When Major Nidal Hassan opened fire on a military base rec center shouting “Allahu Akbar!” people counseled caution, lest some jump to the wrong conclusion and declare it an act of Islamic terrorism. When the Times Square bomber’s attempt at mass murder ended in failure, Mayor Bloomberg speculated the perpetrator might have been a Tea Partier angry about the health care legislation. When Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was apprehended in mid-match, a liberal friend declared herself glad that it seemed it wasn’t only Muslims who could conceive of that type of horror. Every time an outrage is attempted or committed in the name of Islam, journalists and other good liberals are quick to pull us back from the logical conclusion, lest we seem too prejudicial.
And yet, when a wacko in Arizona sprays bullets around a political gathering, there is no restraint, there isn’t even a decent pause to learn the facts. Within an hour liberal pundits like Paul Krugman were blaming conservatives, the Tea Party, and, especially, Sarah Palin. “We don’t have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was,” said Krugman. Other Democratic/liberal voices from Keith Olberman to Senator Dick Durbin to Rep. Jim Cliburn to Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Tucson determined even before Gabrielle Gifford’s assailant was apprehended that the “climate of hate” supposedly fostered by the right bore responsibility for the shooting.
Perhaps they’re right. Maybe the Palin camp should not have published this map with bulls eyes all over the place – clearly an incitement to “target” opposition politicos with something more than campaign rhetoric. Perhaps she shouldn’t have said inflammatory things like, “if they bring a knife to the fight, we’ll bring a gun.” Terribly irresponsible stuff.
Oh, wait! That map was produced by the Democratic Leadership Council for the 2004 elections! And that violent quotation came from the lips not of Sarah Palin, but Barack Obama. It seems that when the vitriol and violent imagery comes from Democrats, it’s metaphorical, but if it comes from conservatives it’s incitement to horrors. That goes double for anything one might connect with the Tea Party, who we all should know by now are borderline unhinged. Krugman helpfully tells us that Giffords’ father considered the “whole tea party” her “enemy.”
For anyone interested in those inconvenient things called “facts,” there is an excellent piece in Mother Jones, of all places (not your average run-of-the-mill right wing house organ). In it, the assailant’s lone friend described what a deranged young man he was, living as much in a fantasy parallel world as in the one we know. “You want to know what goes on in Jared Loughner’s mind, there’s a dream journal that will tell you everything,” he said.
And the grudge he held against Gabrielle Giffords was at least three years old – pre-Obama, pre-Tea Party, pre-health care, pre-Sarah Palin, even. Apparently, he was terribly annoyed when Giffords failed to answer the following question at a rally in 2007: “What is government if words have no meaning?”
Who could answer nonsense like that? And yet, this is what got Loughner worked up into a murderous lather. That, and other lunatic fantasies about government brainwashing the people with grammar and the like. He was no right-wing gunslinger, much as the Paul Krugmans of the world might wish it so for the sake of their own prejudices. He didn’t have a party affiliation; his farewell internet rant made no mention of politics or political issues, Obama, tea parties, Sarah Palin; he didn’t even vote in the 2010 election. So much for being influenced by the “politics of hate.”
And yet, this incident, like so many similar ones that feed the preconceived notions of the opinion-makers in the media and on the left, will go down in the national conscience as another example of the dangers of vitriolic political discourse. We are seeing calls for censorship, for laws against certain types of expression – such as cross-hairs on maps – that in the imaginations of some people have some remote connection to these murders.
Where were those calls for civility when people were producing plays and movies that explicitly fantasized about the assassination of George W. Bush?
Here is a chance for Barack Obama to lead the nation. He should be the voice of calm, assuring people that this was the act of a random nut, and that our agitated state of political rhetoric, as unpleasant as it may be sometimes, is something we suppress at our peril. He could do this; his gut reflexes may argue against it, though, given his lack of perspective in the Henry Louis Gates/Boston Police affair, in his quick condemnation of the Arizona immigration law, and in his unhelpful flip flops over the Ground Zero mosque. Where he goes with this will tell us much.
One final word – amid all the charges and countercharges that come out of an event as electric as this, we should not lose sight of the fact that for many people Saturday was a personal calamity of monstrous proportions. Let us all keep the victims and their families in our hearts and prayers.