Defining Violence Down By Betsy Newmark

Barack Obama has an interesting take on the Virginia Tech massacre. Apparently, it’s all part of a larger theme of people just not being nice to each other and just by coincidence, his standard campaign points are just right for addressing all this violence. Ben Smith has the details and a link to the audio of his speech after the shootings.

Other politicians would — and will — stay with the concrete. They’ll talk about this tragedy, and, soon, gun control.

But while Obama mourns the slain students, he takes the massacre more as a theme than as a point of discussion.

“Maybe nothing could have been done to prevent it,” he says toward the end.

So he moves quickly to the abstract: Violence, and the general place of violence in American life.

“There’s also another kind of violence that we’re going to have to think about. It’s not necessarily the physical violence, but the violence that we perpetrate on each other in other ways,” he said, and goes on to catalogue other forms of “violence.”

There’s the “verbal violence” of Imus.

There’s “the violence of men and women who have worked all their lives and suddenly have the rug pulled out from under them because their job is moved to another country.”

There’s “the violence of children whose voices are not heard in communities that are ignored,”

And so, Obama says, “there’s a lot of different forms of violence in our society, and so much of it is rooted in our incapacity to recognize ourselves in each other.”

Many politicians would avoid, I think, suggesting that outsourcing and mass-murder belong in the same category.

From there, he mourns again the Virginia dead, and then says, “This is an opportunity I think that all of us have today to reflect,” and then heads into his stump speech — education, healthcare, energy policy, politics being broken — but returning to the Virginia Tech shootings.

Smith criticizes Obama’s tendency towards abstraction, but this is really a rather dangerous tendency to label as violence all the policies that Obama objects to. People not recognizing “ourselves in each other” or losing jobs in a competitive marketplace are not examples of violence. And what does a stupid, ugly joke on Imus have to do with violence? Violence is someone taking a gun and lining students up against a wall and then shooting them. These issues are not linked and trying to pose some rhetorical riff around them just demeans the entire tragic events from Virginia Tech. Even if you bought into this new age description of violence, how exactly would electing Barack Obama president end this culture of violence? Since when do people start loving each other because of what a politician said?

This content was used with the permission of Betsy’s Page.

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