Lessons from Norway's Horror
Don't use a tragedy to score partisan points.
Editor's Note: This column is reprinted with permission of the Washington Examiner. Click here to read it at that site.
I've never been a fan of waiting periods for gun purchases, but I'm warming to the idea of a pundit's "Brady Bill." Some political commentators could use a (voluntary) "cooling-off" period before they start using mass murder to score partisan points.
That could have saved Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post's neoconservative blogger, some embarrassment over the weekend.
On Friday, before much was known about the horrific car-bombing and mass-shooting in Norway, she used the tragedy to argue against modest cuts to the Pentagon's budget. Trimming the Defense Department's budget—which accounts for nearly half the world's military spending—would be "very rash … curbing our ability to defend the United States and our allies in a very dangerous world." The slaughter in Norway was, she wrote, "a sobering reminder for those who think it's too expensive to wage a war against jihadists."
Actually, it's a sobering reminder to think before you post. Even if Rubin had been right about who carried out the attacks, her argument was a crashing non sequitur, unless you think the United States needs new aircraft carriers to stop car bombings in Oslo.
As it turned out, the murderer was a native Norwegian, a European nationalist with "fiercely anti-Islamic and pro-Israel views," according to the Jerusalem Post. Whoops!
Yet some of the lefties who ridiculed Rubin this weekend, like the Center for American Progress' Matt Yglesias, had itchy Twitter fingers in the immediate aftermath of Jared Loughner's rampage in Tucson last January. Without the slightest evidence, Yglesias and others pointed to a graphic on Sarah Palin's website—an electoral map with cross hairs—as a possible incitement for Loughner to shoot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
In this case, The New Republic waited three whole days before publishing a piece indicting "the anti-Islamic ideology that has been spreading like a poison throughout European political culture for at least a decade."
At this writing, Norwegian authorities haven't yet ruled out the possibility that Breivik had some collaborators. But whether he's a lone nut or one of several, the dark night of fascism hardly seems likely to descend across Europe because of a "climate of hate" fostered by European voters who have concerns about immigration from Muslim countries.
I haven't yet waded through Breivik's entire 1,500-page online magnum opus (the length itself is a good indication of megalomania—as is the fact that sections of it are cut-and-pasted from the Unabomber's manifesto). The American Conservative's Daniel McCarthy calls it "a plagiarized jumble of nationalism, positivism, Christian symbolism, Unabomber-ism, neoconism, etc. Sound and fury," likely signifying … not much. It's likely that the only worthwhile political lesson to be gleaned from the horror of 7/22 is that Norway ought to consider having a longer maximum prison sentence than 21 years.
In general, invoking the ideological meanderings of psychopaths is a stalking horse for narrowing permissible dissent. Former New York Times columnist Frank Rich provided a classic in the genre with his February 2010 piece "The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged," in which he railed against the dangerous climate of anti-government rhetoric and warned that a "tax protester" who flew a plane into an Internal Revenue Service building in February may be a dark harbinger of Tea Party terrorism to come. (No such luck, Frank.)
But blaming Sarah Palin for Jared Loughner, or Al Gore for the Unabomber makes about as much sense as blaming Martin Scorsese and Jodie Foster for inciting John Hinckley. There's little to be learned from the acts of "the obsessed and deranged." But these incidents ought to teach us not to use tragedy to score partisan points.
Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power (Cato 2008). He is a columnist at the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared. Click here to read it at that site.