The day after the Safeway Shooting I posted simply that it was too early to draw conclusions, and that “I honestly wish people could just focus on the victims for a couple of days before playing political games.”
Sadly, that’s now what happened.
In the days following, a media firestorm erupted because a cadre of left-leaning activists, journalists and politicians began building a case to try and link the shooter to Sarah Palin before they even knew who the shooter was. To me the most urprising aspect of the campaign was how incompetent it was.
Since 2008, the American left has been engaged in a coldly calculated PR campaign to take out Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, and the rest of the leaders of the populist right if any of their millions of fans were to take the monstrous step of hurting someone. We all remember Pelosi tearing up at the mere possibility of violence. Never mind that the Tea Parties were universally peaceful and that that the few incidents of violence at town halls were predominantly union thugs attacking conservatives; the groundwork had been laid in the mainstream media for the condemnation to immediately stick at the highest level if a conservative-leaning individual committed an act of violence.
This potentially powerful political landmine has turned into a dud, however, because of the uncoordinated, premature, and self-serving reaction to last week’s shooting. Because the political attack was launched before any of the facts were known there was a great political risk that the facts wouldn’t support the charges. And, so far, they don’t.
I think it’s worth pointing that one reason for this is that many of those who blame Sarah Palin (or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh or whomever) are sincere in their misguided belief that conservative rhetoric today is uniquely incendiary and dangerous. The reaction may have been foolish, but I believe that on the part of many ill-informed liberals it was sincere.
The sincere voices, however, were quickly drowned out by far louder and less innocent attacks. Two examples spring to mind: Paul Krugman and Clarence Dupnik. The response to these leading voices is instructive. Paul Krugman charged head-first into an assault on the American right with his characteristic obliviousness to logic and fact in a January 9th op-ed for the NYT. Conservative-leaning economist Greg Mankiw responded with uncharacteristic directness on his own blog contrasting Krugman’s criticism of violent conservative rhetoric with Obama’s now infamous “if they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun”. Shortly after Mankiw’s response, however, an even harsher rebuke was issued by The Economist:
Welcome to crazytown, my friends, where it does not seem crazy to disgorge toxic, entirely evidence-free rhetoric about the mortal threat of toxic rhetoric. Does the man honestly think he’s helping?
These are harsh words indeed. (Emphasis in the original, by the way.) The case of Democratic Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik is similar. As a personal friend of victims of the shooting, it’s completely understandable that his reaction would be intense and personal in the initial hours, but in the days since he has continued a campaign of using the tragedy as a soap-box from which to attack Rush Limbaugh, and The Arizona Republic has had enough of it.
Dupnik took up his cause again on Monday. And, in response, we have to say at last . . . enough. Enough attacks, sheriff. Enough vitriol. It is well past time for the sheriff of Pima County to get a grip on his emotions and remember his duty.
With each passing hour, we learn more about the 22-year-old suspect. And everything we learn adds to the profile of a deeply troubled young man detached from reality. There is nothing to date that suggests any partisan motivation for his crimes, whether right-wing or left.
Dupnik needs to recall that he is elected to be a lawman. With each additional comment, the Democratic sheriff of Pima County is revealing his agenda as partisan, and, as such, every bit as recklessly antagonistic as the talk-show hosts and politicians he chooses to decry.
Another very surprising thing about the doomed attacks on the right is that those launching the attacks (Krugman, Dupnik, and others) really should have known better. In the immediate after math several left-leaning publications were quick to point out that we shouldn’t rush to judgment.
Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?
Conservatives are furious that the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords is being pinned on them. Their indignation is justified.
And more recently, the Daily Mail:
While some liberals have slyly implied that Loughner was a Tea Party supporter, former classmates remember him as being ‘Left-wing’ and ‘liberal’.
Another said he was ‘on his own planet’, which seems nearer the mark. No existing political organisation – including the Tea Party – comes close to championing Lough-ner’s deranged world view.
Paranoid and nihilistic (he kept a miniature altar with a replica human skull in his backyard), he had clearly surfed the wilder shores of political views on the internet, preaching about the evils of religion, and even picking up and espousing a theory that the government was using grammar as a form of mind control.
History shows how dangerous it is to try to second-guess the motives of political assassins.
John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan because he was obsessed with the actress Jodie Foster, not because he hated Right-wingers.
Likewise, Lynette Fromme tried to shoot Gerald Ford because she revered the cult killer Charles Manson.
But those lessons from history won’t stop some Democrats exploiting the shooting of a nine-year-old girl and five others at the weekend with precisely the sort of foam-flecked over-reaction for which they love to condemn their opponents on the Right.
To summarize: the attempt to link Palin, any other right-wing spokesperson, or any part of the American right with the shooting has backfired badly. Instead of looking righteously indignant, journalists like Chris Matthews—who condemned Mark Levin and Michael Savage—come off as incompetent Machiavellis. Instead of unmasking the supposedly violence-laden rhetoric of the right, the debate has revealed the extent to which the left has been just as extreme and deplorable in their own speech. (Example: the Daily Kos and of course Twitter.)
If there is one bright spot in all this tragedy is that American people from across the political spectrum have clearly and emphatically demonstrated that they will not tolerate either hypocritical anti-extremist extremism or partisan profiteering from the blood of innocents.
That’s not to say that there will not be any fall-out from what has happened, however. There is already talk of new legislation to curb speech that threatens politicians, the Fairness Doctrine has been dredged up, and of course the usual anti-gun advocates are doling out their useless slogans. Nonetheless, if there’s any liberal conspiracy to frame conservatives it’s clearly an incompetent one. What we’re witnessing is not a coordinated scheme but a bubbling up of spontaneous irrationality. I hope the debate fizzles out soon, because the truth is there never should have been one of this nature.
It’s fair to ask that all hot-headed Americans take a step back and look at the tone of their rhetoric from time to time, and especially at times of great tragedy such as this one, but in the wake of a horrific mass-murder we should be drawing together as a nation. Not drawing lines and squaring off. Of course we all hope that there never will be another senseless tragedy like this one, but if there is I hope we can respond with more unity and less political opportunism.