Joseph Welch, Thou Shouldst Be Living At This Hour (A Continuing Series)

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 9, 2011

In the event that you are wondering, yes, I am really sick of writing about this topic.

Unfortunately, people like Andrew Sullivan give one no choice. Consider the following doozy:

The facts, moreover, are these: Palin singles out Giffords as a “target” for attack, illustrated by cross-hairs in gun sights, and urges supporters to “reload”. This is pointed out at the time and Giffords herself worries that it took things over the edge. Palin had a chance to apologize or retract or soften the rhetoric. She did nothing of the kind. An individual subsequently guns Giffords down. What more, in many relevant respects, do we need to know than this?

Um, how about whether the individual in question was motivated to shoot Congresswoman Giffords thanks to a map? How about whether there was some actual causation involved? How about whether there is some evidence–any evidence–indicating that the publication of a map caused Jared Lee Loughner to decide that hey, it would really be a great idea to shoot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords? And, you know, if Sullivan were actually honest in presenting the facts, he would note that Jared Lee Loughner’s interactions with Congresswoman Giffords began well before Sarah Palin–Andrew Sullivan’s White Whale–burst onto the scene:

At an event roughly three years ago, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords took a question from Jared Loughner, the man accused of trying to assassinate her and killing six other people. According to two of his high school friends the question was essentially this: “What is government if words have no meaning?”

Loughner was angry about her response — she read the question and had nothing to say.

“He was like … ‘What do you think of these people who are working for the government and they can’t describe what they do?’” one friend told The Associated Press on Sunday. “He did not like government officials, how they spoke. Like they were just trying to cover up some conspiracy.”

Both friends spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they wanted to avoid the publicity surrounding the case. To them, the question was classic Jared: confrontational, nonlinear and obsessed with how words create reality.

The friends’ comments paint a picture bolstered by other former classmates and Loughner’s own Internet postings: that of a social outcast with nihilistic, almost indecipherable beliefs steeped in mistrust and paranoia.

So, Loughner’s lunatic obsessions with the issues that eventually drove him to try to kill Congresswoman Giffords began before the Age of Palin, before anyone knew what the Tea Party was (other than the American Revolutionary event), way back when George W. Bush was still President. There is no indication–not a single one–that the campaign map put out by Palin drove Loughner to homicidal thoughts. And yet, because he hates Sarah Palin with the fury of a thousand suns, and because he has thus far failed to prove that Trig Palin is not her child (not for lack of trying), Andrew Sullivan ignores the facts, lies about them, and gets license to peddle his lies at the Atlantic, which once featured Mark Twain–the guy who said that a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can put on its shoes, ironically enough–back when the Atlantic cared about its professional reputation.

According to the story, Loughner also “believed the U.S. government was behind 9/11.” If that is a common belief amongst Tea Partiers, Sarah Palin’s posse, the Republican party, and the center-right in general, then I am Marie of Roumania. Which of course means that as of this writing, Andrew Sullivan believes that I am Marie of Roumania.

While we are on the subject of political rhetoric, Jack Shafer is worth reading:

The attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and the killing of six innocents outside a Tucson Safeway has bolstered the ongoing argument that when speaking of things political, we should all avoid using inflammatory rhetoric and violent imagery.

“Shooting Throws Spotlight on State of U.S. Political Rhetoric,” reports CNN. “Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics,” states the New York Times. Keith Olbermann clocked overtime on Saturday to deliver a commentary subtitled “The political rhetoric of the country must be changed to prevent acts of domestic terrorism.” The home page of the Washington Postoffered this headline to its story about the shooting: “Rampage Casts Grim Light on U.S. Political Discord.”

The lead spokesman for the anti-inflammatory movement, however, was Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose jurisdiction includes Tucson. Said Dupnik at a Jan. 8 press conference in answer to questions about the criminal investigation:

I’d just like to say that when you look at unbalanced people, how they are—how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths, about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

Embedded in Sheriff Dupnik’s ad hoc wisdom were several assumptions. First, that strident, anti-government political views can be easily categorized as vitriolic, bigoted, and prejudicial. Second, that those voicing strident political views are guilty of issuing Manchurian Candidate-style instructions to commit murder and mayhem to the “unbalanced.” Third, that the Tucson shooter was inspired to kill by political debate or by Sarah Palin’s “target” map or other inflammatory outbursts. Fourth, that we should calibrate our political speech in such a manner that we do not awaken the Manchurian candidates among us.

And, fifth, that it’s a cop’s role to set the proper dimensions of our political debate. Hey, Dupnik, if you’ve got spare time on your hands, go write somebody a ticket.

Sheriff Dupnik’s political sermon came before any conclusive or even circumstantial proof had been offered that the shooter had been incited by anything except the gas music from Jupiter playing inside his head.
For as long as I’ve been alive, crosshairs and bull’s-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such “inflammatory” words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I’ve listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I’ve even gotten angry, for goodness’ sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge.

One would think that all of these points are so obvious, that they need not actually be made. One would be wrong.

Speaking of being forced to point out the obvious, spare a thought for Tom Maguire, who tells us what we should already know: Paul Krugman is dishonest, and incompetent. Note the following from Maguire’s piece:

. . . Is Krugman really writing in the Times that “it’s long past time for the GOP’s leaders to take a stand against the hate-mongers“? Isn’t this the same NY Times that just last week delivered a big wet kiss to outgoing House Democrat Alan Grayson, who (we were told) wore steel toed boots “the better to kick Republicans with, he jokes“. Ha ha! Kicking funny, shooting tragic – I get it, but do the crazies?

More incendiary rhetoric–spoken by Bill Maher, and directed at Sarah Palin–that would have been condemned long ago, if it came from a Republican (hat tip to this commenter, and Caleb Howe):

Sarah Palin screaming about death panels? You know what, Sarah, if we were killing off useless people, you’d be the first to know. [cheers and applause]

Charming. Is Maher now responsible in the event that anything happens to Palin? Because by the standards laid down by the people demagoguing this issue, he should be.

In a just world, Glenn Reynolds would get the writing gigs that land in the lap of a Krugman, or a Sullivan:

With only the barest outline of events available, pundits and reporters seemed to agree that the massacre had to be the fault of the tea party movement in general, and of Sarah Palin in particular. Why? Because they had created, in New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s words, a “climate of hate.”

The critics were a bit short on particulars as to what that meant. Mrs. Palin has used some martial metaphors—”lock and load”—and talked about “targeting” opponents. But as media writer Howard Kurtz noted in The Daily Beast, such metaphors are common in politics. Palin critic Markos Moulitsas, on his Daily Kos blog, had even included Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s district on a list of congressional districts “bullseyed” for primary challenges. When Democrats use language like this—or even harsher language like Mr. Obama’s famous remark, in Philadelphia during the 2008 campaign, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun”—it’s just evidence of high spirits, apparently. But if Republicans do it, it somehow creates a climate of hate.

I have never before seen a mass movement so determined to get things so wrong, simply because they believe that electoral advantages are to be gained if enough people are fooled.

Previous post:

Next post: