Sane Nation, Sane Planet?


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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37 Responses

  1. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Sane people who dislike a President don’t want to kill him. They want to defang him, render him impotent, humiliate him, destroy his claim to legitimacy, drive him out of power. They organize politically to accomplish those objectives. We call this sort of thing “politics” and it is a hallmark of civilization as we know it.

    Eliminating unacceptable political leaders through lethal force is the sort of thing we associate with the likes of Julius Caesar and Richard III, not actors in a modern democracy. We villify Aaron Burr for murdering Alexander Hamilton (somehow forgiving Hamilton for participating in the duel too, believing the legend that Hamilton fired his shot in the air). The office of President is a temporary one; if you really don’t like a particular President, you only have to wait until the next cycle to have a realistic shot of getting someone else in there and then this bum will become a private citizen again. Our cultural tradition bears the echos of verbal duels between Gladstone and Disraeli, of Winston Churchill’s quips to Lady Astor, of Lincoln and Douglas debating for hours on end and then sharing dinner in the same a room at the inn. Even if you are not consciously aware of those sorts of things, you can’t help but feel an impulse that political disputes are resolved with politics, not violence.

    So it seems to me that winnows down the number of people, even among the population of a President’s enemies, who might wish for his death. Can’t do much about the people who’ve been touched in the head, though; although I do wish they weren’t left out in the wild in a political atmosphere laden with political rhetoric as bitter and immoderately polarizing as the state of affairs these days — might give someone who is already a little bit ‘off’ some dangerous ideas.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      We villify Aaron Burr for murdering Alexander Hamilton (somehow forgiving Hamilton for participating in the duel too, believing the legend that Hamilton fired his shot in the air).

      Is it murder if it’s in a duel? I mean, I presume it is according to the modern legal code because we don’t recognize duels as legitimate, but by the standards of the time it would be like modern-day people referring to a boxing or mixed-martial-arts match as assault.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    No lie, I’d be semi-careful on this this week, @will-truman. Not that they don’t have bigger matters to attend to this week, but you never know.

    Not that I don’t see your point.

    It’s not ever going to be individually rational to do it, but for political fanatics oaf various stripes, it seems like it might have some attraction. But ultimately, we’re a pretty rational country, a pretty rational world, really, and with The End of History and all that, it seems that in general people aren’t pushed to it. It does seem that Al Qaeda figured out that in order to terrorize the population, it makes the most sense to attack… the population. So you don’t have your Black Hand equivalents and whatnot focused so much on assassination plots either.

    Nevertheless, there could be reason in it for a fanatic. I don’t think the vice president thing is that much of a consideration. I find it mind boggling to think about how history would be different had Lincoln or JFK survived. it seems to me there’s more than enough potential there to get the fanatics going if they thought it was viable. I think we just have fewer fanatics due to affluence, pharmaceutics, and mental health services of various kinds. And the fanatical political actors of our age are more concerned with attacking society per se (often because of what our leaders do, to be sure) than with attacking our leaders directly.Report

  3. Avatar Damon says:

    Those “six” attempts? Did you read them? Half weren’t even directed AT THE PRESIDENT. Sorry, calling up someone and saying you’re going to bomb the first lady is not a attempt at the president. Death Ray plot? Really? Some dude who says Obama is the anti christ and says he should take him out with a rifle? That’s not an attempt. No shot was fired, he wasn’t even close enough to even make the attempt.

    Few of these “attempts” are actually attempts. They are “threats”. Big difference.Report

  4. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    It takes a certain kind of crazy, which probably limits the field a lot. Unbalanced enough to think that killing the President is a proper thing to do, but still competent enough to do the meticulous planning a successful attempt would probably require. Sufficient resources to travel to and stay in Washington (or other selected location). Willingness to get caught, and possibly killed in the process. Recent history seems to suggest that the crazies tend to stay close to home and plan rather poorly.Report

    • Avatar Mr. Blue says:

      I think this is most of it. There is a nexus of traits that don’t often coincide. You have to be directed enough to want to kill the president, but hopeless enough to not care about your life. Competent enough to have a decent chance at pulling it off, but crazy enough not to care that it probably won’t serve your ends.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Or good enough to assassinate and not die.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        Kim, isn’t the conventional wisdom in this field that if the assassin is clever and prepared to die in the attempt, it’s really, really hard to keep him/her from succeeding?

        I’ve been curious for years about how much randomization goes into the President’s schedule at an event. I was at a technical conference once where Andy Grove of Intel was a speaker. There had apparently been some sort of threats made, since he had two burly security types with him. I was in position to overhear them as they were walking down a hall. One of the security types said “This one,” pointing at a restroom, and giving me the impression that it had been chosen randomly. First security guy went in for 30 seconds or so, opened the door and let Andy in, and both came out after a few minutes. Second security guy stood at parade rest blocking the door while they were inside.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Depends on the type of assassination, the assassin, and how much protection the target has, I’d say.
        It’s relatively easy to assassinate a normal person — even a relatively high powered person (banker or stockbroker, let’s say). Happens all the time, and most of the time — because assassins don’t want to leave a trail, it Looks Like An Accident.

