Shocking: Frank Rich Blames GOP for Pre-Tucson Violence
Rich linked the previous, presumably right-wing vandalism of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' local headquarters to her attempted assassination in Tucson. Rich predictably mentioned the red herring of the "cross-hairs" target image on a Sarah Palin campaign map (a standard political metaphor that has been used for years by both parties without objection).
If we learn nothing from this tragedy, we are back where we started. And where we started was with two years of accelerating political violence - actual violence, not to be confused with violent language - that struck fear into many, not the least of whom was Gabrielle Giffords.
For the sake of this discussion, let's stipulate that Loughner was a "lone nutjob" who had never listened to Glenn Beck or been a card-carrying member of either the Tea or Communist parties. Let's also face another tragedy: The only two civic reforms that might have actually stopped him - tighter gun control and an effective mental health safety net - won't materialize even now.
The other inescapable reality was articulated by Sarah Palin, believe it or not, in her "blood libel" video. Speaking of acrimonious partisan debate, she asked, "When was it less heated - back in those calm days when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols?" She's right. Calls for civility will have no more lasting impact on the "tone" of American discourse now than they did after the J.F.K. assassination or Oklahoma City. Especially not in an era when technology allows all 300 million Americans a cost-free megaphone for unmediated rants.
In her MSNBC interview that Wednesday, Giffords said that Palin had put the "crosshairs of a gun sight over our district," adding that "when people do that, they've got to realize there's consequences to that action." Chuck Todd then asked Giffords if "in fairness, campaign rhetoric and war rhetoric have been interchangeable for years." She responded that colleagues who had been in the House "20, 30 years" had never seen vitriol this bad. But Todd moved on, and so did the Beltway. What's the big deal about a little broken glass? Few wanted to see what Giffords saw - that the vandalism and death threats were the latest consequences of a tide of ugly insurrectionism that had been rising since the final weeks of the 2008 campaign and that had threatened to turn violent from the start.
Rich moved the discussion a half-step toward reality by focusing on actual destructive acts as opposed to blaming vague political "vitriol," but didn't cease his repellent habit of lumping together disparate unpolitical acts and labeling them the result of extremist anti-Obama hatred.
As the president said in Tucson, we lack not just civil discourse, but honest discourse. Much of last week's televised bloviation was dishonest, dedicated to the pious, feel-good sentiment that both sides are equally culpable for the rage of the past two years. To construct this false equivalency, every left-leaning Web site and Democratic politician's record was dutifully culled for incendiary invective. If that's the standard, then both sides are equally at fault - rhetoric can indeed be as violent on the left as on the right.
But that sidesteps the issue. This isn't about angry blog posts or verbal fisticuffs. Since Obama's ascension, we've seen repeated incidents of political violence. Just a short list would include the 2009 killing of three Pittsburgh police officers by a neo-Nazi Obama-hater; last year's murder-suicide kamikaze attack on an I.R.S. office in Austin, Tex.; and the California police shootout with an assailant plotting to attack an obscure liberal foundation obsessively vilified by Beck.
Rich concluded by pointing the finger of fault at politicians who kept silent in the face of "simmering violence."
Have politicians stoked the pre-Loughner violence by advocating that citizens pursue "Second Amendment remedies" or be "armed and dangerous"? We don't know. What's more disturbing is what Republican and conservative leaders have not said. Their continuing silence during two years of simmering violence has been chilling.
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