Biden Threat ‘To Put Trump in a Bullseye’ Met With Shrugs, in Contrast With Firestorm Over Palin ‘Crosshairs’ 

Will Biden be accused of advocating violence the way, say, the Alert Alaskan was condemned for inspiring an attempt on a congresswoman’s life?

AP/Mary Altaffer, file
Governor Palin, left, and President Trump in 2022. AP/Mary Altaffer, file

“It’s time to put Trump in a bullseye,” President Biden is heard telling supporters in a recent conversation. Will he be accused of advocating violence the way, say, Governor Palin of Alaska was accused of inspiring an attempt on a congresswoman’s life?

On Monday, in a donors-only call given to Politico, Mr. Biden said he wanted to “move forward” and was “done talking about the debate.” It was then that he made the remark about “bullseye.”

This incident invites comparison to Ms. Palin — known to readers of the Sun as the Alert Alaskan — the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2008. In 2010, a graphic designer for her PAC used what the New York Times deemed “stylized crosshairs” to mark congressional districts the PAC was contesting.

One of Ms. Palin’s aides said the illustrations were “surveyors symbols,” and the creative flourish was politically inert until the following January. An Arizona Democrat representing one of the enumerated districts, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was targeted by an assassin. 

Jared Loughner wounded 12 and killed six, leaving Ms. Giffords with brain injuries that forced her retirement. Loughner had a murky political ethos, although he listed “The Communist Manifesto” among his favorite books. The opportunity to blame his act on Ms. Palin and others on the right — including my late boss, Rush Limbaugh — proved irresistible to their opponents.

In 2017, the Times resurrected the map myth after a left-wing gunman, James Hodgkinson, targeted congressional Republicans at baseball practice. He shot six and almost killed the House Majority Whip, Congressman Steve Scalise.

Unlike Loughner, Hodgkinson had a political motive. He railed against Republicans and worked for the campaign of the presidential Democratic-Socialist, Senator Sanders. “Conservatives and right-wing media were quick,” the Times wrote, “to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals.”

The Times agreed that the left “should of course be held to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.” It then cited Ms. Palin’s map as a moral equivalence, writing that “the link to political incitement was clear” between it and Loughner. After an outcry, they added a correction that “no connection … was ever established.”

The Washington Post wrote that the editorial “showed how pervasive this debunked talking point still is on the political left.” Ms. Palin sued the Times for libel. The case was dismissed in 2022, but her appeal is pending before the Second Circuit.

As the Times did with Ms. Palin’s map, Mr. Biden has made hay of divining evil motives to Trump’s rhetoric. In March, Mr. Biden stripped a speech his opponent gave to Ohio automobile employees of all context to pluck out a single word.

The autoworkers, Trump said, are “not going to be able to sell” cars if he loses. “It’s going to be a bloodbath.” One definition of the word in Merriam-Webster’s is “a major economic disaster.” Mr. Biden chose the more violent definition and cast it as threatening murder in the streets.

Unlike bloodbath, “bullseye,” has no banal application. Mr. Biden can say he was using hyperbole and colorful language; he’s welcome to do so. If he’s going to infer the most extreme intent from Trump’s words as the Times did with Ms. Palin’s map, though, then turnabout is fair play. 

There’s little doubt that if Mr. Biden’s “forceful message,” as Politico described it, had come out of Trump’s mouth, the left would be outraged and the incumbent would be exploiting it to the hilt. 

As tiresome as this “What if…?” game is in politics, Mr. Biden’s “bullseye” crack cries out for application of that even-handed “standard of decency” the Times mentioned in its correction, yet nobody has printed a word of objection.

After the FBI was given an authorization to use lethal force in its raid on Mar-a-Lago, Trump accused Mr. Biden of trying to “assassinate” him. 

If he repeats the allegation in light of the “bullseye” remark, expect to find that those who imagine links between the right’s rhetoric and violence to shrug until the next time seizing on someone’s words aligns with their political bent.

The New York Sun

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