Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) today reacted to hearing news that congressional baseball shooter James Hodgkinson was a volunteer on his presidential campaign with a somber and unequivocal statement that he was "sickened," and that "violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society." Watch it here:
Sanders did not choose in this moment to stand up and denounce the increasingly violent rhetoric coming from the left wing of American politics, and appropriately so: As I argued after Jared Loughner's deadly Arizona shooting rampage in 2011 (and again as recently as last month), responsibility for acts of violence lies with the perpetrators, not unconnected persons engaged in political hyperbole, no matter how deranged the latter. I only wish such post-Loughner restraint had been shown by Bernie Sanders himself.
On January 11, 2011, three days after Loughner shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and murdered six people, Sanders sent out a fundraising email that, among other things, criticized Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for not doing more to condemn right-wing political rhetoric. Excerpt:
Nobody can honestly express surprise that such a tragedy finally occurred. […] Congresswoman Giffords publicly expressed concerns when Sarah Palin, on her website, placed her district in the cross-hairs of a rifle – and identified her by name below the image – as an encouragement to Palin supporters to eliminate her from Congress. […] In light of all of this violence – both actual and threatened – is Arizona a state in which people who are not Republicans are able to participate freely and fully in the democratic process? Have right-wing reactionaries, through threats and acts of violence, intimidated people with different points of view from expressing their political positions? My colleague, Senator John McCain, issued a very strong statement after the shooting in which he condemned the perpetrator of the attack. I commend him for that. But I believe Senator McCain and other Arizona Republicans need to do more. As the elder statesman of Arizona politics McCain needs to stand up and denounce the increasingly violent rhetoric coming from the right-wing and exert his influence to create a civil political environment in his state.
Click on the link for the full context. One can only imagine his level of vituperation had Loughner been, say, a Sarah Palin volunteer. As I predicted back then:
This will not be the last time political violence will be perpetrated or attempted during Obama's presidency (or those of his successors), so the pattern is worth committing to memory. Terrible deed prompts premature finger-pointing….Partisans immediately blame their mirror images on the other side of the aisle, and endless oxygen is expended debating an undefinable "climate" of violence allegedly created by political expression.
most of the people calling for a "new tone," for a rhetorical disarmament in the discussion of politics, [will be] motivated not by an equal opportunity antipathy to non-empirical hyperbole, but by a partisan revulsion at excess from the side whose beliefs they happen to find distasteful.
On days like today, it's worth engaging in a little self-inventory to see how you reacted when the political violence was aimed at the opposing team. If in one case you assign responsibility to the shooter, and not to the political opponents of the targets, you really ought to do so in the other. Any talk of hyperbolic rhetoric then becomes a secondary, though still interesting, issue.