Tucson: Cause and effect

Tucson: Cause and effect

January 12th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Almost as soon as the news broke Saturday about the Arizona shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and of 19 others -- six fatally -- at the "Congress on the Corner" gathering for constituents, the right wing of this country launched an avalanche of denial about the connection of their infamously harsh political propaganda -- and their collateral promotion of excessively loose gun laws -- to the shooting. Blame the unbalanced, deranged shooter, they cried, but don't attempt to connect his heinous crime with the instigators of the political hate he spouted in writings.

This telling reaction, since embraced by mainstream cable talking heads across the political spectrum, was coyly framed at the outset by, among others, Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee's senior senator, in his initial statement about the shooting.

"We have to be very careful about imputing the motives or the actions of a deranged individual to any particular group of Americans who have their own political beliefs," he said. "We ought to cool it, tone it down, treat each other with great respect, respect each other's ideas and even on difficult issues like immigration or taxes or health care law, do our best not to inflame passions."

Well, yes. That's all true, in its two parts. But it is more than a little late. The second of the two sentences has been much ignored by the far right for so long that it's become a dysfunctional defense against the necessity of imputing the terrible Arizona shooting to its political roots.

The right wing in this instance -- like all political purveyors of hate and violence whatever their party or ideology -- ought to be, must be, called out for its contribution to the atmosphere that spawned this shooting. Free speech or not, words have consequences. Words provide oxygen to irrational hate and bring it to life.

The right wing's propaganda pipeline of blatant distortions and outright lies can and does incite reactions. The talking heads' incessant and false ranting about "Obama-care death panels," or Obama's purported desire to "take away our guns," or "impose Sharia law," only light the fires of the ignorant and the misled.

Their promotion of "birthers" claims that Obama is lying about his birth certificate, or has none, similarly propels hate. So does their virtual blessing of those who pronounce unfounded claims that Obama is secretly Muslim, or that his administration is outrageously corrupt. Their boosterism rants on this panorama of lies also serves to energize the so-called "sons of patriots" and militias who gather on public streets carrying guns and assault rifles near political rallies in transparent intimidation toward those with whom they disagree.

This is the stuff of fomenters of hate and disrespect for those with opposing views. Their cadre may begin with Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle and their ilk, but it doesn't end there. It extends to radio shock jocks across the country who seem equally happy to peddle the cant of the celebrity propagandists and fear-mongers -- though mainly for ratings or personal wealth.

Angle in her Nevada Senate campaign talked about "Second Amendment remedies" (i.e., gun rights) for political foes. What is the impact of that? Isn't it fair to impute intimidation at the barrel of a gun?

Palin put Rep. Giffords and 19 other members of Congress whom she aggressively "targeted" for defeat in November in the cross-hairs of a rifle scope on her website. Even as she finally pulled that incendiary firearms metaphor off her website this week, she denied that the imagery of taking people out could incite a deranged gun-nut in Arizona.

The NRA and gun-show crowd surely take the bait, however. Their leaders also fail to admonish gun-rights advocates who conflate their lust for gun violence and political paranoia with the revolutionary-era line about refreshing the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

In fact, the alleged Arizona shooter, Jared Loughner, legally purchased his semi-automatic Glock with an extended 31-bullet clip on Nov. 30 from a big Tucson gunshop after being suspended in October from Pima Community College in Tucson for five instances of class or campus disruptions that involved confrontations with campus police. His alarming misconduct and weird behavior didn't raise a flag on his background check.

It's no wonder. As Tucson's Pima County Sheriff Clarence Pupnik aptly noted, Tucson has become a "mecca" for "prejudice and bigotry," which he said had fueled political vitriol and rage in the months leading up to the shooting. He further said that Tucson's radio and TV talk show hosts should do "some serious soul-searching."

Loughner's writings and YouTube rants, perhaps not surprisingly, parroted Glenn Beck's claims of a false currency and excessive government control. His belongings contained a thank-you letter from Giffords' office for attending one of her "Congress on the Corner" public gatherings two years before conservatives targeted her for her advocacy of health care reform. The day the House voted for that measure, her Tucson office was vandalized.

The far-right crowd surely did not intend to incite the Arizona shooter to a mass shooting and six murders, but the cause-and-effect linkage must be acknowledged if it is to be changed. The right-wing's rush to distance their words from the deed, however, suggests no sincere willingness to change this deadly dynamic. That is as scary as the shooting. It must change.