A Nut is a Nut

     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.

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8 responses to “A Nut is a Nut

  1. If we can use this as a way to diffuse tensions in our government why not use it?

    • 1) Because it is false, and nothing good can emerge from a foundation of falsehood.
      2) It is therefore used to stifle debate, and assumes that opposing certain policies will generate violence.
      2) There are no “tensions in our government.” Disagreements – even vigorous disagreements – are the very stuff of democracy. What to some “diffuses tension” to others simply means compelling acceptance of damaging policies because of…why exactly ?
      It emerged last night that Loughner was angry at Rep. Giffords because in 2007 she had answered a question in Spanish at a public forum. Should we therefore ban Spanish, or public forums, or simply attribute this incident to lunatic without drawing any political conclusions.

  2. To be clear I don’t think Loughner killed anyone because of conservative rhetoric (although I have also yet to see anyone from any side of the aisle come close to attempting to absolve him of responsibility for his crimes, as you repeatedly imply that liberals have done), but the idea that Lougner’s obsession with currency somehow puts him away from where the modern Republican Party is and into the realm of the crazies, is just false.

    Loughner did not want to pay his debts in anything currency that wasn’t backed by gold, because he did not trust the government. A return to the gold was explicitly part of the 2000 Republican Party of Texas platform, and the current 2010 platform calls for the Federal Reserve to be audited and then abolished (presumably, although not explicitly stated to be replaced by the gold standard). Texas Congressman Ron Paul would also like an audit of Fort Knox in order to prove that the government is not lying about it’s gold holdings (http://www.capitalgainsandgames.com/blog/bruce-bartlett/1921/gold-conspiracy-never-ends). Paul’s followers started the first modern tea party rallies, and one of their major issues was an end to fiat money

  3. You should have waited before commenting. Judging by accounts of his e-mails, to attribute any sensible, rational thought to this fruitcake is grossly unwarranted. To construe him therefore as a “Republican” is scurrilous.

    By the way, he was a registered independent. Beware independents ?!

    -RSP

  4. I didn’t say he was a Republican, and I don’t think he was. I just think that one of the conspiracy theories surrounding the gold standard is a view that he embraced, far from removing him from the realm of Republicans (or Conservatives, which was the term you used) is actually now a relatively mainstream view among those groups (embraced by the most important state part and a sitting congressman), despite it being insane.

    And, no, to be clear again, I don’t think he shot Congresswoman Giffords because she did not embrace the gold standard, but I do think that 1) it just isn’t true that embracing gold standard based conspiracy theories does not sound like any conservative you know, unless you run in a very limited circle, and 2) sometimes insane people do absorb their insane ideas from ideas that are floating around, especially when rather prominent people (say candidates for president) are popularizing them.

  5. You seem to be equating Amir and Loughner and Hinckley, in that all three are madmen who act irrationally. But Amir was not/is not a madman. He killed Rabin for perfectly logical political purposes, by his own admission. He also claimed that his rabbi told him to kill Rabin, and in the very article you provided, it says that many Rabbis issued a pulsa denura against Rabin. Rabin’s act was not the result of a deranged nut incapable of having coherent thoughts. Amir would seem to be the textbook case of someone acting because of political rhetoric.

    Second, you also write that there is no proof that political rhetoric endangered Giffords, but that’s not the argument being made. I don’t think anyone on the Left was alleging that there was a smoking gun that tied Loughner’s actions to rhetoric. The point just is that uncivil dialogue (accusing your opponents of being communist Nazis in disguise) or encouraging (tongue-in-cheek) Second amendment remedies can plausibly lead to an upturn in violent attacks against said opponents. In fact, one of the people just shot (Giffords) made this very point herself. To me, this claim certainly seems plausible, but I don’t think it’s really possible to find “proof” for this; it’s an argument from common sense.

    Asking people to watch their language is not diminishing the responsibility of criminals, it is increasing our own responsibility. Refusing to monitor your tone because you had nothing to do with this tragedy, in fact, seems to be about diminishing your responsibility.

  6. 1. Amir, even according to assumption that he was the killer acting alone, acted irrationally. The immorality of the act aside, what political benefit was there in murdering Rabin, who was souring on Oslo, and empowering Shimon Peres, who was the catalyst of Oslo ? What possible gain would the “settlers” (of which Amir was not one) have in murdering a prime minister, and turning off an entire country to their cause ?
    2. You assert that “his Rabbi” told him to kill Rabin. Really ? Do you have a name ? Anyone ? The truth is that not a single name has ever been adduced (because it never happened), and the ‘pulsa d’nura’ charade has been revealed as a Shin Bet black op. So even meager evidence of your claims would be welcome.
    3. If you have a case where uncivil dialogue created an upsurge in violence, please cite it. But the unsubstantiated accusations that swirl in the public domain serve only to suppress the speech of opponents of the political establishment. Of course, civil discourse is always welcome, but is as relevant to this matter as is modest dress.
    -RSP

  7. >The immorality of the act aside, what political benefit was there in murdering Rabin, who was souring on Oslo, and empowering Shimon Peres, who was the catalyst of Oslo ? What possible gain would the “settlers” (of which Amir was not one) have in murdering a prime minister, and turning off an entire country to their cause ?

    You’re arguing with his political reasoning, not making an argument that he’s an irrational nut. By conflating the two, you’re essentially saying that no political assassinations can be logical, because they almost always backfire. You’re saying that all political assassins are by definition koo-koo. But we know that’s not true.

    All I’m saying is that Amir was not some apolitical nut living in a delusional world decrying the government’s control over grammar. Even though he was not a settler, he was very much a part of the right-wing political segment of Israeli society. He organized protests against Rabin and territorial concession and Oslo. He was in law school, and a student at my yeshiva, KBY, which is not known for accepting crazy people. He had a serious political belief with the Prime Minister, one held by perhaps more than 50% of the population at large. The leader of the opposition, Netanyahu, also seemed to believe that Oslo was a bad idea, and would endanger Jewish lives. You may disagree that that makes Rabin a rodef, or that therefore he should be killed, or that killing him helped his cause, but that’s an argument against his conclusions, not against his ability to reason logically. No psychiatric or medical professionals have said that he was insane, and it looks very likely that Loughner was.

    >You assert that “his Rabbi” told him to kill Rabin. Really ? Do you have a name ? Anyone ?

    I didn’t assert that. The article you linked to did. It says “Amir, a yeshiva student, had said he was encouraged to murder the prime minister by his rabbi.” I do have a name of a rabbi who was questioned, but as he was never indicted, much less convicted, there is no good purpose in providing it, especially as I have no proof he did.

    >If you have a case where uncivil dialogue created an upsurge in violence, please cite it.

    Again, what are you asking for? You want me to find an instance where Rush Limbaugh said something, and then John Q. Public shot someone, and then told the police, “It was because of Rush Limbaugh?” It’s not going to happen. But surely you don’t deny a connection can be made, at least in theory, behind millions of people being told every day that someone is evil, and someone deciding to take violent action? That’s all I’m saying. There does seem to be evidence, however, of an upsurge in death threats made against public officials in the last couple of years.

    http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/to-understand-assassination-threat-look-beyond-tucson/

    >Of course, civil discourse is always welcome, but is as relevant to this matter as is modest dress

    So what’s your beef? That people shouldn’t call for civil discourse now, because it’s after a tragedy? That seems perverse.