Liddick: American politics has always been a contact sport
How long did it take? Twelve minutes, by my watch.
That’s the amount of time it took the president to bring up our “sharply polarized” discourse in his speech at the Tucson “memorial service” for the victims of Jared Loughner. And not for the last time. Nor is he alone. Dozens of the usual suspects both preceded and followed him with denunciations of the “overheated rhetoric” that precipitated this atrocity. Conservative rhetoric, naturally …
Here’s a tip, folks: Polarized political discourse didn’t shoot six people to death at the Casas Adobes Safeway north of Tucson, Arizona. And while we’re at it, a Glock 19 semiautomatic pistol didn’t drive itself to the site and start blazing away.
The tragic shooting of 19 people, six of them fatally, was the undertaking of a badly disturbed young man who finally lost the battle with his demons. As more details become known about Mr. Loughner, what emerges is a picture of a person slowly spiraling into self-imposed isolation, then into delusion and finally, madness. According to those acquainted with him, neither “talk radio” nor party politics had an appeal. He was working on his own terms, in his own reality, and we witnessed the culmination of his efforts. He alone bears responsibility for the carnage he wrought.
Like other perpetrators of his type – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold come to mind – Mr. Loughner had previous minor brushes with the authorities including Pima Community College; the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which offers job-training courses; and even the Pima County Sheriff, who was one of the first to blame conservative rhetoric for the tragedy. Like others, early warning signs were disregarded. No, a “Satanic shrine” in the backyard is not a childish lark. It’s nature’s way of saying “Keep an eye on this one, please …” So is the neighbor kids’ unwillingness to enter his backyard if a ball goes astray there.
There’s another aspect to all the vaporous protest about the dangers of overheated political rhetoric: It ignores our history, and I don’t just mean the era when these self-same hand-wringers were cheering on the “Bush Equals Hitler” brigades or nodding sagely at comments suggesting Vice President Cheney was a tool of the Devil, if not the Prince of Darkness himself.
“These men have an intimate acquaintance with treason; they … have vomited lies and calumny on everything sacred, human and divine.” Such was Connecticut Federalist John Allen’s description of Vice President Thomas Jefferson’s followers in 1799. President Andrew Jackson was repeatedly accused of bigamy and branded a murderer. Lincoln was often depicted by his opponents as a baboon. Charges of treason; lying to obtain office, and in office afterward; cowardice; sexual misconduct; ignoring the wishes of the people; being a slave to foreign interests, domestic cabals or “Wall Street”; it’s all been part of the American political scene since the beginning. US politics is, and always has been, a contact sport. The only reason some are caterwauling now is that the tactics they have used for years have been turned against them, and they don’t like the results. There’s a word for this sort of behavior, and not a nice one.
Violence in politics, while reprehensible, has also been a hardy perennial. Aaron Burr did not shoot Alexander Hamilton over an allegation of infidelity. Representative Preston Brooks did not beat Senator Charles Sumner nearly to death on the floor of the Senate over an insult to the former’s uncle. Nor did a shooting spree by four Puerto Rican separatists in a 1954 attack that left five members of Congress wounded have anything to do with Rush Limbaugh.
And who can forget the Bill Ayers-founded Weather Underground bombing campaign of 1969-72? At least eight dead or maimed, millions of dollars in damage done, and not a hint that Glenn Beck was involved. But Bernadine Dohrn was.
If “right-wing rhetoric” was responsible for Mr. Loughner’s actions in Tucson, should we blame leftist venom for the assassination attempts on Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush? Or should we agree that all these were actions of people badly out of sync with reality – which seems far more plausible?
Lack of consistency in laying the blame for carnage is only one reason to give our Sen. Udall’s Congressional festival seating proposal the skunk-eye. Parties are divided by an aisle in Congress because they are divided ideologically on existential matters facing the Republic; no amount of gimmickry will change that. Differences between the political left and right are real and extensive, beginning with identifying the person responsible for the slaughter at the Casas Adobes Safeway.
Hint: it ain’t Anne Coulter, no matter how much you want it to be.
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