The Ballot or the Bullet


What do Malcom X and Sharron Angle have in common? They both raised the question of the relative utility to a democracy of the ballot or the bullet. Though Angle lost her bid to become the new Senator from Nevada, she never backtracked on her repeated suggestions that should the government continue to refuse to accept her party’s ideas then the people should adopt “Second Amendment remedies.” Our problem of course is that Malcolm X is long dead and said what he said in the 1960’s. And of course the recent King Day holiday reminds us that both King and Malcom X were gunned downed by assassins. Sharron Angle said them only months ago and is still very much with us and so are all of her supporters. No one in the Republican Party has denounced Ms. Angle’s point of view. Harry Reid has been singled out for assassination publicly. Angle called on supporters to “take out Harry Reid” within the very same sentence she was urging Americans to turn to Second Amendment remedies. Since she lost via the ballot, it is safe to assume that someone may seek to reverse that election result with violence.

An aide to a Florida Congressman directing a campaign rally this past fall was more blunt: “if the ballot does not work,” she said pausing from yelling through a bull horn at a worked up crowd, “we know the bullet will!.” It’s now too clichéd to mention that Sarah Palin starts her speeches with “lock and load” and that Michelle Bachmann wants Minnesotans to be armed and dangerous and ready for revolution. Guns it would seem have now become the central and determining element in American politics. Glenn Beck preached for weeks on the evil of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU and a gunman was only prevented from furthering Mr. Beck’s call that they be destroyed by getting into a shootout with police incidental to a traffic violation on the way.

It is a curious and rather archaic idea that free, fair, and democratic elections are an acceptable means of making decisions about who should lead us and in turn make the laws in a republican form of government. The rule of law also is an old idea that marks out the good and just society from those of the merely barbaric. Central to the succesful operation of democracy as we have known it is the ability of political factions or parties to accept the results of elections conducted via Constitutional means. This ethic is what is breaking down in the United States today.

Barack Obama’s election in 2008 signaled the rise of the Tea Party and its 24-hour-a-day hate machine to be turned up full blast. It has yet to let up the pressure. In fact, many observers just declared that Mr. Obama became our President with his memorial speech in Tuscon the other day. He’s been in office for two full years. Only now are most Americans willing to accept that he is their president. His strongest opponents never will: and guns and suggestions of violence will be at the core of their opposition.

This is really more than a mere question of civility in our public discourse. It certainly is that. But it is an even more profound question that we are confronted with: has the United States and its government reached a point where it is truly a tyranny deserving of armed and violent revolution to overthrow it? The right of revolution violent or otherwise is an inalienable right of the people and enshrined in our nation’s founding document and given to us all by God.

But there are Constitutional means for settling such deep questions over the legitimacy and utility of government as we have known it. Elections continue to offer opportunities to elect representatives who will make the changes the American people are asking for. There is also the ability to amend the Constitution of the United States to reflect the modern needs of the American nation. We can even call a Constitutional convention to completely re-write the Constitution and do so peacefully and without violence or rancour.

Of course, the people of the nation are divided about what to do. This time the house is not divided by slavery but by two very different conceptions of government. One, that sees government as itself the problem and something to be made as meaningless to our lives as possible. The other sees government as something that might make life better for those of us who do not have all the advantages of wealth or power and position, or who wish to practice compassion and give aid to the oppressed among us.

It would be a good thing if Struggles For Justice could be as charitable as President Obama was recently in his Arizona speech. But this must be made abundantly clear: the American left is not calling for the use of guns to settle our differences and make government be what we want: the American right is.

We must not become angry, bitter, or adopt the right’s means of defining the political debate in this nation in terms of what television talk host Chris Matthews has called a “ballistic” approach to politics. Compassion, love, kindness, and decency must emanate from our hearts, minds, and lips. We must continue to reach out to those who espouse violent means of conducting the politics of this country and appeal to what Lincoln referred to as “the better Angels of our nature.” But we also must not delude ourselves. There are far too many people in this country now that would welcome a violent overthrow of the United States government and the escalation of the use of guns and gun violence to achieve what a lost election cannot.

The attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords less than two weeks ago thus far would seem to have no direct connection to the means of conducting political debate employed increasingly by the conservative right in this nation. But it certainly is the result of the environment created by so much hate speech. Should those that employ this kind of speech be censored? Should legislation be adopted to silence them? No. We cannot do that. We ought not. But we can appeal to them to stop. We can refuse to watch and to listen and to read those who advocate and champion guns as something central to politics and life in general.

Struggles For Justice fully supports a robust legal defense and maintainance of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Yet that ought not define the nation. More and more guns and calls for the bullet instead of the ballot are the death knells of democracy.

True Americans who hold the Constitution of the United States, liberty and freedom via the ballot box and not the bullet, and elemental kindness and human compassion in their hearts must stand firm and refuse to permit those who appeal to the bullet to rule or direct the affairs of this nation. Democracy and the rule of law and the supremacy of the ballot must rule the day.

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