Friday, January 14, 2011


We're all familiar with the pattern of events like the massacre in Tucson last weekend. A horrific incident takes place, and word goes out through the media that something is going on, but little else is known. Quickly there is an orgy of speculation about who did it and why, with many expressing conclusions that reflect personal biases, based on little or no evidence. Once the details become known, we hear no apologies or recanting from those who were so vocally wrong, and there seems to be little reflection on the dubious wisdom of drawing conclusions too early. Lately we have seen this in Mayor Bloomberg's pronouncement that the Times Square would-be bomber was probably a tea partier or someone opposed to Obamacare. As you'll remember, he was a Pakistani radical Islamist attempting to commit jihad. I haven't heard if anyone asked him what he thinks about Obamacare.

The aftermath of the shootings in Tucson last Saturday was a vivid example of this.  Within hours of first reports and well before anyone knew anything at all about the killer, many of our liberal friends were suddenly on a mission to declare that this was the result of vicious election year rhetoric and a culture of violence on the right.  The Tea Party, Republicans, gun rights advocates, and most of all, Sarah Palin, were virtual (if not actual) accomplices to the murder and injuries of the innocent victims in Tucson. The fact that the killer apparently is mentally ill, politically apathetic, and has been scaring the hell out of people for years didn't do much to quiet the accusations.

The rampage in Tucson was inhuman and disgusting like all such events are, and reactions to it have been understandably very emotional.  Given that, the high level of partisanship in much of the anger expressed is unusual and disturbing, even for incidents like this.  Other mass murders such as at Columbine or the University of Virginia have generated a certain amount of finger-pointing and theorizing that lays the blame somewhere, but in general the reaction to incidents like those has been horror and bewilderment, sometimes followed by serious efforts at understanding the problem.

What is going on here?  Is it because the main target of the killer is a Democratic Congresswoman?  Whatever her politics, Gabrielle Giffords clearly is someone who would make any parent proud.  She's young, newly married, and has much potential for her future.  Is it just normal sympathy for her and the other victims that is driving the reaction, or is there something else involved that is making this so politically explosive?

I think there is, unfortunately.  We all know that the Democrats, especially very liberal Democrats, were soundly rejected in the elections of November 2nd. Things have not been going well for them or for the President, and there is little on the horizon to make anyone think their prospects will improve. Some have offered ideas on how to improve this situation, among them Mark Halperin of Time Magazine:

No one wants the country to suffer another catastrophe. But when a struggling Bill Clinton was faced with the Oklahoma City bombing and a floundering George W. Bush was confronted by 9/11, they found their voices and a route to political revival.

One of the long-standing tactics of the left has been character assassination, for the purpose of tarnishing the reputations and credibility of their opponents so they will become timid and fearful of further abuse--essentially, to silence them. Being accused of bigotry is something that can easily throw anyone offstride, floundering in denials and attempts at damage control, and ultimately disarmed and defeated.  Claiming that a person or group has been complicit in enabling mass murder is as serious a charge as you could make in any political environment.  I doubt that we're going to find a "Journolist" style coordination of the message in all this, but I find it hard not to conclude that many on the left have seen this massacre as a tempting chance to wreak damage on their enemies.  And since Sarah Palin has apparently become Public Enemy #1 for many liberals, the attacks against her have been especially fierce--all without merit, to my eye.

I've found the actions of President Obama in all this to be unimpressive at best. He was for the most part silent on the matter until Wednesday, though he did make a sort of standard announcement of his sadness at the tragedy over the weekend.  As the controversy boiled over one of the questions that came to dominate the media was: Is this the moment for Obama to recover his balance? Can this be his Oklahoma?

Well, it sure as hell looks to me like he thinks it is.  In the speech he gave at the Wednesday memorial in Tucson he counseled us that we need to tone down the rhetoric and usher in a new era of civility.  Why?  Is he saying then that political speech was responsible for the killer's actions in Tucson? By what proof?  Will he hold his own party to these standards in the future? I would take him more seriously in this if he had bothered to take a moment to tell the nation that no one is responsible for these murders but the killer himself--not Sarah Palin, not Rush Limbaugh, not the Tea Party.  Instead I have my suspicions that he was perfectly content to let the accusations fly and do whatever damage could be done, setting the stage for his descent from Olympus to comfort his mortal subjects.

People express their emotions in different ways, and I suppose it could be that the way Obama feels most comfortable expressing his sadness about such a terrible event is to speak in front of 20,000 people wearing "O" t-shirts and applauding him after every paragraph.  Maybe, but I think what we really witnessed at the Tucson memorial on Wednesday was the first campaign stop for Obama's 2012 re-election bid.

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