Thursday, January 13, 2011
The steam seems to be going out of the move to "deftly pin this" -- the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others -- "on the tea partiers," as one unidentified senior Democratic operative put it to Politico.
It has become obvious that the murderer was crazy, the follower of no political movement, motivated only by the bizarre ideas ricocheting through his head.
If any blame attaches to others, it is to authorities who had notice of his madness and did not do enough to confine him or prevent him from buying a gun. The Pima County sheriff, who was quick to suggest the attack was among the "consequences" of Republican rhetoric, also reported that the shooter's bizarre behavior was brought to the attention of authorities.
Arizona reportedly gives authorities more leeway than most states to put such individuals under restraint or at least prevent them from buying a gun. Perhaps there is some good reason this was not done -- but at least there are questions that need to be asked.
Some broader perspective may be in order. The last congressman to be attacked by a gunman was California Rep. Leo Ryan, murdered at the Jonestown massacre in Guyana in 1978, 32 years ago.
Giffords' "Congress on Your Corner" event was an effort to make herself available to constituents -- a commendable thing, especially since many Democratic congressmen stopped making public appearances after they got negative feedback in summer 2009 town hall meetings.
How many times have member of Congress made announced appearances, without security personnel, over the last 32 years? How many thousands? Tens of thousands? The answer is that this kind of attack is, thank goodness, exceedingly rare -- though not as rare as all decent people would like. There have been bitter political controversies and enormous amounts of political vitriol from all points in the political spectrum unleashed in American politics in those 32 years. And just one such attack -- one too many, but only one.
Vitriolic rhetoric comes from all points on the political compass. But many in the media, when trying to assess blame for violent acts, have an impulse to look for it only on the right.
Thus the impulse to identify as tea party types the man who crashed a plane into the Austin IRS office, the Pentagon subway shooter, the Discovery Channel hostage taker.
Or the impulse to insist that conservatives intend the military metaphors with which political discourse is riddled -- campaign, targeting, the war room -- be taken literally.
Actually, we do know of societies where people on one side of the political divide encourage and sponsor assassinations of people whom they oppose.
This was Germany in the years after World War I, when those who thought Germany had been stabbed in the back hailed the assassination of the industrialist and moderate (Jewish) politician Walter Rathenau in 1922 -- including a failed painter from Vienna named Adolf Hitler.
This was Japan in the 1930s, when advocates of military aggression systematically assassinated moderates who wanted their country to live in peace with its neighbors and not seek conquests abroad.
Or, to take an example from last week, Pakistan, where the governor of Punjab was assassinated. His offense: opposing blasphemy laws that carried a death penalty. Those who supported his assassination celebrated publicly and urged more such killings.
Systematic political assassination can be effective, with horrifying results, as the examples from Germany and Japan show.
And the example from Pakistan shows that President Obama, his administration and members of Congress have a very difficult problem on their hands, more difficult since the sudden death last month of our hugely able diplomat Richard Holbrooke.
Suggestions that the shooting in Arizona are of the same ilk as these examples is something of a blood libel against the politicians of all stripes in our country and of the American people. No American politician, no significant segment of any political movement, no statistically identifiable share of the American people wishes the violent death of its political opponents.
Vivid political rhetoric is always in season, and has been for all the years of our republic. And military metaphors are part of the language of our politics -- metaphors that no serious person takes literally. We should not let it be otherwise, even as we wish for the full recovery of Gabby Giffords and the others stricken and mourn those lost.
COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
See Other Political Commentaries.
See Other Commentaries by Michael Barone.
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.
To learn more about our methodology, click here.