Calling Republicans’ anger responsible for the Arizona shooting spree is like calling the last Congress’s mediocrity responsible for Furry Vengeance.
But Republicans seem to get blamed a lot. Newsweek, for instance, blames John Boehner for criticizing a 2009 DHS report on possible “lone wolf” extremism. The local sheriff blames Rush Limbaugh, though there’s no proof that the shooter had ever listened to Limbaugh. And one of the victims blames Sarah Palin for using a crosshairs map as part of her ‘Take Back the 20’ campaign to unseat Obamacare supporters. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman blames Glenn Beck. Others, the Times’s editorial board included, stop short of blaming actual people, instead fingering intangible culprits like Republicans’ “gale of anger.”
As John Sexton writes at Hotair.com, though, Jared Loughner’s fixation on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords pre-dated both Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. The government’s complaint against Loughner mentions a letter that police found at his home that thanks him for going to a Giffords campaign event in 2007 — 12 months before John McCain made Palin a household name. Sexton also points out that Loughner is more leftwing than right. Loughner liked The Communist Manifesto. His friend told reporters that Loughner had been watching a Marxist film series called Zeitgeist. And Sexton notes that one of Loughner’s YouTube clips shows him or someone else burning the American flag.
The New York Times’s public editor ran a piece on Sunday explaining the Times’s fixation on Palin and the “tone” in Washington as journalists’ “genetic” need to “frame” a story. But since jobs aren’t “genetic,” a simpler explanation for the kind of stories that led 35 percent of Americans to blame Palin for the shooting, according to one CNN poll, is bad reporting.
The result? Rather than governing, lawmakers are scrambling to do what lawmakers do best: respond to a crisis with ceremonial gestures that accomplish more or less nothing. Tom Coburn and Chuck Schumer, for instance, are planning to sit together at the State of the Union. Boehner’s stopped using the term “job-killing,” in case the word “killing” prompts someone somewhere to go on a rampage. And President Obama is urging people to speak in “words that heal.” If only their focus was on passing a budget.
The reason that Washington is so quick to blame ethereal concepts like tone and rhetoric for the shooting, though, is a practical one. Blaming the tone gives Democrats an excuse to complain whenever Republicans question their policies. It also gives Republicans a chance to renege on their campaign promises without alienating their base, claiming it would be in bad taste to take on partisan issues in such a charged political climate. After the shooting, for instance, Boehner canceled a scheduled House vote on Obamacare repeal.
One person is to blame for this tragedy: Jared Loughner. There’s no reason to shut the government down and sell the country back to England. Voters put the GOP in charge for a reason. The show must go on.
Dorian Davis is a former MTV HITS star turned Libertarian writer. He’s been published in Business Week, NY Daily News, XY & more. He’s an NYU graduate and National Journalism Center alum. He teaches journalism at Marymount Manhattan College.