The immediate (and ongoing) assumption of a political ideology on behalf of Jared Loughner, the killer in Tucson who injured Rep. Giffords and injured and killed other bystanders, not only does a disservice to those who are seeking the real motives behind the killings, but also injures the freedom of political discourse in this country.
By all accounts, Loughner was not motivated by an ideology so much as a psychosis, if his public rantings are any guide, but a rush to judgment by politicians and pundits laid the blame for the deed on the heads of all those right-wing Tea Party Republicans with their “inflammatory” speech and combative imagery during the last election. Never mind that tough talk and war-like comparisons have been a feature of politics for all of human history. After all, it was the 18th-century Karl von Clausewitz who dubbed war as “merely the continuation of policy (i.e. politics) by other means.”
Never mind that political discourse used to be much uglier than it is even now, such as when Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina attacked Sen Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in 1854 over Sumner’s ridicule of Brooks’ uncle, Sen. Andrew Butler. Even as Butler lay in bed recuperating from a stroke, Sumner was accusing him of having taken “the harlot, slavery” as mistress and then denigrated his home state of South Carolina and the whole of the South as being entirely immoral. Brooks took exception to Sumner’s words and attacked him on the floor of the Senate with his cane.
But this is not what happened in Tucson. Given 72 hours to let the facts come out, the reality is that Giffords was probably targeted because she is a public person who represents the authority of the federal government, which Loughner’s fevered imaginings had rendered a Big Brother-like bogeyman.
Yet the true ugliness of our current climate of politics was on display when so many saw not a tragedy, but an opportunity to score political points by draping the blood-drenched bodies upon the backs of their political opponents.
The true injury to our Republic comes then, not from strong political speech, but from cynical demagoguery. What else can you call it when so many so quickly equate a crazed conspiracy theorist with average middle-class Americans who want their political representatives to be more responsive to voters and their government to be less intrusive in their lives? How can anyone feel free to stand up for the entirely peaceful, yet passionate political beliefs when they must fear being painted with brush of insane violent acts with which they have no connection in reality?
If the political and pundit class wants to change the political climate, perhaps they can start by looking at themselves first.