Marty Kaplan: The vitriol vitriol


“Clarabelle Dopenik.”  That’s what one wit on the popular conservative Web site ” target=”_hplink”>reported that Sheriff Dupnik had “established himself as one of the leading liberal voices in a state that boasts only a handful… Local conservatives are quickly spinning his comments as those of a partisan.”  The headline of the Politico piece—“Liberal Ariz. sheriff Clarence Dupnik sees cause of violence”—eliminated any daylight between those local Republican spinners and the Beltway media channeling them.  With Dupnik branded a liberal, the troubling thought that American public discourse had taken a wrong turn had been reduced to garden-variety lefty partisanship.

A New York Times columnist found another way to denature Sheriff Dupnik’s condemnation of vitriol.  He wrote that political leaders who cry “tyranny” and “socialism” aren’t trying to incite hysteria; rather, they’re “so amused with their own verbal flourishes and the ensuing applause, that – like the bloggers and TV hosts to which they cater – they seem to lose their hold on the power of words.”  Vitriol is theater, a reality show with a studio audience.  Rush is just an entertainer, Glenn is just a rodeo clown and the pols are just playing to the peanut gallery.  Cut these guys some slack.  Hyperbole’s great for everyone’s ratings.  Who can blame them for getting carried away?

If this tragedy is going to be a teachable moment, the lesson won’t be found by determining whose vitriol is warranted.  It will be found instead in what the vitriol is actually about.  And that, as Sheriff Dupnik nailed it, is “tearing down the government.”

In the 1970s, the