Death of an Ordinary Housecat

Richard Eskow

There’s nothing to see here. Move along. Nothing, that is, but this report of a minor incident in Russellville, Arkansas: “Democratic Congressional candidate Ken Aden’s campaign manager returned home to find his family pet slaughtered, with the word ‘liberal’ painted on the animal’s corpse.”

A statement from the Aden campaign describes the cat as an adult mixed-breed Siamese and included a graphic description of the pet’s injuries.

The statement said that the four children of campaign manager Jacob Burris “discovered the gruesome scene as they exited the family vehicle to enter their home” after “the perpetrators scrawled ‘liberal’ across the cat’s body and left it on the doorstep of Burris’ house.”

“To kill a child’s pet is unconscionable,” the candidate is quoted as saying.

I know, I know. It’s not the most important story in the news this week. In a time of war and financial crisis, there are a lot bigger stories to report than the death of a house cat. It was just an ordinary pet like millions of others, a playmate to some children and a companion to their parents.

Nor is this an electoral scandal. The Aden campaign said they “did not believe the Womack campaign to be responsible,” adding that “before Christmas … a (radio) station owned by Womack’s father, actually promoted a toy drive held by Aden’s campaign for children in the Third District.”

People, especially conservatives, will rush to say it’s an isolated incident of random violence that could’ve happened to anyone. They’ve said that before. Lots of times, in fact.

The shooting of churchgoers at a liberal Unitarian church in Knoxville was an isolated incident.

The shooting of police officers in Pittsburgh was an isolated incident.

The shooting of deputies in Okaloosa, Florida was an isolated incident.

The killing of a Tucson man and the shooting of his wife and daughter (the nine-year-old was shot in the head at point-blank range) was an isolated incident.

The murder of an African-American woman and the raping and wounding of her sister, followed by the killing of a homeless man, was an isolated incident.

The killing of an African-American security guard at the Holocaust Museum was an isolated incident.

Except …

The man who shot those Knoxville Unitarians had these books on his bookshelf:  Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder by Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring by Sean Hannity, and The O’Reilly Factor, by Bill O’Reilly. Michael Savage said the ACLU “will kill us all,” that “the white male has nothing to lose … you haven’t seen him explode … his ugly side,” and that “the radical left and the radical Muslim are blood brothers.” Hannity has a book called Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism. O’Reilly calls liberals “Nazis” and encouraged Al Qaeda to attack liberal San Francisco.

The killer said he shot those people because “liberals” are “destroying America.” Hmm. Wonder where he got that idea? “Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg’s book.” That would be the book entitled “The 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.” (Hint: None of them are conservatives.)

The man who killed those Pittsburgh police officers was afraid that Obama would take away his guns and deprive him of other rights.

So was the man who killed those deputies in Florida.

The accused killers of that Tucson man – including a woman who was identified by the little girl who was shot in the head – were extreme right-wingers in the anti-immigration movement.

The man who killed that woman, raped and wounded her sister, and then murdered a homeless man was a right-wing white supremacist. He was on his way to a Jewish Community Center when he was arrested.

The man who shot that security guard was a right-wing tax protester.

These are the deaths of human beings, not pets. Their absence is still being felt every day – by family and friends, by co-workers, by an entire community. Nobody will mourn a little housecat from Russellville, Arkansas – nobody except four children and their parents.

So why does it matter? The Talmud says that when someone destroys is a single soul it’s as if they’ve annihilated “a universe entire.” Who can doubt that there are living souls inside the creatures that live among us and inhabit our emotional worlds? Killing a pet is a sick act. The dehumanization of psychopathic human beings often begins in childhood with the torture and killing of animals.

The same gradual dehumanization can take place in a society, too. After Gabrielle Giffords was shot I refused to raise the volume or turn up the heat on our rhetorical divide, and opted for a “moment of silence” instead. But just as there’s a time for silence, there is also a time to speak.

If we don’t speak now, when will the dehumanization stop? Of course, the cat’s killers don’t represent an entire movement. But where’s the outrage within the right over the violent and extremist rhetoric? Where was the outrage when people died, over and over?

Here are the kinds of statements that are still tolerated by the conservative movement without censure or criticism:

Ann Coulter said “the only way to talk to a liberal is with a baseball bat,” that “We need to execute people like John Walke… to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too,” and “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building.”

“Even Islamic terrorists don’t hate America like liberals do,” said Coulter. Sure, she’s getting increasingly strident as her star continues to fade. But she’s got plenty of company.

Leading conservative publication Human Events has a regular “Guns & Patriots” section.

Andrew Breitbart said “We outnumber (liberals) in this country, and we have the guns… I’m not kidding.”

Rush Limbaugh said “I tell people don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus – living fossils …”

Rep. James Hansen said of President Bill Clinton, “Impeach him, censure him, assassinate him.”

Michele Bachmann said she wanted her supporters “locked and loaded” and “on the front side of the political battle.”

CNN commentator Erick Erickson suggests that “mass bloodshed” might be appropriate if the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion aren’t to his movement’s liking.

Glenn Beck says liberals are “the enemies of God,” coming “for the kill on religion,” and are “enemies of freedom.” He also said he was “thinking about killing Michael Moore … I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it … No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out — is this wrong?”

If liberals are Nazis, fascists, mass murderers, enemies of freedom, if they should be shot, hanged, choked, beaten, killed, then what’s wrong with killing a liberal’s cat?

There’s no way to tie one public personality’s violent rhetoric to any specific act. But the climate of violence is everyone’s responsibility, especially those who look the other way when their allies speak violently. t’s true that not all the ugly rhetoric is on one side, but it’s vastly greater on the right.

When I wrote about bank crimes a while back one or two commenters began mentioning violent acts against Wall Street executives. But they’re commenters, not public voices. I immediately toned down my rhetoric, which wasn’t violent but was strong. It’s a balancing act every day: To convey injustice without encouraging vigilante justice. To express outrage without fostering rage.

Here’s what I keep thinking: If someone were ever hurt by someone who had read something I’d written I’d be devastated. I’d devote a large part of my life to reflecting on what role I might have played in the violence, and to helping reduce the violence from that moment on. I think bankers should be investigated, and the lawbreakers among them should be prosecuted. But if one were hurt, especially because of anything I’d done – however unintentionally – I’d be heartbroken.

Wouldn’t you?

But there hasn’t been a single moment of reflection, much less remorse or contrition. Not from Hannity. Not from O’Reilly. Not from Savage or Goldberg.

Now a cat is dead. Not a first responder or a churchgoer or a toddler in an Oklahoma day-care center. Just a cat. We don’t know if it was male or female. We don’t even know its name.

If there wasn’t any remorse or reflection after a litany of human death and injury, there certainly won’t be any over the death of a tiny creature in a little Southern town. The town was Russellville, Arkansas, in Pope County, population 27,000 or so. Bet you didn’t know it’s the county seat.

They’ll probably arrest some teenagers sooner or later. Just kids. Just kids who learned this behavior somewhere.

And it was ‘just’ a cat. It was just a companion for an Arkansas family, a playmate for its children. The kids will cry but life will go on. The rhetoric won’t change. The cat’s killing will be forgotten in a week.

There’s nothing to see here. Move along. It was an isolated incident.

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