Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 9, 2011

RELATED POINTS THAT AREN'T MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE.... We don't know with any certainty what precipitated yesterday's massacre in Tucson, and given the apparent mental instability of he suspected shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, it's possible we may never fully understand why this shooting happened.

But as those of us following the developments pause to catch our breaths, it seems there are two main, big-picture observations that are being bandied about. The first is that this is an excellent time for political pugilists to appreciate the power of language, and come away from this tragedy exercising better judgment. There's a level of toxicity in our discourse just isn't healthy, and it tears at the societal fabric that holds the country together.

The second is that Loughner, by all accounts, is clinically ill, and what might set off an armed mad man is necessarily unpredictable. To this extent, the political/rhetorical environment isn't to blame for yesterday's events; the sickness of a disturbed young man is.

I'm inclined to think the two points aren't mutually exclusive.

There are obviously critically important unanswered questions, most notably the role of a possible accomplice. If, for example, Loughner has been pushed into a violent rage or enticed into violence, it's an important part of understanding the motivations that led to yesterday's events.

While those details remain unclear, we can still say with some confidence that both of the broader observations can be true at the same time. The first point is that too much of the rhetoric from prominent political figures -- including that of candidates for public office and elected officials -- has pushed the envelope to the breaking point. The remarks have been common enough that the examples come to mind easily -- "reload"; "armed and dangerous"; "Second Amendment remedies." We shake our heads in disgust, but it doesn't stop the language from metastasizing like a cancer.

George Packer noted this morning:

This relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right. (On the left it appears in anonymous comment threads, not congressional speeches and national T.V. programs.) And it has gone almost entirely uncriticized by Republican leaders. Partisan media encourages it, while the mainstream media finds it titillating and airs it, often without comment, so that the gradual effect is to desensitize even people to whom the rhetoric is repellent. We've all grown so used to it over the past couple of years that it took the shock of an assassination attempt to show us the ugliness to which our politics has sunk.

If I'm being intellectually honest, I'll concede that early on yesterday, part of me assumed the worst. It seemed plausible to me that a Tea Party-type snapped after being fed a little too much hate, and targeted Gabrielle Giffords for assassination. From what we know about Loughner, those initial assumptions now appear to be groundless, and that comes as a relief. I wanted those emotional, gut-level reactions to be wrong, and the available evidence suggests that they were.

Which leads us to the second point. The shooter may have been politically motivated, in the sense that the assailant targeted a political figure, but Giffords probably wasn't shot because her attacker disapproved of the individual mandate in the new health care law. Loughner appears to be "conservative" only in a loose sense -- he hates abortion rights, is paranoid about government power, and obsesses over states' rights -- but given his madness, he doesn't necessarily fall along the traditional left-right spectrum. The truly crazy rarely do.

But my fear is the latter observation will somehow mitigate the former. We may come to a point fairly soon at which the investigation of yesterday's massacre is complete, and we learn that the shooting was "just" the result of psychotic madman. "Oh," some might say, "then the political climate is irrelevant; violent rhetoric in the mainstream is inconsequential; and everything's fine."

No matter what the outcome of the Tucson investigation, everything isn't fine.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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Thank you for this calm, reasonable, rational post. We need more discourse like this.

Posted by: Charles on January 9, 2011 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Um, Steve, I think you're rushing to a conclusion, as there's a hunt on for a middle-aged white guy accomplice. You're just as guilty as Howard Kurtz by putting forward the notion that this guy was a deranged solo actor. We don't know yet.

Posted by: BrklynLibrul on January 9, 2011 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

The gun used was reported as being legally purchased - it was a Glock with the capability to fire 30 rounds? Isn't this the very similar to the gun used in the Virginia Tech massacre? Just wondering....

Posted by: MuddyLee on January 9, 2011 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

No matter whether the Tea Party types are involved or not, I hope their members never again consider it cute or manly or patriotic or whatever to show up at a political rally proudly displaying their guns.

Posted by: martin on January 9, 2011 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Giffords was one of Palin's 'targets" wasn't she? Complete with crosshairs.
Oh but I'm sure this was just some crazed loner that had nothing to do with politics or TeaParty or the hate speech spewed daily by the rightwing.


