Violent rhetoric hurts political discourse

By Luke Wilusz

Several conservative blogs and news organizations have recently begun to criticize a new online video game that allows players to kill zombie versions of right-wing pundits and political figures. The game, “Tea Party Zombies Must Die,” goes exactly how it sounds—players move through a 3-D environment while fighting off undead versions of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and other notable conservatives with a crowbar or a variety of guns.

While I am usually loath to agree with the opinions typically expressed on FOX News Channel, I have to admit the game is a bit off-putting. It was obviously meant as a joke, and it’s par for the course in terms of Internet humor—crude, absurd, shocking and provocative—with the deliberate intention of getting people’s attention. I usually love those qualities in comedy, and I’m the last person who would ever call for any censorship or ban on this sort of thing. I have no personal problem with the game existing or remaining freely available online. However, the ideas behind this kind of violent political content reveal a fundamental flaw in contemporary politics. Sure, the game was intended to be a silly lark on the part of the developers, but the imagery it invokes is an unsettlingly common sight in today’s political discourse.

Liberals have long complained about the modern Republican Party’s use of violent terminology in political rhetoric, a topic that saw a lot of debate when a map covered in crosshairs created by Palin’s campaign was discovered shortly after the Jan. 8 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, Ariz. The map used bull’s-eye symbols to identify Democratic representatives across the nation, including Giffords, who voted in favor of President Barack Obama’s proposed health care bill.

While “Tea Party Zombies” is a slightly different case—it was created by viral marketing developer StarvingEyes Advergaming rather than a political party or campaign—the core problem remains.

Any content that encourages a violent and confrontational political mentality can be harmful to the nation’s political climate. It would be irresponsible to criticize conservatives for their instances of violent political rhetoric while sitting idly by when the other side stoops to the same low.

Casting political opponents as “enemies” and encouraging people to take action with violent or warlike terminology is irresponsible regardless of where it’s coming from.

Open hostility is the last thing our country’s political environment needs. Our government has a hard enough time getting anything done without our prospective leaders and legislators actively antagonizing one another. Candidates, commentators and constituents alike need to remember the people on the other side of the aisle aren’t their enemies. They don’t need to be “destroyed,” “eliminated” or “taken out.”

Politics isn’t a war. Instead of looking for ways to discredit, humiliate or crush their political opponents, our elected representatives should focus on finding a way to work with one another for the greater good of the American people.

This binary and divisive approach to political thinking nearly brought our entire government to a screeching halt during the summer. Congress’s inability to compromise on the debt ceiling issue made it seem like legislators were more interested in partisan bickering than they were in keeping the government running smoothly.

This sense of resentment and hostility between our two political parties is nothing new. It wasn’t caused by “Tea Party Zombies Must Die” or Palin’s bull’s-eye map. The biggest issue with a two-party political system is that the parties will always have some trouble seeing eye-to-eye.

However, violent and antagonistic political rhetoric only heigtens polarization at a time when a troubled economy calls for a unified government that can reach compromises and solve its own problems.

Instead of indulging in the idea that our two parties have no choice but to fight to the death, we should look for a way to genuinely communicate ideas across the aisle and get some real work done.