Republicans, resist the temptation to blame liberals for this tragedy
Posted June 15
"If rhetoric vilifying one's political opponents is to blame, then self-righteous lunatics in fragile, ecofriendly houses shouldn't throw stones. The truth is, nut jobs ... aren't emboldened by rhetoric. They aren't emboldened by anything, save for maybe the voices in their heads."
I wrote that in 2011, in the wake of the horrific shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords that killed six people. At the time, we didn't know if Jared Loughner had any self-proclaimed political "motivations," and it turned out he was severely mentally disturbed. That didn't stop Democrats and liberals in the press from blaming Republicans and their "heated rhetoric" for the shootings.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. James Hodgkinson -- a volunteer for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign and anti-Trump socialist, according to his social media -- sought out Republican lawmakers on Wednesday at a practice for a charity baseball game, taking aim at members of Congress and severely injuring one, as well as a Capitol Hill police officer and two others.
His motives seem far clearer than Loughner's, whose journals revealed an incoherent maze of anti-God, anti-government paranoia and affection for gold currency and apocalyptic conspiracy theories. Hodgkinson's Facebook page alone offers a treasure trove of evidence that he simply believed Republicans and the Trump agenda must be stopped.
Rep. Rodney Davis, an Illinois Republican who survived the shooting, was ready to concede that "This could be the first political rhetorical terrorist attack."
And yet, as tempting as it is for Republicans to blame liberals for Hodgkinson's attack, we still must resist blaming political rhetoric for the ginned-up whims of a madman. Murder is murder: Focusing solely on why he claims he did it, no matter whose argument that may serve, doesn't benefit anyone.
One of the first casualties of politically charged tragedies like this one is consistency.
Some Republicans, who are always quick to insist that right-wing ideology, angry rhetoric and even the unprecedentedly divisive language that President Trump used on the campaign trail are not to blame for individual actions, are loosening their grip on that mantra.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich blamed "increasing hostility on the left," for inciting Hodgkinson, and "a series of things, which sends signals that tell people that it's OK to hate Trump, it's OK to think of Trump in violent terms, it's OK to consider assassinating Trump."
Radio host Michael Savage tweeted giddily, exclamation point and all, "I warned America the Dems' constant drumbeat of hatred would lead to violence!"
Of course, back in 2011, Gingrich was one of the first to slam liberals for blaming the Giffords shooting on conservative rhetoric.
"In a country with free speech, people occasionally use strong language," he said. Distancing Republicans even further from Loughner, he said, "There's no evidence that I know of that this person was anything except nuts."
He was right, then, at least.
To be sure, the inconsistencies abound on the left as well. One of the most glaring examples comes from Bernie Sanders, who, in a 2011 fundraising email was very clear about whom he thought was to blame for the Giffords shooting:
"Nobody can honestly express surprise that such a tragedy finally occurred. ... Congresswoman Giffords publicly expressed concerns when Sarah Palin, on her website, placed her district in the crosshairs of a rifle -- and identified her by name below the image -- as an encouragement to Palin supporters to eliminate her from Congress." He further insisted the burden was on Sen. John McCain to do more:
"As the elder statesman of Arizona politics, McCain needs to stand up and denounce the increasingly violent rhetoric coming from the right wing and exert his influence to create a civil political environment in his state."
And yet, when he took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to condemn the attack, Sanders made no such connections to the virulent anti-Trump rhetoric many of his supporters have used. And, as the vessel of Hodgkinson's political adoration, he said nothing to denounce the actual violence at far-left protests in places like Berkeley, California, and Portland, Oregon.
Others on the left were likewise quick to blame Trump for inciting violence and are just as quick to denounce any connections between Hodgkinson and left-wing rhetoric.
New York Daily News writer Shaun King, who has written that Donald Trump "must be held accountable" for the violent behavior of his supporters, seems, in fact, to celebrate this naked inconsistency.
In his latest column, posted just hours after the shooting on Wednesday, he insists, "I don't know James Hodgkinson or what inspired him, but I can say with complete confidence that it damn sure wasn't Bernie Sanders or the progressive movement he helps lead."
He makes no mention at all of the violence at anti-Trump rallies but does anecdotally (and irrelevantly) offer that "Not once, publicly or privately, did a single person in a single meeting I was a part of ever suggest, explicitly or implicitly, that someone should go do what James Hodgkinson allegedly did today."
And then, with almost impressive inconsistency, King suggests it's once again Trump's rhetoric, not the left's, that created a climate in which a lunatic would go after Republicans. Try to make sense of that one.
This isn't to say that rhetoric is meaningless. This is a terrific time, if a tragic one, to call for a lowering of the temperature on both sides. That, first and foremost, should come from our leaders, and that should start with President Trump.
I always believe that only one thing is true of all these horrific episodes: Happy, healthy people don't shoot up baseball games, or schools, or cinemas, or Navy yards. Hodgkinson had reportedly quit his job, left his home, and was living out of a gym bag in Alexandria, Virginia. He had a troubled past that included a history of domestic violence. Once again, I fear a real conversation about mental health will go ignored as we fight over politics, guns and anything else.
In trying times like these, it's admittedly difficult to keep our heads cool and our voices sane. But it's also imperative that we do. Consistency in our arguments, regardless of whose politics is benefiting from the situation, is the very least we should demand.