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Political Rhetoric After Colorado Springs 

To most Republicans, and I suspect not a few Democrats, Planned Parenthood is a baby killing machine that sells baby body parts to the highest bidder. The Republican Party has been targeting Planned Parenthood for years through impassioned rhetoric and attempts to defund the organization. The motivation for this assault is, of course, the fact that Planned Parenthood provides abortions.

Planned Parenthood has also been under attack by members of the public resulting in numerous arson attacks and the murdering of doctors, nurses, and patients. I assume the murdering of Planned Parenthood staff is to prevent the perceived murdering of fetuses by that staff. The embrace of violence and killing as a strategy for bringing about political, social, and culture change has always been, and always will be, plagued with contradiction and hypocrisy. Nevertheless, I live in a country where medical clinics must have safe rooms and attack procedures to protect patients and staff from assault. This is normal in the United States of America. Since 1977, there have been eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 186 arsons and thousands of other incidents, including vandalism, according to the National Abortion Foundation, a trade group for abortion providers. 

For the record these are the medical services provided to millions of women and men by Planned Parenthood:

  • STI/STD Testing and Treatments
  • Contraception
  • Cancer Screening and Prevention
  • Pregnancy Test and Prenatal Services
  • Family Practices Services Adoption Referrals
  • Urinary Track Infection Treatment
  • Sex Education
  • Abortion Services

I encourage you to click these two links to better understand what Planned Parenthood does for millions of people: Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood By The Numbers.

I’m sure most of you know that Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was attacked by a man carrying an assault rifle. I live in a country where weapons suitable for warfare are easily purchased by almost anyone. This is normal in the United States of America. Three people were killed and nine wounded in the Colorado Springs attack. In court Robert Dear confess to the killings saying, “I’m a warrior for babies”.

For weeks Republican presidential candidates have been attacking Planned Parenthood, accusing the organization of selling body parts based on a video claiming to show staff harvesting body parts from a living fetus. The veracity of the video has been undermined, but my point here is not to debate the truth or falsehood of the video. I’m interested in the political rhetoric and its impact.

Four candidates stand out from the pack when considering the recent GOP attacks on Planned Parenthood: Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee. Carly Fiorina is, perhaps, most closely associated with this issue, having made it a centerpiece of her performance in one of the GOP presidential debates. Her words were harsh and her demeanor and tone angry. Whether or not she was actually angry or simply feigning anger isn’t important here. Her rhetoric could only be interpreted as angry by the people listening to her.

After the woundings and killings in Colorado Springs, Planned Parenthood accused some of the GOP candidates of contributing to the creation of a “toxic environment” that provoked the attack. Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President, wrote, “It is offensive and outrageous that some politicians are now claiming this tragedy has nothing to do with the toxic environment they help create…” She accused Donald Trump and Carly Fiorna of using the attack to repeat false claims about Planned Parenthood. Laguens continued, “One of the lessons of this awful tragedy is that words matter, and hateful rhetoric fuels violence. It’s not enough to denounce the tragedy without also denouncing the poisonous rhetoric that fueled it. Instead, some politicians are continuing to stoke it, which is unconscionable.”

Understandably, the GOP candidates defended themselves, as any politician would. Fiorna called the fuss “typical left-wing tactics”. In one way or another the candidates disassociated their political rhetoric from the violent attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. While Laguens said “words matter” and clearly linked the political rhetoric to the attack, the candidates themselves denied any link exists. So what is the point of political rhetoric if there is no link between what a politician says and how their listeners perceive reality and act?

If you google “rhetoric” you will get:

The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques. Oratory, eloquence, command of language. Language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience. 

Do politicians seek to effect and persuade? Do they want to impressively effect an audience through their rhetoric? Of course they do. If they do not, why do they speak at all? And if not, how do they understand political leadership? In this case, if the GOP candidates’ political rhetoric lead to the overwhelming desire of the people of Colorado to shut down Planned Parenthood in their state, I suspect the candidates would not hesitate to claim their words were effective and responsible for the closing of the clinics. However, the candidates deny that their rhetorical attacks on Planned Parenthood are responsible for the physical attack in Colorado Springs. After all, no one actually said people should talk an assault rifle and shoot people.

While that is true, political rhetoric is less about spelling out policy details and giving instructions for particular actions and is more about creating a mood, a movement, or as Laguens said, an environment. If you continually attack an organization it seems a bit disingenuous to be shocked if someone actually does attack the organization. If you declare a certain people are criminals and rapist, you should not be overly surprised if your listeners hate and act against those people. If you say people holding a particular religion should be banned from the country because they are dangerous…well, you get the idea. Language has power. If you portray an organization as a baby killing machine, you can inspire someone to try and put a stop to it.

Action in the world can be seen as the fulfillment or completion of rhetoric. Political leadership is about leading people in one direction or another.

When a politician's words lead to violence, the politician will deny any link between his or her words and people’s attitudes and actions. If on the other hand they lead to attitudes and actions acceptable and desirable to the politician, he or she will claim the credit. The only way to stop a particular candidate is to protest and vote. It is the only want to hold them accountable.

Copyright © 2015 Dale Rominger

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