The tragic homicidal shooting spree that killed and wounded our fellow citizens in Tuscon, Az. was entirely the result of what appears, a mentally ill individual who had multiple run-ins with both campus police at Pima Community College and the local Sherriff’s office. The fact that the target was a Democratic Congresswoman has generated some of the most vile and merit-less incendiary charges that we have witnessed in our political give and take in a very long time. What to make of this?
Several observations come to mind. The first is that the left is completely blind to the hostile environment they create with their own rhetoric. It is as if Saul Alinsky’s Community Organizing Primer, Rules for Radicals has been internalized by the political and media elites in full without giving a second thought as to whether these tactics are appropriate for the given time and place. His infamous Rule 12, Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it, are now standard tactics for any and all circumstances. The theory behind this tactic is to discredit and de-ligitimize the object of their character assassination so they have no platform from which to be heard. It is in short a tactic to shut the opposition up by whatever means are effective.
This tactic has been playing out in full throated vigor in the aftermath of an actual assassination attempt. The charges revolve around creating a climate of hate but while the targets have been specific (Limbaugh, Palin, The Tea Party, et al) , the charges have evolved from specifically inciting THIS act, to a more generic charge of poisoning the atmosphere. This genericizing of charges shields them (in their minds) from having to actually demonstrate their validity. An allegation of indirect responsibility provides cover for lacking factual evidence to back up their point of view while simultaneously demonizing their target into pariah status. As the New York Times puts it in an editorial on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011 (h/t George Will)
“On Sunday, the Times explained Tucson: “It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But . . .” The “directly” is priceless.”
The shooter has been described by close associates as being a-political, listening to neither TV news nor talk radio, but rather living dangerously in his own mind and being detached from reality. His own internet postings and writings show incoherence. This quite clearly is not someone who was motivated by political talk radio from the right or the left. And yet there is an unrelenting drumbeat by the left to tarnish political opponents for contributory negligence.
Several theories have been forthcoming to describe this hysteria including 1) despite no evidence, they truly believe the charges, perversely believing that the human condition is perfectible , 2) they are simply delusional, and 3) they are oozing bile from their pores over their hatred of the political opposition.
I find all three theories are somewhat persuasive but I think it is a calculated piece of political tactic by the elite punditry who are in fact fearful of the shellacking the Democrats took in last November’s elections and the consequences of that repudiation. They will take whatever steps available to prevent that kind of similar outcome in 2012. If that means implementing Alinsky’s rule 12 on those who they find threatening, so be it. This is a risky strategy as others (non-committed leftists) find this behavior shamelessly exploitative and callously insensitive to the victim’s families. Nevertheless, the drumbeat goes on.
So what’s left of this accusation if we boil it down to its essential elements is that while the rhetoric from the Right did not cause this particular killer to act, it exists and it is rhetoric we (The Left) don’t like. Therefore it incites people to hate, (It incites the Left to hate.) If it incites people to hate, then it is evil and will ultimately lead to evil deeds, particularly by people who are somewhat unstable to start with.
As a democratic society, is this not the normal state of affairs? That as a free people we are governed by laws that place limits on individuals to curb their actions against their desires or pay the consequences of those actions. No set of laws can prevent a lunatic from listening to the voices in his head although this incident should compel us to seriously look at the way we treat the mentally ill within our society.
But in the end, the outrage against right wing political rhetoric is simply nothing more than their own expression of outrage at political speech that they don’t like and want to shut down. The most effective but difficult way to do that is to defeat it in the marketplace of political ideas, not to use the force of government to allow only the speech that they prefer. That is after all what our First Amendment is all about. The Left just lost an election meaning that they lost the most recent battle of ideas in the marketplace. They need to do a better job, or they need to get better ideas, it is as simple as that. The rest of this screeching is simply their noise machine trying to gain a political advantage that they have not earned.
Finally, the tactics being used to demean, denigrate, and demonize their political opponents may provide them a salve for their political wounds and the vigor with which they lash out provides some emotional satisfaction, it may come with a price and that is that many folks will look at this behavior and conclude that these people are intellectually and emotionally damaged. That conclusion would not be without some merit as the evidence is mounting up for all to see. If they keep it up, what’s left of their hypothesis could become a self fulfilling prophecy.
Update: David Solway likens this behavior to demonic possession in a metaphorical sense. See A Case of Possession.