In the aftermath of Saturday’s gruesome shooting spree in Tucson, people on both sides of the growing American political divide can try to backpedal all they want, but if ever there was a time to point fingers and ask tough questions about the tenor of our national “debate,” that time is now.
Yes, it takes a seriously disturbed individual to open fire on a crowd of innocent people, whether those people are schoolchildren, former co-workers, or merely random targets. You cannot, however, separate Jared Loughner’s actions from the political climate in which they occurred, and to pretend that the attempted (and explicitly planned) assassination attempt on a member of the United States Congress—an attempt that claimed the lives of six others, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge—was purely the act of an isolated madman operating in a moral vacuum is disingenuous, at best.
By now everyone’s heard about Sarah Palin’s disgraceful “target” map. Rational people might view that graphic as nothing more than a folksy way to mobilize campaign resources, but Palin—and the rest of her Tea Party cohort—surely know that there are an awful lot of irrational and disturbed people out there who may not necessarily understand the nuances of such a subtle motivational tool. Nuances tend to elude the kind of people who might, say, carry guns to political rallies or, say, stomp a woman outside a Senatorial debate in Kentucky.
To say that such deeply angry and irrational people could not possibly be susceptible to deeply irrational rhetorical incitement from pundits and politicians is foolhardy. Gabrielle Giffords knew as much, and said last spring—referring explicitly to Palin’s map—“When people do that, they’ve got to realize that there are consequences to that action.”
There are consequences, and there will continue to be consequences, when, as Extra! magazine noted in its January issue, Fox pundits like Bill O’Reilly joke about “decapitating” newspaper editors and columnists (as he did in 2005, and again last year), or when Glenn Beck “jokes” about poisoning former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Or, for that matter, when Liz Trotta, yet another Fox contributor, “jokes” about assassinating President Obama. Funny stuff, I guess, if you’re a Beltway sophisticate of a certain political persuasion.