Blame the Shooter, Not the 'Rhetoric'
The New York Times shamefully-and stupidly-ties yesterday's shooting to...an old Sarah Palin ad?
When it comes to violence aimed at politicians, it turns out that Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is quick to blame "rhetoric" for gun attacks on politicians only when the perpetrator apparently disagrees with his ideology, isn't the only hypocrite and fool.
In a house editorial that is stunning in its intellectual laziness and mendacity, The New York Times manages to tie the actions of sniper James Hodgkinson not simply to today's over-the-top #NeverTrump #resistance rhetoric but to…Sarah Palin's fictitious role in the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords and a dozen other people in a Tucson parking lot. Seriously:
Was [Hodgkinson's] attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin's political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.
Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals. They're right. Though there's no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack, liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.
Read the whole thing here. Since its original publication, the Times has graciously seen fit to correct itself thus:
An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that a link existed between political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established.
Where to begin? For starters, only rankly opportunistic insta-commentary by hardcore Democratic partisans—including Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, who wrote "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin" within hours of the Giffords shooting—drew a connection between Sarah Palin's innocuous fund-raising graphic and the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner. Indeed, it turned out that the madman was not a devotee of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sarah Palin, Fox News, or other right-wing media. Instead, he consumed a diet heavy on what Jesse Walker calls "New Age paranoia."
While the Times sees a "direct" "incitement" between one image from Palin and Loughner, whose online videos and history with law enforcement clearly suggested a fully deranged, psychotic personality, the Paper of Record studiously avoids pointing to Hodgkinson's public allegiance to Bernie Sanders and his violent language toward Donald Trump and the Republican Party (he joined a group that wants to "terminate" the latter). The result is similar to blaming John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas to a virulent climate of "right-wing hate," despite Lee Harvey Oswald's commitments to Cuba, the Soviet Union, and communism.
To be fair, right-wingers are pounding the table in the wake of yesterday's shooting, going so far to shout that "Rachel Maddow Has Blood on Her Hands" for calling Trump a Russian agent. Not to be outdone, Fox News' Eric Bolling called for liberals to censor themselves in the name of saving lives:
How many innocent people have to die before we realize that words do matter? Crazy people act on the crazy things they hear from politicians and celebrities. Think before you utter those blind, hateful words next time, liberals. Because there are crazy people out there taking your metaphors literally.
All of the above assumes that contemporary political speech is both somehow more virulent than ever and responsible for any actual physical violence that happens. In reality, there are no grounds for either belief. In a country where political violence is vanishingly rare, gun violence has declined precipitously despite wider circulation of guns, and mass shootings betray no clear pattern of increase, it's ridiculous to blame words for increases in violence. As important, Bernie Sanders' and other progressives' often-incendiary rhetoric toward billionaires, plutocrats, the 1 Percent or whatever is no more responsible for James Hodgkinson's shooting spree than J.D. Salinger is responsible for Mark David Chapman's killing of John Lennon.
If there is any lesson to be drawn this early from the disturbing and chilling attack that left the House Majority Whip, Rep. Steve Scalise, in critical condition, it's that immediately politicizing everything and seeking cheap, partisan gain yields no meaningful insight and further alienates the vast and growing swath of Americans who already feel a need to escape from political tribes that include fewer and fewer of us.