Culture and Conditioning

Remarkably, some rightie bloggers are still trying to peg Jared Loughner as a “left wing radical.” This is true even as news media are doing their best to argue that only those nutty lefties are claiming politics had anything to do with the shooting in Tuscon. Chris Cillizza:

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, liberals sought to paint Loughner as an anti-government, tea party conservative. Conservatives retorted that Loughner lacked anything close to a coherent political philosophy — a case strengthened by subsequent glimpses into his personal life that suggests someone struggling with mental illness.

And the rightie punditocracy, for the most part, is going for the meme that Loughner’s acts were entirely random, and anyone claiming a connection to political rhetoric is a “charlatan” (George Will) or a political opportunist (David Brooks).

In other words, they’re going overboard trying to squelch the thought that an overheated political environment had anything whatsoever to do with the Tuscon massacre. It was just a crazy guy doing this, see? We’re not even supposed to think that hate speech from the Right was in any way involved.

(Of course, when Loughner eventually goes on trial, and his attorneys try to present an insanity defense, suddenly the Right will decide his actions weren’t so random after all. Wait and see.)

Michael Tomasky points to a Republican senator who said some sensible things about “caution” and “reflection” and maybe the inflammatory rhetoric has gone to far. What’s remarkable about this is that the senator would not go on record; he is quoted anonymously. Tomasky writes,

What was this senator afraid of? Backlash, of course. From Limbaugh and Fox. From voters and constituents – on the right. Maybe, ultimately, afraid of being next. That this senator feels that fear, over remarks that should hardly be controversial to anyone, proves the point of those of us who’ve been writing that the climate matters and Republicans should do something about it.

A letter writer to the Boston Globe makes another good point —

IN YOUR editorial yesterday concerning the Arizona shootings (“A crazed loner, an old story, and a harsh political climate’’), you write, “But those who have rushed to blame conservative causes or leaders for the killings should pause and consider whether they, too, are waving a bloody shirt and feeding a culture of denunciation.’’

On the contrary, these are real bloodied shirts, and we must loudly and repeatedly denounce those who spit out anti-government hatred and advocate revolution. To be moderate in reaction to Saturday’s killings would vindicate the perpetrators of vitriol, and in a short time, we would be right back into the same rhetoric that led to this most recent violence.

In other words, hate speech coming from the Right over fantasy grievances like birth certificates and socialized medicine is tolerated year after year. But speak up immediately after a very real massacre, and the Powers That Be say “shhhhhh!

What Brooks, Cillizza, et al. won’t acknowledge is that the mentally ill don’t live in a vacuum. They are affected very deeply by what’s around them. Although there’s no way to know, it’s entirely possible that if Loughner were living on some peaceful Quaker commune instead of in Arizona, a state roiling with hot-button controversies, as his assumed schizophrenia took over his mind he might have developed an entirely different — and less violent — set of illusions. Maybe he’d think the granola was singing to him or that goats channel messages from outer space.

In other words, just because Loughner’s political ideas were nonsensical doesn’t let the political culture off the hook.

We talk a lot about “political culture.” The word “culture” is related to growing things, as in cultivation. When one is tilling soil and preparing it for planting, one is “cultivating” the soil. Scientists use the word “culture” to describe growing microorganisms for study.

So, “culture” is not a static thing; it is a cultivation, or a process of growing. What is our whackjob political culture growing? Nothing wholesome, I would say. But we are being prepped to go into Official National Denial — that the incessant eliminationist rhetoric about “armed and dangerous,” “second amendment solutions,” and The Coming Nightmare Totalitarian State of an Alien Communist Black President being spewed not by fringe outsiders but by people in positions of authority had nothing whatsoever to do with the Tucson shooting, and if you even think such a thing you are a bad person.

Yep, nothing to see here. Move along.

Michael Tomasky makes another good point in another post. It seems many of his readers (and I’m seeing this everywhere) are incapable of understanding there’s a difference between expressing dislike for someone and threatening to kill someone. As a thought experiment, he asks which is worse

1. Mike Tomasky is a world-class idiot and a—hole and should go f— himself.
2. Mike Tomasky doesn’t have any problems that a Glock couldn’t solve.

Especially in a nation armed to the teeth, the second statement is far more irresponsible than the first. This should be obvious to any sensible person. However, in America, we’re not supposed to notice this.

Tomasky continues,

But if guns are part of your life, it may be the imagery that comes to mind, and it’s far worse than calling someone a dirty name or a war criminal. And sure it’s happened among liberals, but it’s worse among conservatives. Check this out, which another friend assembled:

*On October 9, 2009, House candidate Robert Lowry of Florida held an event at a Broward County gun range during which he fired at a series of symbolic political targets, including a silhouette with his opponent Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s initials on it.

*On January 10, 2010, Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle spoke of the need for “Second Amendment remedies” to congressional policies, and hinted that such remedies might be needed to address “the Harry Reid problems.”

*On May 10, 2010, House candidate Brad Goerhing from California’s 11th District wrote on his Facebook page: “If I could issue hunting permits, I would officially declare today opening day for liberals. The season would extend through November 2 and have no limits on how many taken as we desperately need to ‘thin’ the herd.”

*On June 12, 2010, Rep. Giffords’ very own Republican opponent Jesse Kelly held an event advertised locally as follows: “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 With Jesse Kelly.” Get that again. Remove Giffords. Shoot an M16.

*On October 21, 2010, Dallas pastor and House candidate Stephen Broden, said the violent overthrow of the U.S. government in 2010 should not be “the first option,” but citizens ought to use “any means necessary” and that violence should remain an option “on the table.”

These weren’t 22-year-old loners or even local talk-radio hosts. These were candidates for Congress! Find me five Democrats from this past election who talked like that about their opponents or their government. Find me one.

See also Tom Schaller.