Bevin, Bloodshed, and Irresponsible Speech

Bruce Maples (bruceinlouisville@gmail.com)
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I have started this post multiple times, because I want to be as responsible with this as our Governor was irresponsible this past Saturday. Here is the question I want to ask: Does Governor Bevin actually expect that armed rebellion will be necessary if Hillary Clinton is elected President?

This past Saturday, Governor Matt Bevin gave a speech at the Values Voter Summit. (I have looked for, and asked for, a transcript of the entire speech, but have not gotten one yet.) In that speech, he talked about the need to fight for the values that he and the audience hold dear. So far, just what you would expect.

But then, he said this:

Somebody asked me yesterday, I did an interview and they said, “Do you think it’s possible, if Hillary Clinton were to win the election, do you think it’s possible that we’ll be able to survive? That we would ever be able to recover as a nation? And while there are people who have stood on this stage and said we would not, I would beg to differ. But I will tell you this: I do think it would be possible, but at what price? At what price? The roots of the tree of liberty are watered by what? The blood, of who? The tyrants to be sure, but who else? The patriots. Whose blood will be shed? It may be that of those in this room. It might be that of our children and grandchildren. I have nine children. It breaks my heart to think that it might be their blood that is needed to redeem something, to reclaim something, that we through our apathy and our indifference have given away.

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When you become a leader, there are certain responsibilities that go with it. The larger the leadership role, the broader the responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is to realize that your words have more weight, more impact. People take what you say with more seriousness, and they assume you mean what you say.

Some Possibilities

It seems to me that there are three possibilities when considering this speech:

  • Bevin was playing to the crowd, giving them what they want to hear. He doesn’t really believe that the losing side will have to use guns to keep the Federal government at bay.
  • He was speaking in the heat of the moment, and got carried away.
  • Or, like many in the audience and on the far-right, he actually believes that the impact of a Clinton presidency will be so great that in the end, the only course of action will be for the people to take up arms in armed rebellion against the Federal government.

I have known many, many people who say many, many things, just because they know people want to hear them. Many politicians do this, many speakers do this, many writers do this, and many leaders do this. It’s crude, it’s disingenuous, it’s unethical. But if you pin them down, they will admit that it was just for show.

I also have known many people, including myself, to say things in the heat of an argument, or due to some other emotion. As a friend of mine pointed out, Governor LePage of Maine has said some unfortunate things (“shoot him right between the eyes”) that he later admitted were said when he was out-of-control angry.

I don’t believe Governor Bevin was just speaking for show. Nor was it said in anger, or off the cuff; this was a prepared speech, given at a conference. He had every chance to think through and plan what he wanted to say.

No, I think he really believes this. Unlike some on the right (and left), Governor Bevin is a true believer. He really believes that this election is a battle between ultimate Good and ultimate Evil, and that Christians are going to have to gird their loins, pick up the shield and sword, and if ideological battle won’t get the job done, then they must be willing to do physical battle. And he thinks this is their calling.

A Few Last Thoughts

There is much more to be said about this, but let me close with these two points:

  • When you couch an election as a battle between good and evil, rather than between competing governing philosophies, you take the election to a place that our founders never wanted it to go. You make compromise impossible, and you turn politics into religious war. That is a damn dangerous place to go; just ask Europe.
  • Using speech like this at a public forum like this is not only irresponsible, it is also dangerous. While Matt Bevin might not pick up a gun against Hillary Clinton or other Democrats, someone listening just might. It’s called stochastic terrorism, and no responsible leader should ever be guilty of it.

As I have said in the past, I don’t want Forward Kentucky to be the typical political site that jumps on every word or every mistake of our elected leaders. Therein lies both exhaustion for the reader and exhaustion for the leader.

So with that thought as background, let me say this: Governor Bevin, this part of your speech was one of the most irresponsible uses of the language that you could have done. You need to retract it, and you need to rethink your position. We do not need leaders who sound as if they are calling for armed rebellion.

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Photo by Gage Skidmore

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