Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was still in the operating room when the professional Left began to leverage her shooting for political purposes. Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos blamed Sarah Palin. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann wagged a finger at a long list of high-profile conservatives, ranging from newly-elected Florida Congressman Allen West to Glenn Beck. Giffords’s own father suggested “the whole Tea Party” might be suspects in the shootings.
It’s easy to understand a father’s overwrought reaction. It’s harder to forgive demagogues like Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima County, Ariz., and an elected Democrat, who at a weekend press conference declared anyone with libertarian tendencies complicit in the shootings: “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government — the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.”
Have you complained about the stimulus package? You might as well have pulled the trigger yourself.
But what about the man who evidently did pull the trigger, Jared Lee Loughner? Whatever Loughner’s political beliefs, his behavior before the shooting bears the hallmarks of mental illness. “When I turned my back to write on the board,” one of Loughner’s college instructors told the Washington Post, “I would always turn back quickly, to see if he had a gun.” Loughner answered one question on a recent algebra test this way: “Eat+Sleep+Brush Teeth=Math.”
Jared Loughner is a nut, a fact obvious to virtually everyone who came into contact with him. Yet despite the evidence, Washington is gearing up to do what it does best: politicize and overreact. Two cynical attempts to exploit this tragedy are already taking shape.
First and most predictably, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy says she will introduce gun control legislation this week. McCarthy won’t specify what her bill will entail, but it’s likely to contain restrictions on ammunition purchases and high-capacity magazines. As if either one would have prevented Loughner’s rampage.
Second, within hours of the shooting, Rep. Bob Brady of Philadelphia announced his plans to clamp down on opinions he disagrees with. According to CNN, Brady will “introduce legislation making it a federal crime for a person to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a member of Congress or federal official.”
It’s hardly worth deconstructing an idea this stupid. By Brady’s definition, virtually all political language could be construed as illegal, beginning with martial terms like “campaign.” But it is worth defending speech, even the loud and grating variety.
There is, after all, a lot to argue about. The national debt grew by nearly $5 trillion during President Bush’s eight years in office. It has expanded by another $3 trillion during the first two years of the Obama administration. This is an unsustainable rate of expansion, and it’s crushing the nation’s economy. Americans are within their rights to be upset about it. Their anger has nothing to do with the lunatic who attacked Congresswoman Giffords.
“Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” That was Rahm Emanuel’s famous response to the financial meltdown of 2008, and ugly as it sounds, it’s standard operating procedure for both parties in Washington. But a massacre of innocent people? You’d think the ruling class might show some self-restraint. You’d be wrong. “They need to deftly pin this on the tea partiers,” an unnamed Democratic operative told Politico. “Just like the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people.”
Seize the tragedy for political gain. Blur the distinction between speech and violence. Bully the other side into silence. These were instinctive reactions of some on the Left to Saturday’s shootings. As the rest of us stood transfixed and horrified by the scale of human suffering, they were plotting a propaganda campaign. Remember that the next time someone invokes the memory of those killed in Tucson.