As we mourn the indiscriminate violence and political assassination attempt by a crazed 22-year-old misfit in Arizona, we must be careful to avoid taking the wrong lessons from this terrible tragedy.
Some politicians and pixel pundits, in the rush to instant analysis of the inexplicable, are blaming the wrong culprits: the media, cable news in particular, and the rancorous nature of our political debate, the latter fueled by the former.
Worse yet, they call on the rest of us now to squelch that debate, to make sure our clashes are more civil and polite and cautious, lest we incite some wacko to take up arms. Alrighty then: Let’s shape our entire national agenda, and set new restraints on the tone of our political debate, because we must fear the one-in-a-million chance that some looneybird might get murderously ticked off.
How long before the people plying this argument reveal their REAL point: Let’s blame the Tea Party. Republicans. Conservatives. For being meanies!
That is wrongheaded and offensive on its face.
Worse, blaming uncivil debate won’t fix the problem. When horrible things happen to good people, we seek solace in explanation—to pinpoint a single cause makes us feel better. But by looking in that wrong direction, we fail to deal with real fixes that might be better focused, more specific and more effective.
This view, taking root in the New York Times and across the news dial all day on Sunday, takes the blame off the shooter—a mass murderer who has willfully taken the lives of a U.S. judge, a congressional staffer, three septuagenarians and an innocent 9-year-old girl.
(The gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, wounded 14 others, including his main target, Democratic Congressman Gabrielle Giffords, who clings gamely to life. He has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination; let’s hope this obviates any claim to an insanity defense.)
The fingerpointers’ argument, by indicting the broad picture, fails to focus on anyone at ground level—the gunman’s parents, relatives and friends who might have intervened; the community college that tried to force him to undergo a mental evaluation; the Army recruiting office that rejected him; and the retailer that sold him the Glock 9mm, specially equipped to carry 31 bullets in a single clip. The gunman fired all of them and reloaded.
Albeit even these people may deserve no blame—that rightly should belong to the “alleged” mass murderer himself, Jared Lee Loughner.
This blame-the-debate line started on Saturday with the local sheriff himself, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who decried “all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public.” By Sunday it was gospel, especially among Democrats. The House’s number two Dem, Steney Hoyer of Maryland, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation”:
“It’s been a much angrier, confrontational environment over the last two or three years than we have experienced in the past.” (Translation: since President Obama won election and the Tea Party popped up.)
He added: “Far too many broadcasts now . . . have the intent of inciting people to opposition, to anger, to thinking the other side is less than moral. And I think that is a context in which someone who is mentally unbalanced can somehow feel justified in taking this kind of action. . . We all need to take cognizance of that and be aware that what we say can, in fact, have consequences.”
Isn’t this blaming the words of the innocent, instead of indicting the actions of those who are evil or off the rails?
A former Democratic Congressman, Jim McDermott, picked up the theme on Fox News Channel’s “America’s News HQ,” saying we must debate “in a civil way in which we can respect each other as human beings and not incite people’s emotions in ways that are destructive. It is very easy for some people in society not to be able to make the distinction between words and actions.”
So everyone else should hold back and say only nice things. . . for fear of another mass shooting? I don’t want to live my life that way. If President Obama, in criticizing extremist Islamic terrorism, risks inciting the same, should he step back and make nice? Hell no! He should speak up and let the terrorists know: We will not be silenced by fear.
Nor should we, in our well-meaning attempt to find solutions after the carnage in Tucson, let fear inhibit the spirited and contentious debate that now envelops our country. It’s good for us over all.
Though even I, too, would like to see the tenor of verbal jousting get more civil—so it would be nicer, not because I fear armed crackpots. I have decried the anonymous, libelous and mean-spirited bent that infects much of the Net.
Search “Dennis Kneale” and “idiot” on Google and you’ll find 8,670 entries. But that is kind compared with other stuff posted by these vitriolic, masked miscreants. They have called me far worse names, accused me of terrible untruths, questioned my sexual preference, and written that I should be strung up with piano wire as the Nazis did to the Jews. One basher even posted my home address.
That last move was a low blow—what if some lunatic had read it and decided to come calling, Glock in hand? Yet if he had, it wouldn’t be the fault of the idiot who posted the address—that burden should lie with the guy who acted on it.
That is why I take comfort in the comments of two other observers over the weekend. Arizona’s other U.S. senator, John Kyl, was asked on “Face the Nation” about the Arizona sheriff’s blaming inflamed debate. “I didn’t really think that had any part in a law enforcement briefing last night,” he said on Sunday. “That was speculation, and I don’t think we should rush to speculation.”
And Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold told Fox News: “This is the United States of America, our politics takes place in the halls of Congress and at the ballot box. It doesn’t happen at the barrel of a gun. This is just an isolated incident of a person with obvious psychological problems. . . . I don’t think this is the time or place for politics.”
Amen, brother. Just one problem: Both Sen. Kyl and Rep. Farenthold are Republicans. Where are the Dems on this?