The power of the preferred narrative
“Liberal Smear Machine Backfires After Gunman Found To Be Occultist, Pot-Smoking Left Winger,” read a headline on one story. “Now Official: Arizona Shooter Jared Loughner a Bush-Hating Liberal,” said another. (Search on those phrases to find examples; both have been widely reposted.)
Then the narratives expanded their focus. An online campaign ad used by Sarah Palin during the recent Congressional elections, which featured a map showing rifle-sight crosshairs “targeting” several districts (including, by the way, Pennsylvania’s 10th District), was cited by liberal commentators as a possible influence in the shooting. The offending graphic was quickly pulled from Palin’s website, and then Palin went on the attack herself, accusing journalists of perpetrating a “blood libel” against her, a phrase which, of course, evoked much older narratives than she had perhaps intended. The tug-of-war continues—and probably will keep going. Liberals and conservatives can both point to histories of violent rhetoric from the other side. (Here’s such a history from the liberal perspective: www.csgv.org/issues-and-campaigns/guns-democracy-and-freedom/insurrection
-timeline; and one from the conservative: michellemal
I have to admit, though, that in my preferred narrative, it’s the conservative movement that places more value and emphasis on the use of force to achieve political ends. (I mean, we liberals and progressives are all wussy “Kumbaya” types, right?) But note: that’s my preferred narrative. Like most folks, I suspect, I want to think that mine is the side of the angels, the side of innocent victims standing up against stronger and more brutal oppressors, the side that knows and defends the truth. It’s comforting, sure. All such narratives are so comforting, in fact, that people will fight and even kill to defend them. But they are also blinding, and most likely incomplete. No one can move beyond their preferred narrative or resist its power until they first become aware that they have one, and willing to accept the possibility that it may not be telling the whole story.