Sunday, January 09, 2011


Look, it's not as if I'll shed a tear if Sarah Palin continues to take heat for including Gabrielle Giffords on her crosshair map -- she's gotten away with so much poisonous rhetoric for so long, rhetoric that's actually harming the country, that a wave of genuinely bad press coverage that she can't dodge or explain away would be karmically appropriate.

And yet I continue to suspect that she had nothing to do with the Tucson shooting. I'm not sure the tea party or any angry rhetoric had anything to do with it. It strikes me as significant that Jared Loughner received a thank-you letter for attending a public event with Congresswoman Giffords on August 30, 2007 -- before the tea party existed, before Sarah Palin was a household name, before Barack Obama was a household name, and at a time when he was 19 years old. How many 19-year-old guys do you know who can even identify their member of Congress, to say nothing of having gone out to see the Congressperson at a public event? Maybe a wannabe politician or wonk, a future Bill Clinton or Ezra Klein -- but Loughner didn't seem like that, did he? (And I believe I heard on a news broadcast tonight that he'd attended an earlier Giffords event the previous year as well.) And he saved the form letter she sent him? That's bizarre.

An acquaintance, Caitlin Parker, has told a couple of news organizations that he asked Giffords a question when he saw her in '07:

I mean, he met Gabrielle Giffords once in '07 and told me he asked her some question that made absolutely no sense to me, but he said, "I can't believe she doesn't understand it. Politicians just don't get it."

I can't help believing that from that time he fixated on her, as many paranoid mentally ill people do, because she was a figure of authority and power. And as his thoughts became more violent, she began to seem like the appropriate target. I really wonder if Sarah Palin or angry teabaggers had anything whatsoever to do with his thinking. I think there absolutely is a risk that they'll motivate somebody to commit serious violence, but I suspect that's not what happened here.

Beyond that, I feel that a consensus is forming: either this is Palin's fault or it's everyone's fault. That's the message of this NBC story from this evening, and of (as far as I can tell) dozens of other stories as well:

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It didn't take long for the I-told-you-so's to start flying. The chorus of those blaming yesterday's shooting on the loss of political civility is only getting louder....

Those town hall meeting meltdowns are a symptom of a problem both parties face: political extremism with a voice louder than ever....

Many blame those who profit from fanning the ideological claims, whether it's on TV, the radio, or the Internet....

So the answer is either (a) blame a hothead who's already struggling in the polls and is deemed expendable by many in her own party ... or (b) blame the contemporary Usual Suspects, meaning everyone, without discrimination, who utters a political word but is not part of the old-school mainstream press.

Each of these is ridiculously easy. The former would just push Palin to the margins while everyone else continued on as usual. The latter is like offsetting penalties in football -- I honestly don't believe the rhetoric is going to be dialed down if no one feels any more responsible than the next guy.

And as I say, I don't think that was Loughner's problem anyway. But I don't believe anything good is going to come of this, no real return to civility, because the blame is either inappropriately narrow or inappropriately diffuse.


UPDATE, MONDAY: Betty Cracker has more hope than I do -- she thinks there might be a reduction in inflammatory rhetoric not because this incident is causing angry righties to have pangs of conscience, but because they can see now that what they say can return to haunt them. I hope she's right.

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