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Blame for the tragic Arizona shooting was premature, misplaced

by Wes Messamore, published

In what the London Telegraph has correctly described as an "unseemly rush to blame Sarah Palin, the Tea Party and Republicans for murder in Arizona," progressive journalists and bloggers have waged an aggressive campaign to blame Sarah Palin and the Tea Party for the tragic shooting massacre in Arizona, which killed six people and left others critically wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

In his New York Times blog, The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman suggested that Congresswoman Giffords was shot for being "a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona," adding that "violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate."

A blogger at FireDogLake, among many others, directly accused Sarah Palin of inciting the shooting with a map of targets on Democratic House districts vulnerable to Republican challenges in the 2010 midterm elections.

DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas tweeted a link to this accusation with the comment "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin."

Note the date and times of these wild accusations. As soon as the tragic news broke, and before any clear details or evidence of the gunman's possible motivation had emerged, progressives swiftly and reflexively moved to hold Sarah Palin and the Tea Party responsible.

Conspicuously absent, was the level-headed, fact-based, critical thinking, unmarred by prejudice, that so many progressives insist they exemplify.

When Nidal Malik Hasan massacred U.S. soliders in the 2009 Ft. Hood shooting, the media and even Defense Department took great pains not to "jump to any conclusions" about Hasan's motivations by ascribing them to ideological, political, or religious commitments that Hasan may have had (and turned out in fact, to have).

Instead, journalists and commentators were quite anxious to conclude that Hasan had suffered harassment and PTSD, and just "snapped."

Observing the markedly different response to the Arizona shooting, one cannot help but wonder what happened to all that careful consideration and timidity bordering on the absurd.

The swift rush to judgement in recent days has revealed not only a callous willingness to politicize a horrible tragedy, but a stubborn disregard for the truth. Commentators making baseless accusations did not want to find out what caused the gunman to attack; they wanted Sarah Palin to be the cause.

This was merely the first act in what should now be an all-too-familiar political drama for Americans.

When Joe Stack crashed an airplane into a Federal office in February of 2010, many pundits latched on to the fervent anti-tax rhetoric he used in a long suicide note to connect him with the anti-tax Tea Party movement.

But a careful reading of his screed made it clear enough that Joe Stack was a Marxist with an explicit preference for communism over capitalism, describing the latter as "each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed." That's not something you're likely to see on a sign at your next Tea Party rally.

Likewise, many journalists were quick to describe the Arizona shooter as "anti-government" in a transparent attempt to connect him with the Tea Party protest movement, which is often described in similar terms. Commentators said that his violent act was the predictable result of a climate of "vitriol" created by Tea Party activists in their opposition to Washington's sweeping consolidation of power over the health insurance and banking industries.

But as more facts emerged, it became clear that the gunman- who is a registered Independent- had no coherent political ideology, but a serious mental illness and a stalker-like obsession with Congresswoman Giffords.

Remaining true to form, those responsible for these snap judgements targeting Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement are seamlessly transitioning into the second act of the now-familiar pattern and beginning to concede that the emerging facts in this particular case do not support their accusations, but insist that the general spirit of their accusations is still true.

Sarah Palin's rhetoric is too violent. The Tea Party is too militant. Republicans have poisoned political discourse with hate and vitriol. But isn't it a little insincere to condemn vitriolic rhetoric while accusing political opponents of being accomplices to murder?

Besides that, the case against vitriol is just a little suspicious on other grounds. Doesn't martial rhetoric permeate all of our conversation, both political and otherwise? "Targeting" a politician in a campaign is an obvious and oft-used metaphor.

Though Markos Moulitsas tweeted "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin," his own website, DailyKos has used violent metaphors to refer not only to Republicans, but to Congresswoman Giffords herself, placing a metaphorical "bulls eye" on Giffords and other moderate Democrats to challenge in a party primary.

And strangely enough, only two days before Giffords was shot, a DailyKos blogger wrote of her: "My CongressWOMAN voted against Nancy Pelosi! And is now DEAD to me!"

Democrats had better think long and hard before making any pretense that Republicans have unilaterally poisoned public discourse with violent rhetoric.

The unflinching malice that Democrats have directed toward Sarah Palin and George W. Bush over the last decade has been prolific and conspicuous to be sure, not to mention that their campaign strategists have used so-called "hit list" maps of their own. In 2004, the Democratic Leadership Committee published a map with bulls eyes to indicate "ripe targets for Democrats."

As recently as 2010, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee published a map with bulls eyes to indicate "targeted Republicans."

In the end, all of the accusations and smears have amounted to little more than an opportunistic and cynical attempt to capitalize on a terrible tragedy wrought by a mentally unstable young man.

Perhaps a deeper tragedy is the willingness of so many people to give that man exactly what he wanted by attributing to his senseless act so much significance, by trying to elevate him to the status of spokesperson and poster-child for an entire movement of people who most certainly would not approve of or emulate his violence.

Even if he had been a Tea Party protestor or an admirer of Sarah Palin's, why should progressive commentators decide this young man gets to speak for the rest of them just because he picked up a gun and killed innocent people on that tragic day in Arizona?

Photo Credit: Christopher Halloran /

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