When I saw the news reports, and then read the blogs and other online sources, about this tragedy, I knew immediately that the media would not be satisfied with the story that Jared Lee Loughner was a deranged kid who had wacky theories about a government conspiracy to brainwash Americans, exercise mind control, etc. Google him, and you'll see his MySpace page where he lists among his favorite books Mein Kampf, Animal Farm, and The Communist Manifesto. You'll see his incoherent YouTube videos where he claims that the government is destroying the English language, is brainwashing him, etc. Classic signs of paranoid schizophrenia with delusions of persecution thrown in.
No. Because this kid shot a sitting Congresswoman and killed a federal judge who had a prominent role in curtailing the implementation of the Arizona immigration law, this was a politically-motivated act. It had implications for how the right and left speak to and about each other in political debate. It prompted calls for us to "tone it down." Even Fox News head Roger Ailes directed his on-air talent to "make your argument intellectually."
Predictably, some of our more prominent right-wing media personalities have doubled down. Rush Limbaugh:
"They're shutting down any opposition and criminalizing it. They've had a plan filed away in a drawer to take away as many of our political freedoms as they can. The Democrats just lost an election, and now the only other thing they can try to do is silence the opposition."Malkin:
The progressive climate of hate: A comprehensive illustrated primer in 8
I. PALIN HATE
II. BUSH HATE
III. MISC. TEA PARTY/GOP/ANTI-TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE HATE
IV. ANTI-CONSERVATIVE FEMALE HATE
V. LEFT-WING MOB HATE — campus, anti-war radicals, ACORN, eco-extremists, & unions
VI. OPEN-BORDERS HATE
VII. ANTI-MILITARY HATE
VIII. HATE: CRIMES — the ever-growing Unhinged Mugshot Collection
Malkin's post does illustrate that there are unhinged and completely intemperate voices on the left using violent imagery. However, there's a HUGE difference between "Don't retreat -- instead, RELOAD!" (Palin, counseling Dr. Laura Schlesinger who was fired from her terrestrial radio gig for her anti-gay remarks) and "I wanna know whose ass to kick." (President Obama, who was fired up because of perceived slowness and disorganization around the Gulf Oil spill). I mean, name just ONE leading voice (or just someone close enough to a microphone) on the left who called for "second-amendment remedies" to solve their perceived problems with George W Bush's corrupt administration. Name just ONE leading voice on the left who used the airwaves or internet to call for Americans to "take out" George W Bush or Dick Cheney. Go ahead, knock yourselves out. Spend all day googling "take out George W Bush" or "shoot Dick Cheney in the face." You won't find anything. I don't count; I am not a leading voice on the left. The whole idea that both sides employ rhetoric that leads to violent acts by followers of that rhetoric is absurd IN THE EXTREME.
That said, I do not believe that Jared Lee Loughner's acts were motivated by anything that resembled legitimate political debate. Whatever thoughts passed through his head, however intelligently they may have been expressed (and that is debatable), illustrate perfectly that he had taken leave of his mental faculties and resided in a dark world of his own twisted imagination.
Sadly, the process of spinning this act into whatever will suit the agenda of the spinner will not stop. I only urge my faithful readers to remember that this boy is ill, ill, ill. And while the rhetoric of Sarah Palin and other right wingers is intemperate, I see no connection between it and this kid's actions.
Finally, I think it's entirely appropriate for us all to reflect on how shrieky we've all become when it comes to our political debate. When the talking points on both sides can successfully enter our living rooms and create such rancor among family members and close friend alike, then something is wrong. I never saw a video of Bill Buckley losing his temper with a guest. I never saw Ed Murrow do anything more than refuse to yield to interview subjects who ducked his questions. And I never saw a former political candidate invoke so many violent images as a way to fire up the base to eliminate the opposition. Now is as good a time as any to embrace civility and emotional control.