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Tilting at Windmills

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January 11, 2011

PAWLENTY DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM PALIN'S CROSSHAIRS.... For a couple of days, much of the right was livid that Sarah Palin's rifle crosshairs, targeting Democrats last year, was part of the conversation about the massacre in Tucson. To mention Palin's "reload" campaign, conservatives said, was to unfairly cast blame.

As of this morning, it's not just the left questioning whether Palin's use of symbols was inappropriate.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said that Sarah Palin's decision to put crosshairs on districts of vulnerable Democrats -- including Rep. Giffords' -- wasn't what he would have done, but he doesn't think it contributed to the terrible tragedy in Tucson on Saturday.

"It wouldn't have been my style to put the crosshairs on there. But again there is no evidence to suggest that it had anything to do with this mentally unstable person's rage and senseless act in Arizona," Pawlenty told me.

I guess Pawlenty hasn't heard that the crosshairs were actually "surveyor's symbols"?

For the record, I happen to agree with Pawlenty on this, and as I said yesterday, I'm not buying the argument that Palin bears any responsibility for Saturday's violence. Barring additional information about Jared Lee Loughner's motivations, the entire discussion strikes me as rather strained.

But I'm mentioning this because notable Republican officials, especially those seeking national office, tend to be pretty reluctant to criticize the former half-term governor at all. Pawlenty, who had to realize the question was coming, dipped his toe into the water this morning, ever so slightly, probably because he feels like he can get away with it, and perhaps as a test to see what kind of blowback there is, if any.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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But again there is no evidence to suggest that it had anything to do with this mentally unstable person's rage and senseless act in Arizona," Pawlenty told me.
That brings up another irony/hypocrisy about all this. For years conservatives have been mocking liberals' sympathy with letting people go because of mental illness (actually they aren't just "let go" but it redirects them from the basic correctional system) - bringing up e.g. Son of Sam saying later he gamed the system (if true, they had a point), that we are responsible for what we do unless just completely detached etc. Now, they find it easy to say, this guy just acted out like a decaying nucleus in quantum mechanics, and neither he nor those who may have influenced him can bear any responsibility. Interesting.

Posted by: Neil B on January 11, 2011 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Will somebody please point out that the idea that "both sides need to tone it down" would be OK(1) if it were true, and (2) if right-wing violence wasn't far more prevalent than left-wing violence.

Posted by: Wally on January 11, 2011 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

I will say it again: I don't hold Palin (or others) responsible for the actions of someone like Loughner, but the fact remains, he made tangible the fantasy they trade in every day -- that of using violence to get what they can't get through the normal every day give and take of politics and life. If they don't "intend" anyone harm when they use such inflammatory and eliminationist rhetoric, what do they hope to gain from it? And the answer is: To create more or less the same climate of fear and hysteria that would prevail if such means were used.

The fact that it "did" happen even if it they didn't "cause" it just highlights how destructive their imagery actually is, and that's why I don't anticipate them moving away from it anytime soon.

Posted by: Barbara on January 11, 2011 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

I believe there is something to be said for an "in the air" mentality. Even if Loughner was not a fan of Palin or a Fox news viewer or a regular listener to Beck or O'Reilly, he's starting his adult years in an environment where he's been told the government is not only untrustworthy but filled with people who hate America. If he's not hearing anti-government sentiment from Fox, he's surrounded by citizens who are, fueling his rage, further confusing what seemed to be a barely-there grip on reality. A reality where one political party is not deemed "patriotic but with a different set of ideals on what's best for the nation," but "the enemy."

Loughner's actions may not be politically biased, but they are political in nature, albeit politics that only make sense in his head. And he lives in a state that loves its guns and hating the government is the new baseball.

So no, Palin and her ilk are not responsible for what Loughner did in a Point A to Point B legal sense. But they are creating an environment where rage against the machine is the new normal, and will continue to do so until they officially control all three branches of government again, at which point it will be considered treasonous to criticize the government again. And amidst that environment, we on the left are expected to find common ground, admit that we're "just as much to blame," and work towards a better future.

yeah...I don't see it happening.