Posted by: ckelly on January 9, 2011 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

When you blow a dogwhistle, it's not only your own dogs that hear it - you can never be sure what will come running your way.

Anyone who is waiting for an assassination based on policy disagreements will wait a long time.

Posted by: Proudhon on January 9, 2011 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Even if the guy is hard to neatly categorize in terms of his political identity, even if he is mentally ill, it's difficult to dismiss the right wing rhetoric and imagery, particularly the rhetoric and imagery that was locally specific to Gifford, as entirely irrelevant.

Posted by: Varecia on January 9, 2011 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

When Henry II famously said "will no one rid me of this man" - he didn't intend to be taken literally. However, the words incited violence, and Henry II ultimately was forced to take responsibility.

Let's see whether Sarah Palin and Glen Beck perform an act of penance similar to that Henry II took. My guess is that they won't.

Posted by: RepubAnon on January 9, 2011 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

The problem is Gifford, who everyone that has had any personal interaction with seems to love, was turned into some sort of monster by her political opponents long before the shooting. The same thing can be said of the judge that was killed.

These people, who seem to be decent human beings without any hint of scandal associated with them, were literally viewed as enemies(in every sense of the word) by people on the right. That doesn't just happen, without the feelings of resentment being stoked. That is where talk radio, the 'personalities' and their wealthy backers on the right come into play.

Hell, the head of the Tucson Tea Party, and after playing the victim for a while, said they wouldn't change their rhetoric at all after the shooting. These people have been convinced that anyone with a different political opinion are out to destroy them and their country.

Posted by: Holmes on January 9, 2011 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

If you carry on about the need to do something violent people who really want to do something violent will pay attention and feel some social validation for their derangement.

Posted by: cld on January 9, 2011 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

"We may come to a point fairly soon at which the investigation of yesterday's massacre is complete, and we learn that the shooting was "just" the result of psychotic madman."

He wasn't a psychotic madman posting lunatic rantings about alien abductions and the rise of Atlantis...he was a psychotic madman posting lunatic anti-goverment rantings. The Republican Party, the tea baggers, the right wing mouthpieces all served up a violent, toxic anti-goverment message relentlessly for nearly two years now. Democratic congress members were targeted with cross-hair targets (including giffords), loaded guns were carried openly to campaign event, a 2nd amendment solution was given national exposure.

You honestly don't think this poison seeped into his sick mind? You're dreaming.

Posted by: SaintZak on January 9, 2011 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps he was motivated by the Right or the Left, or the Lunatic Fringe- SDS/KKK (showing my age by the mention of those two organizations!)

Or maybe he was just a product of our current society. Guns at rallys, Palin's targets, 2nd Amendment solutions.

Let me draw a parallel to pornography. In 1960 Playboy was hot stuff, and often behind the counter. Ditto condoms; you had to ask the pharmacist for them. The breakout book was "The Joy of Sex".

Now Adult book stores offer everything you can imagine- and some you can't. "Gentlemen's Clubs" abound, and the F Word is ubiquitous. All that leads to what was once shocking behavior metastasizing into 'normal".

It will be interesting to see if the political commentariat dials it down in the coming weeks.

Posted by: DAY on January 9, 2011 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Let's be clear about what's happened here. To the right I say: When Sarah Palin, one of your most beloved and prominent politicians publishes a fund-raising and movement-building map of the country that has gun targets over top of named politicians, and then one of those politicians is shot in the head, you have met one of your goals. Put a check mark next to that person’s name. You should be happy that somebody has come forward to help you meet one of your stated goals. In other words -- listen to this carefully -- you should THANK THE SHOOTER for helping you meet one of your goals. That would be the honest thing to do. To have any other reaction would be to admit that you "didn't really mean what you said" when you put a marksmen's target over her name, and you DID mean what you said, didn't you?

Posted by: ChicagoRob on January 9, 2011 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks Steve for the quality ACSCII. There's a reason I keep coming back here for rational discourse and sane viewpoints. Now if only i could recover my optimism....i know it was around here somewhere...

