The Zombie Cartoon
With elections a week away, it’s no surprise that the political “crazy season” is shifting into high gear. Still, it came as a shock to see the Loudoun County GOP’s cartoon of President Obama and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi drawn as zombies — with the president with a bullet in his head. With things like this, the intent (twisted satire, malicious cartooning, whatever) is less relevant than the effect this kind of visual rhetoric can have in the twisted minds of increasingly frenzied extremists.
It wasn’t too long ago that we were bemoaning the awful confluence of violent rhetoric in Arizona and Jared Loughner’s alleged twisted attack on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. The only silver lining in the horrible attack was the quick silencing of the most rabid rhetoricians. Sarah Palin stopped talking about “targeting” opponents (and her bubble finally began to deflate). Members of Congress sat next to each other for the State of the Union address.
But the months since then have seen even more economic turmoil, and even more division between the parties. And that’s all in Washington. What happened with this cartoon was in Virginia. Loudoun County has been the site of some actual progress recently, with a multi-coalition effort to support local businesses instead of “big box” retailers succeeded this summer.
The lesson of the past year is that any progress toward progressive goals has met not only with tough opposition — but with actual fighting words. So it went with the debt ceiling debate in Congress — where President Obama’s foes threatened to actually shut down the government in response to his progress on issues from financial regulation to health care. And so it goes, apparently, in Loudoun County, where the local GOP has responded to advances by Democrats by envisioning them as the bullet-ridden walking dead.
I’m glad that Republican leaders from Bob McDonnell to Pat Mullins rapidly stepped up to condemn the mailing. But the more important lesson here is to see this sort of action as a symptom of an underlying illness — a virus that, like the disease depicted in the new movie Contagion, gestates for a time under the surface, unseen but dangerous. Sunlight, as Justice Louis Brandeis said, is the best disinfectant, so perhaps it’s at least good that this got out in the open, so that this paranoid, irrational sort of politics will have to defend its flawed assumptions, rather than flourishing in a dark echo chamber.