Posted by: slappy magoo on January 11, 2011 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Whether she was the direct cause or not, Sarah Palin's words matter because her Tea Party audience is chock full of angry and possibly unhinged gunslingers who cherish their their Second Amendment remedies.

Posted by: Knotty Bitz on January 11, 2011 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, we really are becoming desensitized to the fundamentalist rhetoric from talk show personalities and politicians. People have been encouraged to solve their problems through acts of violence and when it happens the perpetrator is "insane". No kidding but at the same time what does that tell us about the person encouraging the perp to jump over the cliff? This was an act of cold blooded murder; a federal judge was targeted and killed. A bullet was put through the brain of a congresswoman who the shooter disagreed with. Please cut the nonsense. The FBI already judged the shooter to be eligible to own a semi-automatic weapon with an extended ammunition clip. You cannot turn around and decide that since a violent act was committed all of the evidence that the person was unbalanced is relevant. In our current system these people need to be held to the same standard everyone else is. That or stop selling them guns.

Posted by: kropotkin on January 11, 2011 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

I fully understand the tragedy in Arizona is not Sarah Palin's fault. But, because I also understand that her utter contempt for rational, reasoned political discourse is a blight on our country, I am more than willing to let her take the fall for this one. After all, how many times has she used misguided fear to score political victories?

My only concern is that, because the hardcore Republicans are already using the tragedy to ramp up an absurd fear of having their precious, precious guns taken away, those incurious, unquiet authoritarian-follower foot soldiers of the GOP might be even more easily moved to destructive behavior like we saw in the health care "debates." Recall how the breakdown of reason led to shouting and violence and the weakening of resolve for vital reforms — all of which started with the former-half-term governor's tweet of the lie "death panels."

One thing is certain. The Giffords shooting is only the beginning. I know that Palin's careless use of crosshairs on that poster contributed to the volatile political atmosphere we have today. But laying the blame for the shooting at her feet runs the risk of making her a nutjob martyr. And that is without question infinitely more dangerous.

Posted by: chrenson on January 11, 2011 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

Where are the strong, unequivocal statements from Presidential hopefuls Mike Bloomberg and Chris Christie? Might we not expect some courageous leadership here? Afraid of alienating the Republican base?

Why is David Brooks so aggressively defensive about the implied Republican responsibility for this? Because it tends to undermine his entire reason for being? That the Republican cause he must subtly support to make a living is in reality is in fact just putrid thuggery?

Posted by: bob h on January 11, 2011 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

"I'm not buying the argument that Palin bears any responsibility for Saturday's violence. Barring additional information about Jared Lee Loughner's motivations, the entire discussion strikes me as rather strained."

"Strained" you mean like blaming "liberals" for criminal behavior? The right 'doth protest too much' because 'in their hearts they know' their tough gun talk is implicated in this national tragedy. Palin is not a co-conspirator. She is irresponsible, as are many others of her ilk, that create a climate of hostility in which those who are unstable are more likely to act. As a commenter responding to Brooks said earlier today, the shooter attempted to kill an elected official (and I would add a Democrat), not the cab driver.

Posted by: robert on January 11, 2011 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Cant agree with you here Steve. I do think that violent rhetoric and images used by Palin et al is designed to drive an emotional response among their followers. I think they also create an environment where a mentally ill person might think his violent impluses have support from powerful people. I do not think there is direct line from his actions to Palin's "dont retreat reload" but I do think her language creates an environment where this type of behavior seems reasonable to an unstable highly suggestable individual.

Bob O'Reilly

Posted by: Bob O'Reilly on January 11, 2011 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

I, for one, hold Sarah Palin responsible, and I'm not going to let her off the hook. Yes, Loughner is mentally ill, but not so mentally ill that he was random in his choice of a target. He didn't go into a McDonalds or a classroom. Sure, he just happened to select as his target an individual who had been targeted by Sarah Palin's "reload" campaign.

Sure, she isn't at fault in the sense that she didn't hire him to assassinate Giffords. But Palin has chosen to use vivid, dishonest and violent imagery, and she should be ashamed. I would feel better if she would just accept responsibility for her choices, but even that is too much for her. Pawlenty, whose presidential hopes have been flickering, clearly see an opportunity to differentiate himself from an irresponsible, shameless thug front-runner.