Posted by: Phil in Denver on January 9, 2011 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

As an aside, screw Howard Kurtz and the rest of the complicit media establishment that have tried to rationalize the crazy rhetoric we've seen for almost 3 years now.

Posted by: Holmes on January 9, 2011 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

T'would be nice if we had a health care system that reached society-wide and treated people developing paranoid schizophrenia.

Posted by: Larry Reilly on January 9, 2011 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

In addition to Palin's reload and crosshair targeting, I think you also have to take into account concurrent statements this fall like Sharon Angle’s “Second Amendment remedies” and by Gifford’s Tea party opponent in the November election; Jesse Kelly’s campaign event language said “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly”.

Now I don’t think that the shooter is likely to be anything more than a profoundly unbalanced individual but I think our political leaders have to take into account the effect that their extreme language may have on the less stable members of the society.

Posted by: The Other Ed on January 9, 2011 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Very fine post - well balanced and perceptive. Now that the Westboro Baptist Church is going to picket the funerals, we can get another perspective on this situation. American culture appears to be having a nervous breakdown, possibly from too much change, and certainly from millions of lives that are pain-wracked and very confused. Politics is a theater in which toxic fear seems to rise directly to the surface. The monsters in our heads are projected onto political figures and "issues". What Loughner and political screamers have in common is this apparent inability to take responsibility for their own monsters.

Posted by: walt on January 9, 2011 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

SaintZak is correct: there is a line from the rhetoric that began in the summer of 2008 at Palin rallies to the hate that culminated in yesterday's actions. Beck and Palin will swear it is not their fault that someone interpreted their speech in this way; however, no one can predict how the mentally unbalanced and armed will behave given enough indoctrination in hate. Waiting for AG Holder to do the RICO prosecution of those funding tea baggers.

Posted by: withay on January 9, 2011 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

And there was that Sharon Angle quote about 'the population is arming themselves. . . '

Yay, Republicans! You killed a nine year old girl who was born on 9/11!

Just what everyone thought you were going to do.

Posted by: cld on January 9, 2011 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

Sounds like a paranoic(sic) speed freak.

Think of this as the tip of the iceberg.

It's our societal drug-crazed deluded selves that incite such violent vitriol.

How many militias are there, all sipping their meth crystals and ranting about government this and government that?

The GOP is antigovernment, or anti democratic if it helps the democrats.

The shooter may have .......

No, we are not looking for anything here but our own hatreds, the crap we spew about those people or these people.

Ya ain't white? Then you are the Other.

The rants go on.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 9, 2011 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

I'd like, just once, for someone to pointedly say to these equivocating fools: "Ok, clearly the gunman has some mental issues, but do you think that rhetoric like "don't retreat, reload" or "second-amendment solutions" is MORE likely or LESS likely to inspire someone with mental issues to act out? Unless you think it makes such an outcome LESS likely, what is your defense of such rhetoric? It's certainly not a polite or civil way to refer to an opponent, so why use that type of over-the-top rhetoric at all - especially if there's even the slightest chance that an unbalanced person will take it literally and harm innocent people? Is that a RESPONSIBLE way to behave? And if it isn't, why are you defending it?"

Posted by: Jennifer on January 9, 2011 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

The sheriff in charge of the investigation has made numerous, emphatic statements regarding the political climate's hate rhetoric and this shooting. I have to wonder why he's doing that if they know something that would indicate that there is no connection. Until those who know the most about this reveal something otherwise, I take that is significant.

Posted by: Varecia on January 9, 2011 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, this guy being nutty and having a political slant aren't mutually exclusive either. You don't need to go all feel-goody, Broderish on us about this character's supposed apolitical bent (ambiguous as it may be, it's still worth looking at.)

Posted by: neil b on January 9, 2011 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting that he was turned down by the Army (too crazy, even for us?), but was able to legally buy his pistol.

Side note: This tragedy touches all of us, in different ways. That "nine year old girl" was the granddaughter of Dallas Green, former Philadelphia Phillies manager.

