Tragically, we are faced once more with a mentally disturbed individual committing the mindless targeting of Arizona U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and other innocents in a senseless act of violence. Shamefully, even before considering the pain and suffering of the survivors, the hunt for someone to blame was in full scale mode.
Disregarding that history has contributed several other murdering madmen — Texas tower shooter Charles Whitman, Sirhan Sirhan, John Wilkes Booth, James Earl Ray — the pseudo psychologists of the media and the body politic placed the blame on society in general and political incivility in particular. Much like sharks circling a blood spill, the punditry waded in with relish.
Seizing on the lack of civility in political discourse as the prime mover in the "climate of hate," selected political figures and media attempted to connect the "vitriolic rhetoric" to a phantom anti-government movement. Not surprisingly, the usual vultures of the far left — NY Times columnist Paul Krugman, The Washington Post's E. J. Dionne, NY Daily News' Michael Daly, and Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Dish — somehow connected Sarah Palin, the Tea Party and conservative Republicans to this tragedy.
Apparently, Palin's metaphors (e.g., lock and load, targeting opponents and "crosshairing" congressional districts) are tantamount to inciting violence. When one adds the "extremist rants" of Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck to the mix, the left finds a prima facie case against the right. And, who can forget Rush Limbaugh's "culpability" in the Oklahoma City bombing?
Pardon my proclivity for being blunt, but faulting "extremist" political rhetoric for triggering Jared Loughner's murderous spree is pure nonsense. Krugman's "Republican created climate of hate," Daly's "the blood of Rep Giffords is on Sarah Palin's hands" and Sullivan's linking the shooting to Palin and the Tea Party are about as reasonable as Katie Couric's speculation that the Times Square bomber might be a tea partier upset with Obamacare.
I have yet to see anyone from the left who, in bashing the right for extremist political rhetoric, even recognizes that the progressives of that ilk, to include the president, are guilty of identical tactics — dating back to the eight years of the Bush presidency. Let us face it — there is no evidence that the rhetoric of either corner ratchets up a "climate of hate" any more than the "double dog dares" of playground squabbles.
In a perfect world, we would have no Jared Loughners, no Timothy McVeighs, no Ted Kaczynskis, nor Major Hasans. In a perfect world, we would have no need for law enforcement, military, prisons or hospitals. However, since a percentage of our population includes criminals, mentally challenged and severely deranged persons — and that number multiplies along with population growth — we will be ever vulnerable to acts of mindless violence.
Our imperfect world is hardly well served by leaping to conclusions without evidence, politically inspired witch hunts, amateur psychoanalyses, and a senseless, hand wringing search for someone — anyone — to blame. The real "climate of hate" is fomented by those who shamelessly seek political gain from tragedy — the truth or the consequences arising therefrom wilfully ignored.
More civility and less invective in the arena of political rhetoric would be welcomed by most; however, who gets to decide just what speech is over the top? By overwhelming majority, the people and the elected officials can sort out the real from the claptrap of unending campaign vitriol — the electorate is far from stupid.
The government can neither legislate nor create a climate free of random violence no more than it can dictate respectful discourse — that is a personal responsibility, as are manners and courtesy. President Obama, in his address to the nation last Wednesday, hit the right notes in placing the incident in perspective eloquently and with wisdom.
Let us hope everyone was listening.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.