The Jared Loughner Blame Game
In the days after the tragedy in Tucson that left six dead and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life, the editorials have been inundated with finger pointing from left-leaning columnists and retorts from those commentators on the right. (Even the economy-focused Paul Krugman tried to pinpoint the toxic rhetoric that caused these murders in his Monday piece “Climate of Hate”.)
Did incendiary political rhetoric cause Jared Loughner to murder a half dozen people, among them a 9-year old girl? Or was this tragedy the consequence of a mental illness long ignored? Or had the two coalesced?
I would suspect most would agree that it was when the violent rhetoric intertwined with the mind of a mentally ill man. So then, where do we place the blame?
The often-quoted quasi-journalist/comedian/talk-show host Jon Stewart (who, in the past year, has become one of the voices of reason in a country entrenched with demagoguery) said, “We live in a complex ecosystem of influences and motivations and I wouldn’t blame our political rhetoric any more than I would blame heavy metal music for Columbine.”
Maybe we can’t hold the political rhetoric of firebrand commentators like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck accountable, even if it sometimes sounds as if they’re issuing fatwas. Robert Wright in a New York Times article points out:
“Six months ago, police in California pulled over a truck that turned out to contain a rifle, a handgun, a shotgun and body armor. Police learned from the driver — sometime after he opened fire on them — that he was heading for San Francisco, where he planned to kill people at the Tides Foundation. You’ve probably never heard of the Tides Foundation — unless you watch Glenn Beck, who had mentioned it more than two dozen times in the preceding six months, depicting it as part of a communist plot to “infiltrate” our society and seize control of big business.”
But we can hold politicians liable. And we should. The difference between Beck, Limbaugh, Marilyn Manson and our politicians is that the first three have had their limelights lit by a large, faithful minority; whereas, politicians are kept in power by a majority. So while the market may favor vitriolic megaphones and morose rock stars, our political system does not have to support politicians who preach in the language of rancor.
When elected officials run venomous campaigns or try to overwhelm legislation with acrimony by adopting the same talking points as someone like Rush Limbaugh, not only is it wrong, but it reinforces the craziness constituents are constantly exposed to if all they follow is FOX News or MSNBC.
So the next time a politician does something like post crosshairs over districts of congressmen and women that they want to see defeated, as Sarah Palin did on Facebook, not only should they be denounced in the news, but also renounced in the voting booth. As voters, we are not just electing a legislator. We are choosing a delegate that will help to set the tone of our country.
John Boehner, the new Speaker of the House, has an opportunity to change that tone. After the shooting, Boehner said, “This is the time for the House to lock arms.” It’s a mood that Boehner and the Republicans, along with the Democrats, should aim to manifest for years, not just in the wake of this tragedy. And it can be done without compromising either of their parties’ agendas.
Congress does not have to mimic and kowtow to the media. It does not have to echo the same hatred. If Boehner can lead an arm-locked Congress, then, when we’re grieving an inevitable future tragedy, we’ll at least be able to believe that the impetus for murder was that the gunman was just crazy.
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