Posted by: DAY on January 9, 2011 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Well, Baby that observation didn't take long to become fact...on several programs this morning it was (sadly, if predictably Republicans) using that meme to discourage any further criticism of the inflamatory rhetoric spewing from the far right. Still it doesn't matter which side is WORSE...and WHERE for God's sake is the MEDIA responsiblity in all this yet again? Watching the coverage over and over yesterday was beyond upsetting...it's all about BREAKING NEWS...being first...not facts/ not accuracy and WORDS MATTER and honesty matters and I wonder if we can ever move in that direction...?????? Jon Steward tried to direct us to restore sanity and it became a whiny disscourse on "false equivalency"...ALL MUST STOP IT!!!

Posted by: Dancer on January 9, 2011 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

Political rhetoric closed the mental hospitals in the eighties and recently made it almost impossible for the VA to help returning vets. Any hint of mental illness will destroy your career in the military.
Political rhetoric is not the same as eliminationist rhetoric.
Someone always gets killed when the politicians start using eliminationist rhetoric.

Then we always have this weird conversation about how everyone knows they don't mean what they say about targeting people except a few who are mentally ill and don't understand.
Eliminationist rhetoric is specifically designed to inflame the mentally ill and the weak minded. That is what it is for. To get them to do the dirty work of terrorizing the opposition.

Do a google search on the wanted posters for John Kennedy.
They do it because it works.

Posted by: thebewilderness on January 9, 2011 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sorry, but I don't want 'calm, reasonable discourse' on this!

The TEA PARTY is responsible for normalizing violent acts and rhetoric at Congressional town hall meetings. Before the summer of '09, had anyone EVER heard of such a thing.

They escalates, they brought guns to the events openly to prove they had their 2nd amendment rights, and as Angle noted they looked very much like they would resort to Second Amendment "remedies' if they (or their puppet masters, the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey) didn't get their way.

There may be no direct link, to be sure. But a kid who's driven mad by the thought that we no longer have the gold standard surely has been listening to you-know-who on the radio or tv.

And you cannot treat this assassination attempt as just a 'one off' crazy thing if you start to rack up all the right wing attempts in the past two years.

Enough of the kid gloves for the violence promoting right wingers and republicans. It has touched a fragile mind and left worthy and wonderful people dead or wounded.

Posted by: jjm on January 9, 2011 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

The second is that Loughner, by all accounts, is clinically ill...

I have not yet seen a report that suggests to me that Loughner is "clinically ill". There is a difference between investing in delusional belief systems and mental illness.

People sometimes do quirky things or even commit violent acts based on deluded beliefs. Conflating a delusional belief system with mental illness relieves the perpetrator of responsibility for his actions. It also lets off the hook, those that encourage and promote those delusions. If delusional beliefs are to be equated with mental illness are you prepared to say that the Tea Party movement is largely made up of the "clinically ill"?

Posted by: AK Liberal on January 9, 2011 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Had this attack been a terrorist act perpetuated by, say persons of Mexican or Arabic descent, think of our immediate instinct to: bomb a country and go to war with another, tightening our immigration laws, looking at backgrounds, spewing hate and vitriol at all things democratic government (seen as socialism by wingnuts), would we then feel satisfied knowing that our vitriol and hate had also killed a child born on that tragic day?

Are we any closer to safety, serenity and security?

Wasn't 9/11 about hatred to begin with?

Look at what we did after planes flew into our buildings?

Did we do the right thing?

Or did we go astray and let the forces of hate and evil enter into our hearts?

Are we winning?

Violence anywhere hurts everywhere.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 9, 2011 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, I know you mean well but I have to take particular issue with this careless, common-urban-legend-sense argument:
"what might set off an armed mad man is necessarily unpredictable."
Uh, no, that's a gross exaggeration. A Forensic psychologist's job is to dig into the thought process of a "mad man" (a silly stereotype if taken to extremes of inscrutability) and try to figure out what motivates them (hatred of a race, specific hot button issue like abortion or anti-war sentiment, religious intolerance, personal grudge, displacement of anger originally directed at other things, desire for "attention", stalker attraction, schizophrenic delusion of the direct sort like "my neighbor is beaming radio waves from his TV to control my mind" etc., to cover up something else, etc. (BTW I used to be a Psychiatric Attendant, these people are not just chaotically "deranged" and go in and out of relative lucidity, on medication or not.) The safety of potential victims depends on this analysis being done well, and mamy FPs do it quite well (and you can read good books about that.)

