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Exploiting Tucson tragedy is the real incivility

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Jan 13, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A


Exploiting Tucson tragedy is the real incivility

Wrong to blame political rhetoric for shooting


When I heard the news about the mass shooting at Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ public meeting in Tucson, I knew it was going to be exploited for political gain. This time the political left set their sights on targeting Sarah Palin.

Oops. Wait. I shouldn’t have used the words “sights” or “targeting.” I meant they aimed no, that’s not right either. Let’s try again.

The political left accused Mrs. Palin’s metaphors of moving someone beyond the metaphorical, citing a map that put cross hairs symbols on several key congressional districts, including Giffords’. Or if that wasn’t enough, it was the “tone” of the tea parties, talk radio and the 2010 campaign that inspired the violence.

Except, of course, it’s not true. As much as we can divine from the troubled mind of Jared Loughner, his politics were more liberal than conservative. He posted a video of an American flag burning at his YouTube page. He considered the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to be war crimes. We have heard from a former friend Loughner was something of a radical who liked smoking marijuana and listening to the anarchist punk band Anti-Flag. Hardly tea party stuff.

We also know now his dislike of Giffords predated the national prominence of Governor Palin and the tea party movement. Clearly it’s not the tone of rightwing rhetoric that caused the violence in Tucson, but something else inside the mind of the shooter.

His fellow students at the local community college told reporters of his odd behavior, and he was removed from school because they feared he would do something. He had run-ins with the law because he allegedly made death threats.

Even knowing all this there are some who are still trying to take advantage of this tragedy by blaming the tone of conservative political rhetoric. Pretty soon reading the Declaration of Independence aloud will be a hate crime because of violent, anti-government speech.

Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders is even using the tragedy as an excuse to send out a fundraising e-mail talking about the violent language of the political right, and he is not the only one.

Yet all of this fear of the political language by the right ignores some basic points.

First, how silly does the left sound when they talk about worrying about political violence? The history of political violence in this country for the last 100 years, going back to the assassination of President William McKinley by an anarchist, has mostly been the story of violence by the political left.

It’s a terrible history: anarchists attempting assassinations (including Theodore Roosevelt in Milwaukee), the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground (including President Barack Obama’s friend William Ayers), the Symbionese Liberation Army, the campus radicals who burned ROTC buildings in the 1960s, the Sterling Hall bombers in Madison, the Earth Liberation Front, Lee Harvey Oswald, Greenpeace, rioters protesting the World Trade Organization in Seattle, protesters at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, protesters at the Republican National Convention in 2004, and so on.

Perhaps we should retroactively blame Obama, who quoted the movie “The Untouchables” in a political speech: “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”

Second, let’s keep in mind that many of those who are suddenly calling for civility in politics are guilty of incivility themselves. When Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen started criticizing Palin’s map, somebody should have pointed out his organization used little target symbols on a map, too. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin actually used the health care bill for target practice in his commercials. Another former Democratic Congressman called for the Republican governor of Florida to be put up against a wall and shot. Keith Olbermann says every night someone is “The Worst Person in the World,” yet he called for Palin to be ostracized for her rhetoric.

Finally, let’s be realistic about how we talk about politics. We use terms like “war room,” “battleground,” “campaign” all the time when discussing politics. I can easily imagine a political operative from either party saying, ‘We’re going to do a three-day phone blitz along with carpet bombing mail in targeted areas to keep our opponent on the defensive. The fallout from the attack ought to produce collateral damage in the smaller races.”

(Right now, half the strategists in Madison are wondering who leaked their campaign memos.)

Even left-wing columnist John Nichols of the Capital Times, while praising Gov. Scott Walker’s response to the Tucson tragedy, couldn’t avoid saying, “Since Walker’s victory, political battle lines have been drawn.”

This language is common to politicians and political operatives, to news reporters and the general public. Now it’s supposedly a problem. It’s only a problem because some on the left are trying to exploit a tragedy.

If we really want to improve the tone of politics in this country, falsely linking any political movement to the troubled mind of Jared Loughner is moving in the wrong direction. The Tucson shooting did not expose the supposed danger of the political rhetoric on the right. It only exposed the disgraceful opportunism by many on the left.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)


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