Conservative rhetoric not behind Arizona shooting

Dead birds have lately been falling from the sky all over the place and if you wanted to be as inane in locating a cause as some have been about fault–finding in the tragic Arizona shooting, you would blame the tea party, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Sarah Palin—anyone to the right of Lenin. Problem solved.

It’s a laughable thesis, but if you ventured it, maybe some sober soul would gently explain that there isn’t any discernible causal connection between political commentary and the demise of some of our feathered friends. Perhaps he would even politely advise you that, in the absence of contrary evidence, shutting up would be useful.

Some such layman’s therapy seems needed to help soothe the fevered brows of Paul Krugman of the New York Times and others contending that “hate–mongers” on the right prompted the shots that left six people dead and 14 wounded, including an exceptional congresswoman struggling for her life. One way to start is to describe what we know of the shooter.

He is clearly some kind of psychopath more driven by inner voices than outer voices. We have no reports that he ever paid any attention at all to those accused of shared culpability. He does not seem to have been particularly political, although he read writings by both Hitler and Marx. One observation indicates that to the extent he is political, he is a leftist. He used marijuana and he ranted about grammar, although in a confused, blurry way hard to figure out.

Given the facts, speculating about right–wing influence makes even less sense than speculation that he was led to killing by the killer weed. That argument would be an especially fit analysis for someone wanting to outlaw marijuana, which brings us to the subject of political purposes informing theories.

It’s interesting that much of the yelping about the violent language of conservatives comes from leftist sources that wish these conservative nuisances would quit hindering their policy aspirations. Not the least such source was a Krugman blog calling Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and others “hate–mongers” when Krugman himself is an ad hominem–attack artist whose misuse of facts and figures was once bemoaned by an official Times ombudsman.

Liberals have been beating up on Palin because she once said conservatives had certain Democratic congressional seats in their “crosshairs.” It was a metaphor. She meant nothing endangering by it. Democrats have talked of Republican seats as being the “bull’s eye” they were aiming for, and even President Obama talked metaphorically during his 2008 campaign about bringing a gun to a confrontation. So what?

Limbaugh gets bashed more than he bashes, but whatever the critics say about him, they should grant him a sense of humor and then find the humor in this screech from one leftist basher, Chris Matthews on MSNBC.

“You guys see ‘Live and Let Die,’ the great Bond film with Yaphet Kotto as the bad guy, Mr. Big? In the end they jam a big CO2 pellet in his face and he blew up. I have to tell you, Rush Limbaugh is looking more and more like Mr. Big, and at some point somebody’s going to jam a CO2 pellet into his head and he’s going to explode like a giant blimp.”

That’s reprehensible stuff, although it hardly makes Matthews complicit in any shooting. “It’s worth pointing out that, at a time when political speech has gotten much more violent, political assassinations have not increased,” said commentator David Brooks on the PBS NewsHour the other night. There seems to be no strong science that tells us differently.

Along with just about everyone else, I think political discussion should be civilized—please, no more e–mails wishing me death—but I am hardly against rambunctious, lively, passionate discourse that will only disappear when the democracy has disappeared. No one should try to further that day by the pretense that something terribly awful and terribly sad was a consequence of people simply saying forcefully what they believed.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado and a Centennial Institute Fellow. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com.

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