So such psychologists can and should dig into this guy's head and see what makes him tick, it could well relate to specific political exposure and the sort of "heat" decried by others here. Yes, I see fit for you to note this person is already apparently not some specific tea-party stereotype, but why call that "relief anyway? Maybe if he had been, it would sharpen their concentration a bit and force some needed soul-searching.

Finally, not knowing much yet is not equivalent to unknowability of more than the current vague and confusing picture. We should indeed try to know more, and be perfectly willing to discuss relevance of same without the sissy fear it will offend those who share some of those views.

Posted by: neil b on January 9, 2011 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

When Henry II famously said "will no one rid me of this man"

I believe Henry said, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?"

It buggers the imagination to think there was no premeditation to the events in Tuscon yesterday. If so, for how long? Certainly this demented young man lost his moral compass despite having some intellectual inclinations. The question would appear to be did he have help losing bearings beyond the violent and vitriolic rhetoric that has become commonplace in our political discourse?

Twenty-two-year-olds are often very impressionable, and fall under the spell of older mentors with an agenda. If there was an older man in his company, we definitely need to know what role he played in shaping Loughner's worldview and in justifying the mindless, unspeakable, and stupefying violence he appears to have committed yesterday.

All the media speculation aside, do we know, for instance, whether there was only one gun in use? How many bullets were fired? Was the trajectory of all the shots consistent with being fired from Loughner's position? Did he move around while he was firing? These are facts we can't know at this time, and perhaps aren't knowable to a 100% certainty. Obama is right: we need to get to the bottom of this, and maybe not speculate quite so much.

Certainly, Palin, Beck, Bimbo, and Bachmann, as well as Engel and her ilk need to do penance ala Henry II. On TV. I won't hold my breath. This crowd never admits error, or changes course, and their media careers depend on overheated, violent rhetoric. It's red meat to the angry latent Pit Bulls in the conservative hinterlands of the homeland. It doesn't appear that Loughner is one of them so his motivation needs to be better explained.

Posted by: rrk1 on January 9, 2011 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Just curious -- has anyone checked voter records? Is he registered and if so, how? Voter registrations are often public records, and if not ask the shrriff.

Posted by: Steve B (No not that one) on January 9, 2011 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

arg --my imagination! --it's been buggered!

Posted by: cld on January 9, 2011 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Either the hate/violence-filled rhetoric of the past two years did influence the shooter or did not. If in fact it did not, then we must conclude that what appears to be a politically motivated asassination was simply coincidence; utterly and completely disconnected from the crosshair mentality of the teaparty movement and Beck-Palin et. al. Does anyone think that an objective observer could possibly draw this conclusion?

Posted by: rick on January 9, 2011 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen: "If I'm being intellectually honest, I'll concede that early on yesterday, part of me assumed the worst. It seemed plausible to me that a Tea Party-type snapped after being fed a little too much hate, and targeted Gabrielle Giffords for assassination. From what we know about Loughner, those initial assumptions now appear to be groundless, and that comes as a relief. I wanted those emotional, gut-level reactions to be wrong, and the available evidence suggests that they were."

Thank you for posting this Steve. I had the exact same reaction but decided not to post anything right after the shooting. Political rhetoric aside, I just have two observations at this point: First, wouldn't it be ironic if the shooter is mentally ill, was untreated, and did not have access to health care? Second, is his weapon. I was a Navy Corpsman in Vietnam with a Marine infantry company in 1968. In that role, I can't imagine a more useless, impractical weapon then a Glock with a 30-round clip. In Vietnam, Corpsman and officers carried standard issue Colt 1911 .45 caliber pistols in shoulder holsters or holsters attached to a cartridge belt and (optional for us) M-16s with 20-round magazines. I support the 2nd Amendment, hunting, target shooting, and home defense weapons, but this kind of weapon with such a large capacity magazine in the hands of any 21-year old in a state that does not require background checks seems extreme. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims, both dead and still alive.