Sometimes, I wonder what kind of cave Palin was raised in. Now, I know I am a Minnesotan, like Tim Pawlenty, and he and I were both reared to be "Minnesota nice," ("If you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all") but I knew that what we say matters when I was 5 years old. Palin and other conservatives who defend the use violent imagery against others also embrace beating their children to achieve obedience; They don't give a d**n about teaching personal responsibility. When Palin boasts of being a "Mama Grizzly," it communicates a lot more about the kind of beast that she is than she thinks.

Posted by: PTate in MN on January 11, 2011 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

This is a tricky deal for a clever, ambitious guy like Pawlenty. Imagine the intellectual burden of needing to distance oneself from a nasty, intolent, uneducated dingbat like Palin in order to win some future primary. But, without the arm draggers who vote against their own economic interests the Republicans would never win an election.

Posted by: max on January 11, 2011 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

This is now the dominant BS meme from the Right: Jared Loughner was just "crazy" and so it's wrong to blame rhetoric etc. for instigating him. But no: sane people by definition are not the ones who are going to shoot someone, esp. a public figure, from being influenced by rhetoric or violent imagery. Instead, disturbed individuals are the ones who would indeed by tipped over the edge by such a violent, bitter tone in the air. So all the more reason to blame that and to keep it toned down, because of so many disturbed individuals.

Posted by: neil b on January 11, 2011 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

While $arah didn't pull the trigger, I also think she contributed to the atmosphere that allowed/caused this to happen. I find her version of Christianity repugnant, and her worshipers (see $P's Facebook page) fools at best.

Posted by: Sarafina on January 11, 2011 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

I had figured that the Republican presidential hopefuls would turn on Palin en masse early in the campaign. Sort of like contestants on Survivor removing a stronger contestant early.

Pawlenty might be starting early, since Palin appears weak right now. It will be interesting to see if the other hopefuls turn on Palin or Pawlenty.

Posted by: Wapiti on January 11, 2011 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

I hold the republicliars, Rush, Palin, Beck, and Fox fair and balanced lies responsible for most of if not all of the violent dessent in this country. When these people even remotely suggest any kind of violent rhetoric, they are responsible. No, they aren't telling people or anyone to actually do violence, but the main thing is, they ARE promoting violence in their innuendoes. That makes them responsible and the people that make up excuses for them are responsible for promoting it, too. It's always someone elses fault.
You can call any person mentally unstable that actually acts out the violence, but stop and think of the crowd/gang mentality. When these people are together, they do things they wouldn't normally do by themselves. This is the most frightening thing. These ignorant jerks are walking into town meetings with weapons, concealed or not, yelling and confronting people with in their face nasty comments, and using signs to state their violent slander for anyone that doesn't agree with their views.
The first thing, and I've already seen it on the news, is to pass more laws. Forget the damned laws. Man up you ignorant wussies. Stand up and say this is wrong and it shouldn't be said even in innuendoes. Enough is enough. Freaking death panels, runaway government taking our rights away, a foreign president, a muslim president, lock and load, don't retreat reload, second amendment solutions, and Palin even said Julian Assange should be hunted down like a terrorist, the taliban and/or al-Qaeda. How in hell can anyone say this crap isn't promoting violence? And the fact is, most of this stuff is being said and repeated by republicans.
That party is disgusting me so much, I doubt I will ever vote for a republican again. They make me sick. Chrenson and PTate, I couldn't agree with you more.

Posted by: Schtick on January 11, 2011 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Greed and opportunism never takes a day off, even for funerals. Sarah will find a way to make a buck out of this.

Posted by: Skip on January 11, 2011 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

That's it, Pawlenty's through as a 2012 Republican Presidential candidate. Clearly, he's just another RINO now.


Posted by: Zorro on January 11, 2011 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

But it's not just Palin. The one thing that first brought me to blogs like this was the title of a 2004 Sean Hannity "book".

The title? Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism.

Hannity is a bigoted, lying thug. Palin is a bigoted, lying harpie. What do they have in common?

Fox News

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on January 11, 2011 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

No single raindrop thinks itself responsible for the flood.

Posted by: John on January 11, 2011 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK



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