As he sits behind bars awaiting trial, Jared Loughner is undoubtedly relishing every moment of the ruckus that he managed to stir up with his deadly rampage in Tucson. In addition to murdering six innocent human beings and wounding more than a dozen others in an act of sheer evil, the deranged gunman has set off a media and political frenzy that refuses to abate.
By various accounts, this is precisely what Loughner was hoping for. As his close friend Bryce Tierney told Mother Jones, “I think the reason he did it was mainly to just promote chaos. He wanted the media to freak out about this whole thing. He wanted exactly what’s happening.” Ironically enough, then, many of those now engaged in the shameless finger-pointing are inadvertently advancing the goals of the madman, by fulfilling his desire to create an environment of mayhem in society.
Deploying the most acerbic members of its verbal firing squads, the left has launched volley after volley of vitriol in recent days in an effort to score some political points and paint conservatives as extremists. But in so doing, they are merely extending the damage inflicted by Loughner into the sphere of public discourse, thereby undermining the very same foundations of civilization that the gunman himself was targeting.
On a certain level, it is perhaps to be expected that the attempted murder of a popular Congresswoman would conjure a very human need in some quarters to pin responsibility on a larger collective. After all, none of us wish to believe that it is within the power of one scoundrel to set off such bedlam. Surely, there must be larger forces at work, we tell ourselves.
But that is little more than an illusion, a somewhat comforting tale we cling to in order to try and make sense of the otherwise inexplicable. Like it or not, one individual can, and frequently does, alter the course of history.
Nonetheless, however predictable that deep-seated need to find larger forces at work may be, that does not give people license to engage in an irrational blame-game, which is precisely what the left is now doing.
Despite a gaping absence of even a shred of evidence, liberal commentators and pundits have sought to link Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News, among others, to the noxious carnage. Among the most egregious examples was Paul Krugman of the New York Times, who invoked what he described as the “eliminationist rhetoric” of the right. Others went further still, with Michael Russnow asserting at the Huffington Post, “With all the terrorism happening in our country and around the world, isn’t most of it coming from the right?” Tossing logic to the wind, these critics have attempted to identity conservative fingerprints at the scene of the crime where none can, or will, be found.
Watching these events unfold from afar, I was reminded of the aftermath of another shooting, one which also brought in its wake a chilling amount of political bile. In November 1995, a lone gunman assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin after a rally in Tel Aviv, sending shockwaves throughout the young country. It did not take long for the mourning to turn into acrimony, as Israel’s left took aim at then-opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who instantly became a lightning rod for some of the most hateful rhetoric imaginable. I remember walking in the streets of Jerusalem at the time, seeing graffiti scrawled on walls saying, “Bibi is a murderer.”
Shortly thereafter Rabin’s widow went so far as to declare that she would prefer to shake PLO Chief Yasser Arafat’s hand rather than that of Netanyahu. It made little difference that the Likud Chairman was not linked in any way with the perpetrator and had vigorously condemned the assassination. Even the fact that Rabin’s own Attorney-General, Michael Ben-Yair, said, “The person who killed the prime minister did not do so under the influence of incitement,” had no effect.
Quite simply, the opportunity to take political pot-shots at Netanyahu and Israel’s right was one that the left simply could not pass up. They accused the Likud of creating an atmosphere that led inevitably to the shooting, just as America’s liberals are claiming about conservatives today. And they sought to tar Netanyahu with the brush of extremism, much in the way that Palin and others are now being unfairly maligned.
However infuriating the slurs may be, the targets of today’s post-Tucson witch-hunt should not despair. Despite months of withering assaults on his character, Netanyahu went on to win the 1996 Israeli elections. The public was shrewd enough to see through the muck, recognizing a falsehood for what it was. And there is no reason to think that the American people are any less discerning. A CBS poll found that just 32 percent thought that the political tone in the country had anything to do with the Tucson shooting, while 57 percent did not.
There’s a lesson in here for those on the left, one they ignore at their political peril: when you start playing with mud, the only one you end up dirtying is yourself.