Posted by: max on January 9, 2011 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

IF it was not so easy to buy guns in Az and gun ownership was not encouraged by abolition of training classes, abolition of concealed weapons laws, and abolition of weapons restrictions in parks and other public places this might, and of course a determined person can kill almost anyone, have been avoided. Yeah, the gun people will not like this but every day people are murdered in America with guns and many of those might have been prevented with adequate gun control laws.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on January 9, 2011 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

Steve B--

Jared Loughner is registered as an Independent and last voted in 2008.

As for mental illness, I think it's very interesting that he was rejected by the military after his medical exam. These days, their standards are low.

Also, Pima Community College suspended him until he could prove that he was mentally stable and not a danger to the school or others.

Posted by: Elizabeth on January 9, 2011 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Guns don't kill.

That's the logic that's missing in this discussion.

People kill.

When I was in high school, everyone was obsessed about switch-blade knives, because the blade on a switch-blade could be exposed, and used to kill, with the press of a button, which meant you could be dead before you had a chance to run.

But others had a chance to run. No one kill five and critically injured another six in the space of a minute or two with a switch-blade. The other difference was that American society was capable, at the time, of making switch-blade knives illegal, Second Amendment or not.

Sarah Palin and her cross-hairs would be innocent over-dramatization but for the absolutely unlimited right to keep and bear pistols with 33-round magazines, while leaving to the salesman the task of making sure these weapons are not sold to the mentally ill.

OTOH, I suppose we could make mental illness illegal. Nothing in the constitution would prevent that.

Posted by: Thaumaturgist on January 9, 2011 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

It isn't just a coincidence that militia numbers have spiked during the last two Democratic presidencies. The right feeds their supporters a steady stream of anti-government rhetoric and conspiracy theories for political gain(which is their only consideration).

I'm actually surprised this hasn't happened earlier and more often with some of the crazy stuff being said on the right.

Posted by: Holmes on January 9, 2011 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Well, you'd have to be crazy to be motivated to violence by the violence-tinged rhetoric of Beck, Palin, Angle, etc. But isn't that who they're addressing?

Posted by: hells littlest angel on January 9, 2011 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

I think it is amazing that someone who is kick out of school and rejected by the military can still buy a handgun with no problem.

I also think Martin makes a good point earlier about the threatening nature of people carrying guns in the open at political rallies.

Its also worth noting that the shooter was taken down by a tackle not a gun shot. I presume that several people in the crowd had guns. But for all their talk about having them to protect themselves and others, they didn't do any good in this case.

Posted by: Objective Dem on January 9, 2011 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Even more than the violent imagery on the right that you mention, I think that the over-the-top political commentary of the right has contributed to this atmosphere. When you have high-profile political figures talking about how the health care legislation is going to "destroy the country", the stimulus bill is going to do likewise, and the President is trying to undermine our security and is pursuing a "Kenyan, anti-colonialist" foreign policy, and people like Michelle Bachmann constantly question the loyalty and patriotism of the President and other Democrats, you don't actually need the rhetoric of violence to work some unbalanced people up acts of violence.

Limbaugh and his cohorts (Mark Levin, Hannity, Beck, et al.) don't use violent rhetoric, but their constant assertion that Obama isn't a true American, that liberals and Democrats aren't true patriots and the underlying assumption of their daily conversation that Democrats don't have the legitimate right to govern, create the environment that enables a mentally unstable person to justify to himself or herself acts of violence. Whether that is what happened in this case isn't really the issue (and may never be truly ascertainable). What matters is that this sort of rhetoric creates a climate in which acts of political violence are more likely.

Of course, the culprits on the right (Palin, Gingrich, Limbaugh, Bachmann, Steven King, etc.) will never acknowledge any error or wrongdoing, nor will those among the Republican and Conservative "leadership" (Boehner, Cantor, McConnell, McCain, etc.) acknowledge that their refusal to take a public stand on this over the last two years enabled the development of this climate. They will argue that criticism of them at this point constitutes an inappropriate "politicization" of this tragedy.

Posted by: DRF on January 9, 2011 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

I have been bothered by all the discussion of how this was likely the result of the comments of Palin, Beck, etc without any proof.