        However, Julian Assange is still alive, despite attempts to kill him. And I sincerely doubt he has as much money to throw at “keep me alive” as Obama does. Granted, his opponents may find themselves handicapped by… “scruples” to use a remarkably ill-fitting term…Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        most assassins do work for pay. Dying in the attempt is generally not in the cards. Even the religious assassins that I know about aren’t designed to be “single use martyrs”.Report

  5. Avatar morat20 says:

    I recall reading the Secret Service has had/handled/dealt with/investigated about three times more threats than the previous President (at this point in his run) had had.

    There are, of course, threats and “threats” but until you look into them you have no idea if it’s a guy with a working bomb and a plan, or three guys with blowtorches going to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge or just some dude with an axe to grind on the internet.Report

  6. Avatar Glyph says:

    From back when I didn’t want to smack Thom Yorke every time I heard him:

    (Note: Glyph does not advocate violence against the President, or most anyone, except perhaps smacking Thom Yorke lightly upside the back of his head in a Three-Stooges-esque manner).Report

  7. Avatar Kim says:

    Are you kidding me? Do you realize the killing you could make from “insider trading” if you actually managed to kill the President? Hell, even make him sick with food poisoning at some “critical” moment.Report

  8. Avatar TrexPushups says:

    I am just glad that people haven’t taken out Supreme Court justices.

    They serve for life and well timed murder would affect the country for decades.Report

  9. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    The whole Veep consideration isn’t much of one. Rarely are Veeps anything to write home about. President Joe Biden would be an utter joke. And everyone remembers Dan Quayle, right.

    And Cheney just outright scared the piss out of anyone on the left crazy enough to think about taking a shot at Bush Jr.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Well, based on this short list, the Veep consideration IS one, just in a different way than the OP states (a Veep that would simply continue the current situation). It’s more like:

      “You think things are bad NOW?

      Come at me, bro. You have no idea.”Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Most of the time, though, for all of the talk about how This President Is Uniquely Pernicious, ultimately the vice president isn’t considered much better, or in the case of Cheney is considered to be worse. So leaving aside potatoe, there just isn’t much of a case to be made that whatever problems you had with George H. Bush would be made better by having President Quayle. The only counter-example I can think of are maybe Reagan-Bush and, briefly, Nixon-Ford. Bush-Cheney would have been worse. The others would have been a draw.

      One way I’ve gotten some conservatives to check their Obama-hatred is by saying, essentially, rank from most to least desirable: Gore, Kerry, Obama… and more than once I’ve actually gotten an “Obama is not as bad as the other two would have been” or more commonly an “equally bad.”

      They do say that Biden would be better than Obama, but I genuinely think that’s in a “talk is cheap” sort of way. The same way that nominees so often tend to be unfavorably compared to former presidents that they hated at the time.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Dude, President Biden would be awesome. I daydream about him putting his prepared remarks aside and saying “I’m just going to speak off the cuff…” and giving us 20 minutes.

        I positively quiver.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Biden would be better from a conservative POV because he would be a doormat. I doubt he has enough political capital to do much of anything besides keep the chair warm.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        After an Obama assassination by a conservative? It would be hell for conservatives.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW says:

        Wasn’t Garfield killed because the assassin thought his VP would be more likely than Garfield to give him a patronage appointment?Report

  10. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I agree with this post @will-truman , and I’ve thought similar things in the past.

    On a related note, it’s why I have a problem taking people like Ben Carson seriously.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I remember HuffPo running a piece a while back (some time around 2005) speculating that a bust with President Bush’s name presented by the White House that didn’t have an end-date (2001-[null] instead of 2001-2009) on it was indicative of his plans not to allow a 2008 election.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Also, does anyone else get the impression that Obama probably actually kinda-sorta looks forward to being a former president?Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I always assume every President does. “Leader of the Free World” and “Pusher of The Button” has got to cause a lot of sleepless nights and heartburn.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Not Bill Clinton!

        The others, I think, were probably ready for a rest. But I think Obama will really thrive as a former president. This totally isn’t meant as a backhanded compliment. He’ll always be beloved by some. He’ll be more free to speak his mind. He and his family will get to live in Chicago. It speaks to some of the things I suspect he most likes about being president, while not having some of the things I think he least likes.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Bill had sleepless nights and heartburn for other reasons.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        I agree with both @glyph and @will-truman here.Report

  11. Avatar zic says:

    Interesting post, @will-truman

    I have another thought: there is not nearly as much ill-will and wish-to-harm out there as we think. Sure, there’s huge amounts of dislike and discontent; I’ll grant that.

    Take the War On Terror. I can go to google earth, find schools, churches, temples, mosques, shopping malls. I can trace power lines and railroad tracks. Our infrastructure is hanging out there for all the world to see; our water supplies, chemical factories, power-generation facilities.

    While the president is sure to attract an inordinate amount of the totes craz, I believe there are very, very few actually intent on lethal violence.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      I agree with you on this, zic. If there were substantial numbers of determined terrorists within Western nations, we’d see a lot more attacks on easy targets.Report