I don’t know if I want to, or can, add anything that’s not already been said in the din following Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting. The act alone is jarring, though not altogether surprising—the tide of this Time Magazine article from a few months back has done nothing if not escalate.
But in the paranoic, partisan backlash that’s already occurred—dotting Facebook walls, churning HuffPo and RedState articles, turning up the bleat of talk radio ever-more—it seems as if there needs to be a measure of calm, a measure of reminder. Obama had it, when he forewent any political points in his immediate address. So did Gov. Jan Brewer. So have almost all politicians in the wake of this tragedy; Boehner, the tear-jerk, has even maintained his composure.
But barking dogs rarely lie. The media feasts on conspiracies, and since Sarah Palin had once placed the crosshairs on Giffords district, ipso facto, this hunter-cum-politician placed this little nugget of assassination in Loughner’s head. If most of the blogosphere is to be believed, her mantras of “reload!” and “second amendment first!” and “tik ar jawbs! tik ar guns!” pushed this nut over the edge and onto that stage. Which is a farce. There’s no proof that Loughner—a once-described “left wing” “pot head”—ever read or gave two cents as to what Palin or the rest of the Tea Party gun-toters said. There’s no evidence that he ever followed a single militant strain of the right. Hell, his YouTube videos instead painted him as caricature of a Ron Paul supporter—a pre-Tea Party, gold-standard-does-it kind of guy. And yet the calls for Paul’s head have been negligible.
To blame Palin or any others before a full investigation is conducted is cheap, and to pepper her wall with vitriol and accusations is misguided and myopic. But that’s not to say that those who accuse Palin and her ilk are wrong. Because, indeed, all it takes is for the least among us, that lowest common denominator, to view those words at face value. Loughner was a lone wolf in the sense of his derangement and abject hostility to anyone and anything of higher power. But that does not negate the reality that someday, one of us will look at these words and find meaning. The constant slew of guns and bullets and “Tiller the Baby Killer” will froth the pot until something, somewhere, spills, a moment in which the entire rhetoric becomes culpable.
Palin, Beck, and all the Second Amenders should look at this shooting not as a creation but as a harbinger. They could have wrought this. And now they must respond—not with condolence or mea culpa, but with veritable, measurable scaling back of what have become issues and phrases and terms too heady and martial for the common good. They must forestall any desire to bust out the ammunition and talk about taking out future opponents. They must be sedulously aware of their words and the brew they constantly stir, the cortege that chomp at their every word, and while they do not need to apologize, they need to change before any other Loughner—or McVeigh—awakes.
Of course, this probably won’t happen. Palin, to the chagrin of opponents and supporters alike, has never backed down. Her greatest trait is her sick ability to paint herself into the victim’s role—which this opportunity will present in spades. With myriads pointing their fingers at her, she can, if she wishes, wrap herself in that all-too-familiar portrait of the left’s smear campaign, of their innate hostility toward all things Tea Party. She’ll be able to prolong the conversation about her guilt/non-guilt, all the while deflecting the conversation from actual depth and turning it, yet again, toward her. (Christ, I can’t believe that this issue—a political assassination in Tuscon, Arizona—is coming back to her.)
A while back, for shits-and-giggles, I wrote a letter to a small-town newspaper in Arizona calling for calmness in the face of ratcheting anti-left, anti-Muslim, anti-logical rhetoric. I could send that letter again, and wouldn’t need to change a word; Arizona, “Tombstone,” hasn’t budged a bit. But I would add a plea to the other side of the political spectrum to breathe, wait, and put your energy toward effective response; say, strengthening gun restrictions, or introducing monitored marijuana usage, instead of pot-shotting those on the other side. Conflating coincidence with causality will not affect anything. Nor, try as we might, will strangling Sarah Palin’s Wall.