its an opportunity to do things you had never considered or didn’t think were possible. That’s not intended for this moment, or does it apply to this moment.

First, you can decide whether you credit that, or not. I myself think too many people have expressed that same sentiment to pretend they all aren’t actually hoping and praying for this to occur.

Second, here’s a hint, you jackasses.  The key to exploiting a Reichstag Fire situation, is not to tell the whole world that you are about to shamelessly exploit the situation.

By comparison, consider this powerful interview between Megyn Kelly and John Green, father of Christina Green, the nine year old girl murdered in this massacre.  I noted earlier that she was born on September 11, 2001 and speculated that “[y]ou have to think that with the terrorist attacks on 9-11, that Christina was a light of hope to her parents and extended family.  And now that light of hope was extinguished.”  That speculation is verified in this video which is occasionally hard to listen to:

It is hard to listen to, but simultaneously compelling. But I want to highlight something else.  It would have been the easiest thing in the world as a grieving father to say, “this proves we must change X.”  Anger is one of the stages of grief, right? Instead he says that we should not restrict our freedoms in response to this event; that one of the prices of living in a free society is that occasionally things like this happen.  It is sad that in a moment of grief this father is far more rational than the Democrats and liberals listed above.

[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

10 Responses to “Sensibility and Sociopathy: Jon Stewart, Howard Fineman, and Others React to the Safeway Massacre”

  1. yelverton can write whatever he wants. he is not posting here.

    Aaron Worthing (73a7ea)

  2. Fineman, and others, repeated this idiocy (“Sarah Palin and the Tea Party were not responsible for the actions of the shooter, BUT . . .”) on every single one of MiSiNformation Bull Crap’s prime-time shows last night.


    Icy Texan (0705a8)

  3. That’s what Ingraham calls ‘the but monkey’. Sad, I used to think that Feinman would be the sane one at Newsweek, yet he went all the way over to Mustafar.

    narciso (6075d0)

  4. Icy Texan is correct. The common theme in all of this is to take tragedy and use it to tell those you disagree with to shut up.

    The funny, sad thing though is we’re all using a tragedy to choose up sides like a playground game of dodgeball.

    Trying to use the actions of a madman to officiate the arguments of the role of government in our lives demeans us all, including me.

    Ag80 (e03e7a)

  5. ag80,

    It’s pretty challenging to avoid that problem and still discuss this issue when it’s being politicized. I remember noting Obama said ‘punch back’ just before Gladney was beat up, and I thought he should tone it down. Though I think that’s quite distinct from this situation in many ways.

    I’ve tried to consider not just what motivated the delusional shooter, but also what motivated the people who wrestled him down, or died shielding their loved ones, or the parent who takes his moment remembering his slain daughter to tell us to value our freedoms, or the wife who takes solace that her husband rests in peace.

    I’m not doing a very good job, though. I just wanted to note there are some beautiful stories here in between the horrible story and the political point scoring. The right is punching back twice as hard, and I think that’s a good thing, but it’s also not very humanizing.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  6. “not only informed and responsible criticism but the freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation”

    As a frequent practioner of immoderate foolishness, I believe it evident that a response to abuse is often acheived when respectful, reasoned criticism has been ignored or disrespected.

    gary gulrud (790d43)

  7. I was less than impressed with Stewart, in fact I thought he was borderline despicable. He put on the facade of a reasonable man as he very disingenuously portrayed the blame rhetoric regarding the shootings being equally stemming from both sides. Any person half awake over the last few days knows that 95% of the blame of the shootings was directed at a combination of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and the Tea Party.

    Stewart missed a golden opportunity to flex his non-partisan chops towards the ridiculous exhibition of blood libel (you bet that term applies) coming from the msm and the rest of the unhinged left…….he failed miserably.

    harkin (d354f8)

  8. “It’s a worthwhile goal [to not] conflate our political opponents with our enamies.” He just slapped President Obama.

    Joseph D (cd1722)

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