26 May 2017

Greg Gianforte: Symptom of American Failure

Greg Gianforte is by any account, an American success story. He and his wife made a fortune on a tech company, RightNow Technologies. They made a larger fortune selling that company for over a billion dollars. He had an unsuccessful run for governor of Montana, no criticism there. He had a successful run as Congressman, being elected yesterday in a Montana special election.

It was only in the last day when Gianforte became an example of what I am calling American Failure.

A reporter for the BBC asked Gianforte to comment on the Congressional Budget Office’s latest report on the Republican Congress’ American Health Care Act. Not many Republicans in Congress want to discuss the CBO analysis because it fairly damning of the AHCA, and makes the efforts to push it through by Republican held Congress look as cynical as they probably were. This is why Ben Jacobs, of the BBC, thought it would be a good idea to ask Gianforte, then only a Republican contender for Congress, his thoughts on the bill in light of the latest report. Here, courtesy of the Atlantic is a transcript of the attack. If you follow the link you can also listen to the audio.

Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian: ...the CBO score. Because, you know, you were waiting to make your decision about health care until you saw the bill and it just came out...
Greg Gianforte, the congressional candidate: Yeah, we’ll talk to you about that later.
Jacobs: Yeah, but there’s not going to be time. I’m just curious—
Gianforte: Okay, speak with Shane, please.
[loud scuffling noises, an even louder crash, repeated thumping]
Gianforte: [shouting] I’m sick and tired of you guys!
Jacobs: Jesus chri—!
Gianforte: The last guy that came in here, you did the same thing! Get the hell out of here!
Jacobs: Jesus!
Gianforte: Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing! You with The Guardian?
Jacobs: Yes! And you just broke my glasses.
Gianforte: The last guy did the same damn thing.
Jacobs: You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.
Gianforte: Get the hell out of here.
Jacobs: You’d like me to get the hell out of here, I’d also like to call the police. Can I get you guys’ names?
Unidentified third man: Hey, you gotta leave.
Jacobs: He just body-slammed me.
Unidentified third man: You gotta leave.

In the immediate aftermath of the alleged assault, Gianforte spokesmen blamed the “incident” as being the result of an aggressive reporter. Neither the written exchange, nor the actual audio of the attack (I can think of no other word) support the idea that the reporter was aggressive. Nor does the eye witness testimony of a fox news crew. The FoxNew crew describe the event as follows.
"During that conversation, another man — who we now know is Ben Jacobs of The Guardian — walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte's face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.  
At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, "I'm sick and tired of this!"

Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left."
Most importantly from the Fox News Report, "To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff's deputies.  

The American Failure of which I speak is the fact that for too many Americans, Gianfortes frustrated, impulsive action seems like character. No one was surprised when Montanans elected Gianforte to congress. Most news outlets predicted he would likely still win, or at the very least his performance would be unaffected by news of the alleged assault. Indeed Montana Republicans were, according to exit polling, unswayed. Some, in NPR interviews, even suggested that it was good what now Congressman elect Gianforte did. Voters favoring Gianforte thought it showed character. A friend of mine said, Understanding consequences and standing up for what you believe in is a quality behavior. This man has been repeatedly attacked by the alt left media and stood up for himself and his ideology. For that I applaud him and make no apologies for doing so.” My friend further, said, “Play stupid games when stupid prizes.” He isn’t alone in his opinion. Though it is an opinion that seems to be untethered to the facts, so far, in this particular case. The conservative opinion seems to dramatically expand the definition of attack in the process of defending what just ten years ago would likely have been indefensible. Ben Jacobs, simply asked Gianforte, for his position on the AHCA, in light of the CBO report. Gianforte had been hedging on his support until that report. His reaction doesn’t follow citation of principles. The assault doesn’t follow aggressive action by Jacobs. It looks like nothing more than what it was, a frustrated, perhaps tired, man lashing out at a reporter asking him questions.  Lets reflect a moment on what those actions appear to have been. In response to two questions, Gianforte grabbed a BBC reporter by the neck with both hands, forced him to the ground and began punching him. The “stupid game” and the “attack” my friend and his fellow conservatives refer to is the act of a reporter doing his job.

Words aren’t violence. If the response to uncomfortable words is going to be physical violence, and if we are going to imagine that such violence is virtue, then I think the Enlightenment project that is the US is dead. Physically choking slamming someone who has just asked you a question doesn’t represent manly virtue. At best it represents the unenlightened first impulse of a frustrated tired man, having to address a bad bill on the eve of an election that shouldn’t have been as close as it was. At worst, it represents the first impulse of thug, with naked contempt for the press. There is no evidence of virtue in the assault on Ben Jacobs. Seeing virtue in it is an American Failure.

My friend went on to say, that “The good people of Missoula disagreed with me.” The implication here is that since majority have spoken the right position has been discovered, or the majority makes right.” Strangely this same person would balk at the majority who spoke in the last Presidential election, but I digress. The good people of Missoula may disagree with me, but there is a notable exception to this majority that is perhaps cause of hope-though perhaps hope is premature. Whether hope is premature or not, the exception takes the form of Greg Gianforte himself, who had this to say.

“Last night I made a mistake, and when you make a mistake, you have to own up to it,” Gianforte told a supportive crowd in his victory speech. “That’s the Montana way. Last night I made a mistake and I took an action that I can’t take back and I’m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that I’m sorry.”


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