Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Tucson Shootings, round two

The worst thing about the tragedy in Tucson is the rush to use it for political ends. The first round of this was the immediate and baseless charge that Rep. Giffords was attacked because Sarah Palin had "targeted" her. This was nothing more than a cynical attempt to neutralize Palin. Within hours reports came out that the accused shooter, Jared Loughner, was a crazy pot-head rather than a dedicated Tea Party member.

On to round two. Writing in Slate, Jacob Weisberg tries to blame the Tea Party for creating an atmosphere of hate.

It is appropriate, however, to consider what was swirling outside Loughner's head. To call his crime an attempted assassination is to acknowledge that it appears to have had a political and not merely a personal context. That context wasn't Islamic radicalism, Puerto Rican independence, or anarcho-syndicalism. It was the anti-government, pro-gun, xenophobic populism that flourishes in the dry and angry climate of Arizona. Extremist shouters didn't program Loughner, in some mechanistic way, to shoot Gabrielle Giffords. But the Tea Party movement did make it appreciably more likely that a disturbed person like Loughner would react, would be able to react, and would not be prevented from reacting, in the crazy way he did.

At the core of the far right's culpability is its ongoing attack on the legitimacy of U.S. government—a venomous campaign not so different from the backdrop to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Then it was focused on "government bureaucrats" and the ATF. This time it has been more about Obama's birth certificate and health care reform. In either case, it expresses the dangerous idea that the federal government lacks valid authority. It is this, rather than violent rhetoric per se, that is the most dangerous aspect of right-wing extremism.

There is a huge hole in the middle of Weisberg's argument. It lies chronologically between Oklahoma City and the Tea Party - the eight years of the Bush administration. Loughner was five when the Federal office building in Oklahoma City was bombed but in Weisberg's mind, the atmosphere the atmosphere from then still influenced Loughner but the eight years of protest against the Bush administration never happened.

Remember all of the bumper stickers saying "Resident in Chief" and "Not my president"? Remember Michael Moore calling Bush an invalid president during his Oscar acceptance speech? All of the "blood for oil" and "lying us into war" talk? Does Weisberg really think that events from 1995 affected Loughner but events from 2001 through 2008 did not?

One thing that we do know, Loughner fixated on Giffords by 2007, a year before anyone outside of Alaska had heard of Sarah Palin and two years before a tea party meant more than a historical event.

So, where is the remorse about the atmosphere of hate in 2007? Why is it ok for one side to question the government but not the other?

Weisberg continues by complaining about the availability of guns.

Guns are also at the heart of how the right's ideology enabled Loughner.

This is just one of many attacks on gun ownership that makes up the second round. If only guns were harder to buy then maybe Loughner would have given up. Or maybe he would have driven a car into the crowd. That has happened in the UK where guns are tightly controlled. Or maybe he would have created a bomb. No guns were involved in Oklahoma City. The crazed killers at Columbine meant to kill hundreds with a propane bomb and only started shooting people after the bomb failed to go off. It is silly to think that someone who shot twenty people before he was subdued would have been deterred by tougher gun control.

If you really want a root cause, how about drugs? Loughner was a good student until he took up pot and alcohol. Then he started on a downward spiral that led to his passing out in class and dropping out of high school before his senior year. Did the drugs contribute to his paranoia? That is as valid a point as any about gun control but the left supports legalizing pot and outlawing guns so we are not likely to hear that argument.

Regardless, a free society must be able to openly debate the limits and legitimacy of government. The actions of a lone crazed gunman cannot be allowed to shut down that debate.

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