By Nick Gillespie
From Glenn Instapundit Reynolds, writing in The Wall Street Journal:
There's a climate of hate out there, all right, but it doesn't derive from the innocuous use of political clichés. And former Gov. Palin and the tea party movement are more the targets than the source.
American journalists know how to be exquisitely sensitive when they want to be. As the Washington Examiner's Byron York pointed out on Sunday, after Major Nidal Hasan shot up Fort Hood while shouting "Allahu Akhbar!" the press was full of cautions about not drawing premature conclusions about a connection to Islamist terrorism. "Where," asked Mr. York, "was that caution after the shootings in Arizona?"
Set aside as inconvenient, apparently. There was no waiting for the facts on Saturday. Likewise, last May New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and CBS anchor Katie Couric speculated, without any evidence, that the Times Square bomber might be a tea partier upset with the ObamaCare bill.
So as the usual talking heads begin their "have you no decency?" routine aimed at talk radio and Republican politicians, perhaps we should turn the question around. Where is the decency in blood libel?...
To be clear, if you're using this event to criticize the "rhetoric" of Mrs. Palin or others with whom you disagree, then you're either: (a) asserting a connection between the "rhetoric" and the shooting, which based on evidence to date would be what we call a vicious lie; or (b) you're not, in which case you're just seizing on a tragedy to try to score unrelated political points, which is contemptible. Which is it?
How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder spreeds in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.
Instantaneous bitch-tweeting online (within moments of the shooting, it seems, messages such as "Sarah Palin has blood on her hands" were all over the place) is one thing. Stories filled with actual Democratic Party players such as Paul Begala going on about what an "opportunity" the shooting presents Obama politically aren't going to help the Dems or anyone else in the long run. From Politico's story, "Barack Obama's Oklahoma City moment":
Veteran Democratic consultant Dan Gerstein said the crisis “really plays to Obama’s strengths as consensus-builder” and gives him the opportunity to build a deeper emotional connection with the people he governs.
“He’ll be active, but also very careful not to appear like he’s blaming or politicizing,” Gerstein predicted.
There's no question that the GOP and its proponents are more than ready to play a similar game. Any moral lapse by a Democrat, for instance, is an ethical rot that stems directly from the malefactor's stance on the minimum wage or Don't Ask Don't Tell, say, while hypocrites such as Sen. Larry Craig and Tom DeLay are ethical one-offs. The most-unbelievable response in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was longterm GOP activist Jerry Falwell's announcement on Pat Robertson's TV network that gays and women wearing pants etc. were responsible for radical Islamists killing 3,000 people (even more sadly, years after Falwell apologized for his self-evidently retarded statement, conservative writer Dinesh D'Souza blew out the thesis into a full-length book). I'm not trying to be "fair and balanced" here by bringing up GOP stupidity; I'm trying to point out that we're in a decade of this sort craptastic instantaneous spin that latches on to everything in its path. I say this as someone who was fingered as broadly responsible for the culture that produced "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh.
Readers of this site know I'm no Sarah Palin fan, but to accuse her of complicity in the murderous spree of a clearly insane person is one of the main reasons that partisan political parties are losing market share. I had myself tweeted that blaming Palin for Jared Loughner's mass killing would be like blaming J.D. Salinger for Mark David Chapman shooting John Lennon (and as Jesse Walker pointed out, in Chapman's case, at least we could be sure Chapman had read Salinger). Given Loughner's fixation on grammar and the supposed lack of literacy evinced by most Americans, maybe William Safire and S.I. Hayakawa should be held responsible.
Like Matt Welch and Jack Shafer, I don't think that today's political rhetoric is particularly overheated or vitriolic and, even if it were, I don't think that would be a problem. I suspect that most people are like me in that they respond to folks who actually believe something and are willing to fight for it when it comes to a particular political issue. I don't like bipartisanship, which usually means that all of us get screwed, but it's easy enough to respect someone you virulently disagree with if you think they are arguing in good faith.
The problem isn't with the current moment's rhetoric, it's with the goddamn politicization of every goddamn thing not even for a higher purpose or broader fight but for the cheapest moment-by-moment partisan advantage. Whether on the left or on the right, there's a totalist mentality that everything can and should be explained first and foremost as to whether it helps or hurt the party of choice.
That sort of clearly calculated punditry helps explain one of last week's other big stories, which is how both the Dems and the GOP have really bad brand loyalty these days. In its most recent survey of political self-identification, Gallup found that the Dems were at their lowest point in 22 years and that the GOP remains stuck below the one-third mark. The affiliation that has the highest marks for the past couple of decades on average and is growing now is independent. Faced with the way that the major parties and their partisans try to bend every news story, trend, box office hit or bomb, you name it, whether truly horrific (as Saturday's shooting was) or totally banal, is it any wonder that fewer people want to be affiliated with the Dems and Reps? This is a long-term trend. Indeed, Harris Poll numbers that stretch back to the late '60s show the same trend: Fewer and few folks want to view themselves as Democrats and the GOP has never been popular (even though far more people consider themselves "conservative" than "liberal").
The easy reading of this is pretty obvious and rooted in our national DNA: Americans want refuge from politics, not an expansion of it to cover every aspect of our lives, and that's something increasingly bitter dead-enders don't want to acknowledge.