Before Jared Loughner, the Tucson shooter, had even finished pumping his bullets into the bodies of his innocent victims, the unctuous oracles of the left had already determined motive, cause and effect. The solons of simplicity immediately trumpeted that the “nasty, political climate” of the recent elections, the vociferous voices of talk radio and cable news, or even Sarah Palin herself had laid the foundation for the killer and his heinous deed.
Of course, there was not a shred of evidence to support this theory, which is both shameless and tendentious. The murderer has already clammed up, and by all accounts he was a misfit who was mentally unbalanced and did not bear within him a coherent thought. His writings revealed contempt for government, which he claimed exercises mind control through “grammar” and he also demanded a new “currency.” He doesn’t sound like any Conservative I know, but none the matter. It has been decreed from on high that the rhetoric of right-wingers engendered the dastardly deed. Where have we heard this before, and where have we not heard it ?
Fifteen years ago, the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin was immediately – and I mean, immediately – attributed to right-wing incitement, vitriolic rhetoric, hate speech, etc. Despite the fact that this was never proven; despite the fact that it was specifically renounced by Israel’s Attorney-General (see http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3125350,00.html); despite the fact that the apparent shooter, Yigal Amir, had consulted Rabbinic authorities who had told him that his intentions were both morally repugnant as well as counterproductive to the cause (Rabin was always perceived as more sensible and cautious than his successor, Shimon Peres); despite the fact that Amir, himself a government agent, was egged on in his crime by another government agent (Shin Bet operative Avishai Raviv); despite all this – and more – the die was cast. The motive was established and carved in stone: right-wing rhetoric. It became morally reprehensible even to deny that rhetoric was the cause, and abominable to continue to oppose the Oslo sellout of the late prime minister. His death was exploited – and is until today – for crass political purposes.
Interestingly, when President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley in 1981, there was no instantaneous rush to left-wing judgment – that the rhetoric about Reagan causing a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, or the threat to freedom entailed by his anti-abortion stance, or his desire to cut taxes and thereby entitlements had inspired Hinckley. There could have been, but there was no such suggestion made even from staunch Reaganites . Instead, we were fed this pap about Hinckley trying to impress the actress Jody Foster by shooting the president. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it ? (Well, why didn’t it work ? Why was Jodie Foster not impressed by Hinckley’s attempted assassination ? Perhaps because Hinckley was…nuts ? Bingo.)
The attempts to attribute rational reasoning and decision-making to insane people is itself a distortion of reality, and to use the ranting – and crimes – of a lunatic, for audacious and obvious political gain, is beyond the pale of decency. The political danger lies in the ability of the mass media to carve its version of events into the public domain, never to be erased. It is done by repeated references to the “rhetoric,” without any specifics, of course, and winking allusions to this or that right-wing talking head. All of which creates the “impression” that the wingnut was motivated by a reason-based discontent with the American government – as if he was upset about the stimulus, and Obamacare, and the insanely-high deficit. The only way to counter these mendacious accusations is to, literally, fight back – with words, of course – challenging every allegation, confronting every accuser with the need for proof, and making sure that every single act of finger-pointing boomerangs.
The world has always had a nut problem. There have been misfits in every era, but until 30 years ago, the mentally-ill were usually housed in facilities that kept the public safe from them. That changed 30 years ago, and now it is illegal to institutionalize a moonstruck adult against his will. Some will argue that we need laws to prevent guns from falling into the hands of nuts – all true, but those laws already exist. (And, not to alarm anyone, there are plenty of illegal guns for purchase as well.) The problem lies in the difficulty of adjudicating someone a nut when he hasn’t yet done anything but act strange. These nuts fall through the cracks, and there is no foolproof way to thwart them.
There have been very few political assassinations (or attempted assassinations) in the United States not carried out by nuts. Lincoln’s assassination was politically motivated, as was the attempt on the life of Harry Truman by Puerto Rican nationalists. But Garfield, McKinley, FDR and Gerald Ford (and Reagan) all encountered a crackpot of one type or another. Gerald Ford, in fact, was shot at by two lunatics within three weeks; no one attributed the shootings to Ford’s unpopular pardoning of Richard Nixon. When JFK was shot, the same tedious refrain was also heard (“right-wing, right-wing…”) until the chorus realized that Oswald was a left-winger – a Communist at that. His sanity was never fully explored.
When these tragedies occur, we are left grasping for reasons, because it never makes sense. We especially hate to conclude that good people (a decent liberal congresswoman, a dedicated, conservative federal judge, a nine-year child) all had their lives shattered – in some cases ended – by the acts of a deranged and useless human being. We can only pray for the souls of the murdered, and the full recovery of the injured, and hope that the madman is executed in a swift and just fashion. (McKinley’s killer was tried, convicted, sentenced, and electrocuted in about seven weeks. That is swift justice.) The legal definition of insanity is an inability to distinguish between right and wrong; Loughner apparently knew that what he was doing was wrong, whatever alternate universe he was otherwise living on. He should be tried, convicted and executed.
History teaches us that the exploitation of assassinations for political ends is almost always a tactic of the left. (Strangely, the PC crowd does back flips to avoiding ascribing the terror of Muslims to Islam; we are told, for example, that the motives of the Fort Hood shooter are too mysterious to discern.) One reason might be that conservatives emphasize the notion of personal responsibility, and hold an individual solely accountable for his actions. Liberals are more inclined to ascribe responsibility and guilt to the collective, and therefore always seek motivation not in the miscreant himself but in society, or parents, or teachers, or the police, et al. The individual, according to this way of thinking, is almost absolved of any guilt, because the “real” causes of crime lie in the influences of others, rather than in the choices made by the criminal. Conservatives do not generally suffer from this illusion, because the influences of others do not eradicate the free choice of the criminal – a fundamental Torah concept as well. The narrative of societal responsibility resonates more with liberals than with conservatives, so it is almost natural – even absent the tawdry political motives – that liberals would seek answers in every place but the aggressor himself.
Those who are liberally-inclined should resist the temptation to look for genuine motives from a kook. We can bring no proof from the acts of a psychotic, nor should we try to do so. The attempt itself is not only outrageous, misguided and duplicitous, but also downright nutty. And we are all better than that. Normal people can have even vibrant and passionate political dialogue – and disagreements – without fear of provoking the nuts; they do not require any provocation. We need not stifle democracy in order to save it, and we certainly cannot mute the opposition to destructive policies on the specious grounds of the alleged motivations of the irrational.