I think everyone who reads the comments here are pretty politically minded. We are aware of the cross hair ad and the Sharon Angle comments. But we can forget that the average person is more likely to be able to name the starters on their baseball team than the name of their Senators. When this story broke, we had no idea whatsoever about the guy's political beliefs. Even now, we don't really know much. But what we do know is he was clearly mentally ill.

I'm not saying that the right's hate talk is not causing problems. In the case of Bryan Williams in San Francisco, he was clearly motivated by Glenn Beck and the situation should have led to Beck being canceled and castigated. But in this case we don't know enough to say.

Posted by: Objective Dem on January 9, 2011 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Loughner appears to be "conservative" only in a loose sense -- he hates abortion rights, is paranoid about government power, and obsesses over states' rights -- but given his madness, he doesn't necessarily fall along the traditional left-right spectrum. The truly crazy rarely do."

Sounds EXACTLY like a Tea Party candidate supporter and Fox News viewer. I don't see how this is "conservative only in a loose sense".

Go through the positions listed and they echo Fox News. Hates abortion rights? Check. Paranoid about government? Check. Confused about Communism and Facism? Check.

As Matt Taibbi said recently on air, "Tea Partiers are nuts. Facts don't matter. They are crazy, they don't use logic."

Posted by: grooft on January 9, 2011 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

He's left, he's right, he's crazy, he's nazi/anti-Semitic.

OK, say left--then he'd shoot the governor, no?

OK, say right--then he'd shoot the Representative.

Crazy--he'd shoot the first six people he saw. (though if he were really crazy why didn't he shoot the people who threw him out of college or the army recruiters who rejected him?)

Nazi/anti-Semitic- the Rep who is Jewish

My vote--the man hated Democrats (pro immigrant, pro health care law) and was also nazi/antisemitc.

Posted by: Dr Wu, I'm just and ordinary guy on January 9, 2011 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK


I don't disagree with your comment that someone who "hates abortion rights, is paranoid about government power, and obsesses over states' rights" is a conservative.

My concern is that I've read most everything out there about the guy and I didn't see anything that clearly said he was anti-abortion and a supporter of state's rights. All I have seen are rantings of a mad man that don't really make sense.

We know he wants a new currency, but most conservatives hate the idea of moving away from the dollar.

We know he thinks the government is doing mind control through the use of grammar. And he didn't seem to be talking about PC language. I didn't see anything that was a conservative critique of language issues, just ramblings of a madman.

It is really possible that this guy will turn out to have watch Beck every day and been part of the tea party. But we just don't know yet.

Posted by: Objective Dem on January 9, 2011 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK


He also blathers on about gold and a gold based economy.

Posted by: cld on January 9, 2011 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

The hateful rhetoric serves to incite nutjobs to focus their unhappiness and rage on Democrats and politicians. Crazy people can be obsessive and the constant hateful attacks in the media will shift the focus of the deranged. It is a form of political terrorism.

While the Tea Party and hate rhetoric are not directly responsible, they create a climate that encourages the deranged to act out their hateful fantasies.

Posted by: bakho on January 9, 2011 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Look, the man was clearly bitter, isolated, and unhinged. I am a Tea Party sympathizer, but I admit they MAY have been part of his motivation. However, remember that people this unhinged are often violent for violence's sake, and if the Tea Party wasn't around, he would have found another excuse to murder an authority figure (he seemed to hate authority in general, conservatives typically respect authority, at least more so than liberals).

His rants don't really make sense to me, and I'm a libertarian!

Posted by: Brian on January 9, 2011 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

rick: "Either the hate/violence-filled rhetoric of the past two years did influence the shooter or did not. If in fact it did not, then we must conclude that what appears to be a politically motivated asassination was simply coincidence..."

To add to your excellent observation, Loughner's alleged mental illness did not lead him to shoot up a McDonald's, bomb a state building or attack a Republican congressman in a state lousy with Republicans. His target was a Democratic Congresswoman who had been targeted by the violent rhetoric of Tea Party.

I know Tea Party types will deny it furiously (because ignorant, delusional and furious defines the Tea Party mind) but the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. The Tea Party used violent language and imagery, and violence has ensued.

Posted by: PTate in MN on January 9, 2011 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

It's true. The two points aren't mutually exclusive. A person with a tendency to act is more likely to do so when he is given permission by others to act.

