Toby Harnden - Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, by all accounts an outstanding public servant and person, is battling for her life in hospital after being shot by a 22-year-old man at close range at a “Congress On Your Corner” event in her home district. Six people are dead, including a judge and a girl of nine, and a dozen others are being treated for their wounds.
It is, as President Barack Obama said, an “unspeakable tragedy”. It is also, as he added, “a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society”. That much we know and the President wisely did not seek to make political capital out of the carnage or jump to conclusions about the motivations of the gunman, named as Jared Loughner.
That, of course, hasn’t stopped some on the Left clamouring to blame Sarah Palin, the Tea Party or Republicans in general for what happened.
Paul Krugman of the “New York Times” suggests darkly that Giffords was shot because she was “a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona” and “violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate” (those reponsible for such a climate being, of course, Republicans).
TBogg of FireDogLake wades straight in and blames Sarah Palin for the shooting because of a graphic of crosshairs placed on the districts of moderate Democrats who voted for healthcare reform. Was the Palin graphic clever? No. But martial imagery is standard political fare and, as Matt Lewis points out, there’s no shortage of Democrats who’ve engaged in it (VerumSerum has found a Democratic Leadership Committee target map).
Jane Fonda pins it on Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and the Tea Party.
Even the local sheriff (a Democrat) has been getting in on the act. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik (a Democrat) said:
When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.
Well, we’ll see. Personally, I’d be more reassured by a sheriff who concentrated on facts rather than over-heated, sweeping generalisations.
So what are the facts we know so far? From what we know about Loughner, he was a deeply disturbed young man who railed about literacy rates, spoke of flag burning and creating a new currency.
Former classmates talk of “nonsensical outbursts” and a person “on his own planet”. His favourite reading apparently included “Mein Kampf” and “The Communist Manifesto”. My colleague Jon Swaine has a summary here of the raving of a person who most people would judge to be a complete nutcase even if he hadn’t gone out and shot people.
Oh, and another former classmate said he was “left wing, quite liberal”. Naturally, this doesn’t stop Jacob Heilbrunn, pontificating that the shootings are evidence of that the “radical right is becoming even more radicalised and violent”.
Ben Smith sums up the current picture of Loughner pretty well:
The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.
This is highly inconvenient for certain people on the Left so they ignore it. They would much prefer the shooter to have been a white male in his 50s, the description the sheriff gave of a second person of interest (we’ll see if such a person materialises) but they’ll still try to make hay with a weirdo like Loughner.
Giffords herself doesn’t quite fit the likely victim of an enraged Right-winger. She is a Blue Dog Democrat, a deficit hawk and voted to lift the ban on guns in DC and voted against Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. On Thursday, she took part in the reading of the Constitution in the House, reading aloud the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion, speech and peaceful assembly.
She’s certainly not the “progressive” that Hanoi Jane tweeted about and provoked as much anger on the Left as on the Right for her political stances. Just the other day, a blogger at DailyKos said that Giffords was “dead to me” for failing to back Pelosi.
Plenty more will emerge in the coming days about Loughner’s motivations and those of any accomplice. It seems certain that the attempted assassination was politically motivated but in exactly what way is, at this stage, very murky.
This is a time for sombre reflection and a calming (rather than an escalation) of rhetoric. Sadly, however, some see it as another opportunity to score political points and vilify those they hate.