The problem is not martial language. The problem is the discussion of martial solutions, mentioned as actual policy options. That’s what “eliminationist rhetoric” means, you weaseling fucks.
When Sharron Angle says with a straight face that she hopes Second Amendment remedies won’t become necessary because we’ll “cure” Reid with ballots instead, that is a clear discussion of political violence as a real world solution for a current political situation – e.g. the fact that Harry Reid is in office. That’s the difference between that and a metaphor like “they pull a knife, you pull a gun.”
I’m not actually as blasé myself as Chris is, about martial language as a shrugworthy component of our daily discourse, especially when our society has such double standards about martial language depending on whether it’s our (obviously innocuous) martial metaphor (crusade) or their (obviously inflammatory)martial metaphor (jihad). Martial rhetoric is also a long-established way of marginalising women in the discourse because of the traditional view of women as noncombatants.
But he’s absolutely right that there’s a huge difference between employing generic martial metaphors as part of a sporting match or a campus evangelical outreach or a political campaign generally, and employing specific martial metaphors which pointedly reference the actual removal from the discourse by violent means of named individuals.
There’s no way right now, and perhaps no way ever, that we can determine whether or how much the toxic political discourse valorising violent insurrection, engaged in by the darlings of the Fox Network and their fellow travellers, affected Jared Lee Loughner. But just like rape culture, where if it’s considered socially acceptable to make jokes about rape and rape victims as if rape is no big deal, allows people who already have a tendency to be sexually coercive that there’s nothing really wrong with what they’re doing; just like rape culture, a culture that valorises eliminationist rhetoric as just an “edgy” comment/joke that annoys “those damned liberals”, that culture provides an environment in which the Overton Window has been shifted to frame a worldview where the violent elimination of somebody who disagrees with your politics seems like it’s not such a big deal.
As Sady Doyle points out, Representative Gifford in Arizona had already been the target of a campaign of harassment and intimidation which was escalating in ferocity, about which she had been very publicly open so that everybody knew that it was happening for many months, with nary a peep from her political opposition that they considered such behaviour towards her as inappropriate/wrong/despicable etc. The people who already hated her were getting no counter-message that acting on that hatred with violence would be considered wrong in any way by the people whose opinions they cared about.
It’s reckless endangerment, and reckless endangerment tends to catch up to foreseeable consequences sooner or later. If the public figures who engage in this reckless endangerment really can’t foresee the consequences of what they’re doing, why on earth should anybody trust either their perspicacity or ethical integrity on any other matter?
ADDENDUM: Sarah Palin fans the heated rhetoric flames by playing the victim card and describing criticism as a “blood libel”. Seriously.