There are unstable individuals out there who are more likely to go shooting someone, but what has happened is that the right-wing hate-meisters are setting a climate that gives these individuals targets and a climate that further gives them permission to go after those targets. Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk name the targets. Sharron Angle - the Republican nominee for Senate - publicly told him to consider "Second Amendment remedies." The only thing missing in the connection is a direct statement to the crazy individual "Now. Go shoot so-and-so."

Sara Robinson wrote an article that listed the similar incidents between January and June of 2009. Chip Bertle summarizes the dynamic.

Hannah Arendt described the process of demagoguery leading to violence as it occurs in totalitarian regimes ranging from Hitler to Stalin. The demagogue frames the target, but leaves off a direct call for violence. But the message is clear. Unstable people often act first. Political ideologues, however, can be mobilized as the process continues to act as a group.
This really is how organized terrorism begins.

I consider it very likely that soon right-wing politicians and pundits are going to start traveling with open armed guards "because the climate is so dangerous to public figures." (Another market for Blackwater/XE?) That will be another major step towards creating a violent political climate.

Posted by: Rick B on January 9, 2011 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK


"Guns don't kill. People kill."

Yeah? Watch movies and monitor the tone of the movie when the scene with someone pulling out a gun and cleaning, loading or just checking it. The music gets more ominous as does the entire tone of the movie. Other weapons have similar responses, but a gun has a much stronger one normally. A gun is a symbol of preparing for violence.

So if the climate around you is threatening, it is traditional in America to reach for a gun. Then if something startles you or threatens you, what happens next? Someone gets shot at or even killed.

Guns may not kill, but they make it a lot more likely that someone will get killed.

Posted by: Rick B on January 9, 2011 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Brian, you stated "conservatives typically respect authority, at least more so than liberals."

Yes. I have noticed how much conservatives typically respect the authority of the President since Barack Obama was elected.

If Democrats had similarly "respected the authority" of George Bush I doubt Bush could have gotten Congressional approval for the purposeless invasion of Iraq.

Posted by: Rick B on January 9, 2011 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen: From what we know about Loughner, those initial assumptions now appear to be groundless, and that comes as a relief. I wanted those emotional, gut-level reactions to be wrong, and the available evidence suggests that they were.

I am having a lot of trouble understanding this. Why would it come as some sort of relief? Given the way things are, it is not a visceral as much as logical thought, despite the personification of that thought into viscera by the writer.

We are smart people, and it is incumbent to us to realize our first impressions are almost always right.

Revisiting, then, why would the person not being of some bent come as a relief: was Benen relieved to be wrong? Was he relieved it was just some gun-owning nut of the likes that runs around killing the rest of us, and not someone completely politically deranged?

Sorry about being thick, I am sure there is something I am supposed to be understanding but do not. Others seem to understand perfectly. Rats. I don't get it.

Posted by: Hazy on January 9, 2011 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry about two posts in a row, but how about:

Guns don't kill people, gun owners kill people.


Posted by: Hazy on January 9, 2011 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, that mind control through grammar thing does ring some bells; and a quick google brings up this -
and http://mindcontrol101.blogspot.com/2008/02/persuasive-analysis-of-barack-obama.html,
for example.

Posted by: ChrisB on January 9, 2011 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Lets not give this egotistical, selfish bastard the satisfaction of making more out of him than he was; an idiot.

Posted by: Thomas Retterbush on January 9, 2011 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

His strange and delusional world view is actually very close to the right wing. We actually don't know enough about him to say it wasn't political.

We let the rigt wing off too easily for Tim McVeigh too, and Waco, and damned if they aren't wearing his tee shirts now.

Posted by: Sparko on January 9, 2011 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

"..is paranoid about government power, and obsesses over states' rights.."

Isn't that it, right there? Part of the Republican catechism is that government is to be feared and distrusted. This guy bought into that. It was political, and the Republicans are responsible.

Posted by: bob h on January 10, 2011 at 6:55 AM | PERMALINK

It is truly amazing how this tragic set of events has unleashed a political Rorschach test on our unbiased media

Posted by: Neo on January 10, 2011 at 10:59 PM | PERMALINK



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