Column: Rhetoric and tragedy

Why did 22-year-old Jared Loughner allegedly open fire on Saturday in a Tucson Safeway parking lot, killing six and wounding 14?

Federal judge John Roll was pronounced dead at the scene, a nine-year-old girl died at the hospital and the apparent target of the attack, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), survived in critical condition despite being shot in the head.

Within barely two days, a picture emerged of a deranged loner who was obsessed with government mind control through that most common method of mind control, grammar. Loughner produced videos on YouTube with bizarre trains of logic (if they can be called that) and a hooded figure burning the American flag in the wilderness with a heavy metal soundtrack.

When I heard the news I was reminded of the Virginia Tech shootings in April of 2007, in which 32 people died and many others were wounded. Some tried to politicize that horrible day, but in my commentary I resisted that effort and focused on the humanity we all share.

“Politics is about division and conflict,” I wrote that week. “A tragedy of this magnitude should not be used for political debate.”

But apparently The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman didn’t read my column from four years ago (I’m shocked and offended) before he penned his own response to the Arizona shooting, merely one day after it went down.

Krugman opened his column with the stunning claim that he magically predicted this would happen “just by watching the crowds at the McCain-Palin rallies.” Later he adds that it’s “eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.”

“Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from?” Krugman queried. “Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right.” Krugman, no minor figure in the pantheon of liberal heroes, concluded by demanding that the right take ownership of what happened and shun the commentators who made Loughner commit his atrocity.

At no point did Krugman – or any of the others on the hard left making the argument that conservative rhetoric is to blame – offer a single piece of evidence that Loughner was inspired by, or a member of, the right wing. And if Krugman has a shred of journalistic integrity, he should be very uncomfortable with the facts that have emerged for those who were more patient before they wrote.

Yesterday a high school friend of Loughner was interviewed on “Good Morning America” and stated that Loughner

“wasn’t shooting people, he was shooting at the world.”

“He did not watch TV,” said Zach Osler, who was close to him until a couple years ago. “He disliked the news. He didn’t listen to political radio. He didn’t take sides. He wasn’t on the left. He wasn’t on the right.”

Wait a sec. He wasn’t a loyal acolyte of Glenn Beck? He didn’t even listen to – gasp – Rush Limbaugh before he shot a bunch of people?

Allow me to introduce to some folks the radical idea that you actually need, like, evidence before you accuse a whole movement of being accessory to murder.

What about the map with crosshairs on Democratic representatives whom Sarah Palin targeted for defeat in the 2010 election, of whom Giffords was one?

Putting aside that there is zero proof that Loughner ever saw Palin’s graphic or was influenced by it, the Democratic Leadership Council put out a very similar map with bullseyes on battleground states (there’s that violent rhetoric again) for the 2004 election. Even last year the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee produced a map with Republican representatives under bullseyes for their (political) demise. Nobody said one word of complaint.

Let’s pretend that Loughner did see Palin’s politically motivated graphic. John Hinckley attempted Ronald Reagan’s assassination in an effort to impress actress Jodie Foster. Was she to blame for a nutjob grabbing a gun? One of Loughner’s favorite books on his MySpace profile is The Odyssey. Shall we ban a near 3,000-year-old book – one of my favorites – while we’re spitting venom at Bill O’Reilly for his “eliminationist rhetoric”? At least with The Odyssey we have an actual fact that Loughner was influenced by it.

But since he seems to be virtually insane, we will probably never have a logical motive.

For some people, the contest of politics must be won at all costs. There are no breaks, there is no common ground and the other side is the enemy. I’d say they require unconditional surrender, but I’d get in trouble for the military analogy.

The political world we as young people are entering is a disgusting one. Some people can’t even mourn the death of a nine-year-old girl without making it into a weapon to blame their adversaries.

You and I have to do better than the repugnant likes of Paul Krugman.

ROB OLSON can be reached at rwolson@ucdavis.edu.

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