Some in the media are trying to minimize the significance of right wing hate speech, either by denying its significance or claiming both sides do it. Andrew Sullivan has pointed out the key difference between left and right:
The right and the left both have intemperate voices. But here’s the key: only the conservative movement counts the most vile blowhards as leading lights, embraced by the leadership. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Sarah Palin: these are among the most popular conservatives in America. Who are the folks on the left with equivalent popularity and influence?
Steven Benen had a similar response to the claim that both sides do it:
In Democratic circles, liberal extremists can’t get any establishment attention at all. Members of Congress won’t return their phone calls or even be seen in public with them. On the right, however, there’s practically nothing a right-wing extremist can say or do to be exiled from polite company.
There’s a clear and impermeable line between the progressive mainstream and the left fringe. The line between the Republican Party/conservative movement and the far-right fringe barely exists. Whereas Dems kept the fringe at arm’s length, Republicans embrace the fringe with both arms.
Both sides have nutjobs; only one side thinks their nutjobs are sane.
Conservatives try to equate old graphics with targets to Sarah Palin’s graphic of crosshairs but there is a huge difference here. Targets do not suggest the shooting of an individual they way that crosshairs do. Palin’s crosshairs were made even worse when accompanied by her calls to “reload” and her constant hate speech. The significance of Palin’s crosshairs were demonstrated when Giffords herself expressed fear of the consequences of Palin’s actions:
I mean, this is a situation where — I mean, people don’t — they really need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up and, you know, even things, for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district.
When people do that, they’ve gotta realize there’s consequences to that action.
Conservatives have even tried to draw false equivalencies between the statements from Republican leaders such as Palin and Beck and mere blog comments made by liberals. They have been making a big fuss about a diary at Daily Kos in which an individual stated that Giffords was dead to him in expressing disapproval over a vote she made. These are hardly equivalent. Nor is it equivalent to quote Barack Obama for saying, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” especially when Obama’s career has generally been based upon attempts at reconciliation with his political opponents as compared to conservatives who thrive on creating hatred.
As Steve pointed out, if someone on the left were to engage in the type of hate speech common on the right it is likely they would be repudiated by most of the left. When possible connections were drawn between right wing hate speech and the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, conservatives had two possible strategies to dissociate themselves. They could have done what liberals would have done and condemned the hate speech. Most have chosen a different path and put themselves in a position of defending the hate speech. It is so bad that when one Republican, Tim Pawlenty, stated he would not have used Sarah (Reload) Palin’s graphic of politicians in the crosshairs of a rifle, a prominent conservative blogger responded by arguing he’s not man enough to be president.